Nathan Leigh Davis is a designer and developer who writes about design, technology and things that inspire him.

Journal

The importance of questioning client feedback

I’m about halfway through Mike Monteiro’s book, Design As A Job. It’s a great read and I’d recommend it to anyone practicing design, whether they’re just starting out or a seasoned veteran. For myself I’ve started reading it at a point in my career where I’m beginning to question certain aspects of our industry, particularly the relationship between designers and their clients. The book speaks to the idealist in me though and if there’s one thing I’ve taken away from the read, it’s to always ask why, especially during the later stages of a project.

Asking questions at the start of any project is a given and the insights gained lead to a design solution that the client loves and one you're proud of. However as the project advances the client loses focus and starts to suggest changes... From bitter experience it’s at this point things can quickly turn to shit! As the deadline looms and project fatigue sets it's easy to stop asking questions. Questions you really should be asking...

Why do you want to open lightbox for registrations when the site loads? Why would you like to add lightning bolts to the background image? Why do you want to restructure the site map and navigation at this point in the project?

Client feedback should never be blindly followed! When a client requests something that seems strange or downright wrong, always question them. By asking questions it’s possible to figure out what they’re trying to achieve and to offer alternatives.

While design is a service industry, it’s important to remember it’s not one where the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ applies. Often clients are never right, but that’s OK because that’s why they hire designers and agencies. They hire us so we can use our expertise and knowledge to deliver a design solution that addresses a particular need. Failing to ask questions therefore is a failure to deliver what the client is paying you for!

Pandering to clients may make keep them happy for a little while, but ultimately they won’t be happy for long. This is because questioning client requests is a critical part of the creative process. It helps refocus collective attention on the goals of the brief and motivates discussion that leads to a better outcome. Ultimately it’s the outcome of a project that determines the happiness of clients, not your ability to say ‘yes’ to every request.