Design Clients then Their Products


This is part of a series about client design. I am writing about how to improve design process with client. There is no ending. The numbering is to help me keep track of post. Feel free to suggest any topic in this domain to me.

When started writing this post, I was in a transitional period moving from digital agency to product company. I spent 9 to 10 hours per day for my designer job including commuting, emailing, messaging. I have seen many projects in which working with client need to be redesigned before the product.

Subjectivity in Design

“I like it!”

I like keep designing but I hate keep making meaningless changes. To me, making requested changes is to please client, not to design. A self-starter designer never ask question “Do you like it?” as the question is the begining of many unconstructive feedbacks, followed by rounds of iteration for their request. If you are looking for a I-like-it reply, you are not a designer. You are a begger for money to cover your design cost. Bad design start with wrong types of question.

How to improve

I have seen projects having a fixed number of iteration, which means you have a fixed number of times to have a better design “hopefully”. You don’t want to limit the number iteration in lean UX. That’s counter-productive. I love it when clients give me feedback. It means they care about the design and want to make it better. They just don’t know how. Providing a feedback guideline is something you should work on. Instead of asking about their taste, asking whether certain design element can help achieve their business objective. Be elaborate and guide them. Treat them like children wanting to become adult so badly that don’t know how to behave. Ask them question why a lot. Make them think. You are paid also to teach them about design, and please do a good job about it because that will help other designers as well. This should be considered as the best thing that a designer can contribute to the community: teach client how to treat design and respect designer well. In this domain, I am inspired by book Design Is A Job by Mike Monteiro. I wrote this after reading the book.

How Deadline Can Kill Design

“Can you get it done by tomorrow?”

Together with giving requests, client also give deadline to designer as well. So does some Project Manager. Deadline of design means your design is done and developer start building it. How to know design is “done”? Your clients like it? Yes, that’s what I thought when starting out as designer. When I took the first job as designer, design was about how to please client. When we have a fixed date to conclude design, we understood that we need to create a design that client like and approved it. Usability testing was not thought of at the time. No budget and no time. Sometimes, we wonder why design don’t work. It is all about deadline and its side effect, design for client.

When I worked in an agency, design and development are different phases of a project. My colleagues and I tried to create a design process that includes necessary steps, modern tools in the hope to have better design. When the client approved mockup and prototype, design is considered as done and people moved all to developing the design. In a traditional agency model and waterfall, once design is done, they think it is good enough and move on. But there are many things during design is built. Design need to be tested, measure so that we know how effective it can be. But the client approved the design, why do we still need to test it?

How to improve

There is no best design, but better designs. We hope to achieve a good design but we can always design something better given time for testing, iteration. The end of design depends on how we define the objective of decide, how we know it performs well in real life and how client understand this. In lean UX, the continuous improvement is the key factor to determine why and how design help improve the business of client.

Subjectivity and deadline are the first 2 reasons why I think client design is important in design process. They require designers to have communication skills and empathy with clients. So if you want to design any product for someone, firstly you will want to teach the person how to be a client because he /she may, for the first time, become a client. And it’s not easy.