An angry, hostile-looking client

Want to understand clients better? Give yourself a project.

Sep 6, 2013

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on the redesign/relaunch of this site. I learned a few things.

First, “apple pie” is an actual flavor of coffee (can Dunkin Donuts win a Nobel Prize for this?).

Second, if you work to the movie scores of Hans Zimmer, anything you’re doing, no matter how geeky or mundane, can seem epic.

And third, I’m a pain in the ass as a client.

From the designer’s point of view, clients — even those we really like working with — can sometimes seem “unreasonable”: asking for multiple cycles of revisions, waffling on decisions, contradicting previous decisions, and getting hung up on nitpicky little details. I’ve heard many designers frequently complain about all of these things. To them, the client has inexplicably become irrational; some invisible switch flipped and now the dream client transformed into the “client from hell.”

But here’s a little advice to all my fellow designers out there: before you judge any client harshly, put yourself in their shoes. When you own something — when it’s your product with your name on it — you feel strongly invested in it. So yes, the details matter. And more than that, as human beings, we change our minds. Designers more than anyone else should get this.

As I redesigned this site, I had no background at first. And then a gigantic dog. Then no dog. Then a blue textured background. Then back to no background. And then I settled on a subtle background. And I’m still not sure. I’ve move the nav from the side to the top, then back to the side again. I’ve revised the logo about a dozen times. I’ve fiddled with padding and spacing countless times. I keep changing the weights of my headlines.

None of this feels irrational or unreasonable to me, because I’m doing the work myself. And to me, all the little pieces matter. But if someone else was asking for all these changes, reversals, and microscopic tweaks, I might be gnashing my teeth.

The new site is up, but I have a long list of “Phase 2” enhancements, improvements, and additions to tackle. The designer side of me isn’t very happy with the client me, but client me is right.

So what did I learn here? It’s hard being a designer, but it’s also hard being the client for a product. I think we need to cut each other some slack.

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