Defend Your Design

We all know that acute rush of adrenaline experienced before submitting a design for review or approval all too well. You click down on that “Send” button, take a deep breath and look at the design one more time before releasing your mouse. It’s gone.

You’ve sent your design out into a cruel, critical world. Will it succeed or will it fail? Perhaps that depends less on the design itself and more on whether or not you’ve set it up to succeed. As designers, we need to be advocates for the craft by explaining what we do and educating clients on our method.

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A Proactive Approach


Every time we bring in a new client I prepare myself to begin their web-u-cation, from scratch if necessary. Walking them through the basics of what a well designed and well built website is can eat up a lot of time, but you are effectively setting your client up to understand what you are doing and why.

Explaining web standards, user experience, and usability will help them see a design from a completely different frame of reference. Instead of looking at a site and responding with a knee-jerk reaction to obvious graphics or colors, educated clients will take the time to explore the subtleties of a design and consider the choices made along the way to the final product.

Don’t try too hard

While I do encourage informing and educating clients relentlessly, when it comes to presenting or selling a client on a design, don’t overdo it. Give them some information about the direction you chose or briefly let them know if you have a favorite option. Do not write a paragraph where you insecurely cite all the things a client might want to see changed. If you put a lot into your design, let it stand on its own. You aren’t doing it justice when you’re apologizing for it without reason.

Skillful Negotiations

Clients are going to take ownership of a project in one way or another. This can be done the easy way, or the hard way…

The easy way: Let clients ask questions, play devil’s advocate and kick the tires of your design. Then, use that to start a discussion where you evaluate the critique and bring your opinions and potential solutions to the table. This process helps everyone involved take ownership of the project through understanding the method.

The hard way: Take design critique as a punch list and quietly grumble your way through the changes. This is an unnecessary submission, allowing your client to hijack the project when, most of the time, they had no intention of doing so. Even if a hijacking was their intention, it probably could have been prevented through some of those moderately skillful negations mentioned above.

Choose your battles wisely.

If you have multiple design projects going on, invest in the ones you think will pay off. If a client comes to you with a stubborn, unyielding vision, you may need to either turn the project down or be prepared to concede more along the way than you’d like. If you continually decide to work for someone that believes he or she could hire a 12 year old nephew and get the same design, guess what you’re going to be treated and paid like?