Years ago I read this article by Mike Taylor (at the time, he was Head of Client Experience at Human Design) - it's still relevant and insightful today. It got me thinking more about how to reduce the chances of a client rejecting an idea or execution that would be good for their business; a challenge that all designers face at some point, and maybe even on a regular basis. When this problem rears its ugly head late in proceedings - like when you first present your designs - it can in most cases be attributed to poor communication (all parties may be guilty), or a vague brief, or a diabolical combination of both under the added pressure of tight timeframes.
Yes, you’re the expert, but they’re the customer, and the customer is still always right (even when they’re not). In his article Clients don’t always want what they need, Taylor provides some really valid ideas for guiding clients towards the best solution - assuming the your design is the best solution. His use of the word 'guide' is important - you will not win an intellectual arm wrestle with your client, or if you win on one count with browbeating tactics you may ultimately lose the client.
So how do we - as UX designers / developers / digital strategists - avoid getting into this pickle in the first place? With some clients, a measure of critical appraisal and rub can’t be avoided and is often helpful in strengthening or refining an idea through validation (which you need to be prepared to do). As with most challenges facing any project delivery, intercepting and addressing potential risks to successful delivery in early phases is preferable. But still one of the key milestones in a digital project, when things often change direction to the detriment of the client and frustration of we ‘experts’, is delivery of designs. A common mistake - one we’ve made in the past - is to simply present designs to the client, rather than pitch them.
Pitch vs Present
Without getting into a game of semantics, when I say 'present' I mean the act of simply delivering designs - digitally or in hard copy - without providing a thorough explanation of design decisions, their alignment to the clients goals, and how the design will come to life. Having been on the other side of the fence (client-side) for over eight years, I know that this is the point in a consumer digital project when anticipation and expectation peaks, especially for larger executions with longer timeframes.
Pitching designs takes more than just the handover of high fidelity wireframes via email or the share mechanism available in your UX design platform - by far the easiest option, but not the best when it comes to more complex ideas and designs.
You may have ‘pitched’ the concept to the client already and got the thumbs up to proceed, but that was the-entire-lifespan-of-a-butterfly ago. Now you need to pitch the look and feel of the product with all of the informed technical and design thinking, best practice execution and possible convention-bending ideas that went into the particular arrangement of pixels that is now in front of the client.
Do this in person. I repeat, pitch your design in person, or at the very least via a virtual meeting space with live audio. Invite the client team (including ultimate decision makers) and only include your key team in the meeting - don’t make it a game of chess across the boardroom table, but do ensure your best communicators and experts are in the room to advocate the designs with articulate reasoning and controlled passion.
For the best chance of walking out of the meeting with smiles all round, be prepared to introduce and break down each key element, explaining what informed the design decisions that led to choice of colour, position, style and behaviour. If as part of planning you referred to data (especially the client’s data), emerging best practices and / or the client’s own directive, make this connection to validate the design. Demonstrate that you understand the client’s goals for the campaign by pointing out how your design aligns with them.
Be the bigger person
If your design is rejected, in part or whole, its important to convert this into an opportunity to reset thinking and deliver to the expectations of the client. It can be both frustrating and disappointing when an idea is turned down, especially when it is a good solution developed from considered thought. Don’t waste time letting off steam and privately berating the client for not understanding that they’re doing themselves out of a winning idea - if their business is important to you, get back to the whiteboard and down to the business of providing a solution that is the best possible balance between what they want and what they need.
Sometimes you’re working against internal bureaucracy at the client organisation, over which you have no control, regardless of how creative or strategically correct your design is. Sometimes, you just have to let it go.