Don't Just Be "Nice"

“No one is hiring you to be their friend. They’re hiring you to design solutions to problems.”

– Mike Monteiro, “Design Is A Job”

He’s right. In order to be the best designers we can be and make a living doing it, we’re going to need the reputation of fighting for the best solution, even if it means disagreeing with our clients. This is not something I’m good at.

As I considered why this is, I realized that for much of my professional life, I’ve worked with a lot of stubborn clients, or with clients whose relationship with the agencies I’ve worked for were very precarious. The client’s budget was a considerable portion of agency revenue, so working with them was like walking on egg shells. Not ideal in the least. And after interacting with clients like that over time, I think I have developed a subtle apathy that Monteiro is making me reconsider.

I basically only offer what I think is the better, correct solution if I think a client is willing to listen. If they don’t give that impression, I don’t waste my breath. I would give them what they paid for—some “deliverable”. If clients requested design changes that took away from the design or usability, I would just make them. They were paying the bills, and if they didn’t value/respect my opinion, I wasn’t going to fight to make them listen. Because I also don’t want to be considered an asshole, and left with two options, I’d rather be “nice” and give the clients what they want, rather than come off as an arrogant know-it-all.

Swinging the pendulum in the other direction gives you that. Designers who feel so superior that they belittle their clients. They are the pixel hipsters. They can’t be challenged and assume their solutions are always the best. They can’t hide their sarcasm and condescension.

So I went with “nice”. Giving the client what they asked for, regardless of what I thought. I think that’s not necessarily hard to come to that conclusion, that resigned mindset. But I’m also challenging myself and anyone who has reached this place. It’s cowardice. There is a third way! Being pleasant is still possible; we can still be easy to work with. But we can also still speak our minds and challenge our clients’ reasoning for changes they request or get them to reconsider how the project goals align with their company’s overall mission, etc. It will mean a few hard conversations, I know. But this feels like one of those life-lessons that trying to be honest with what we think is always going to mean for healthier interactions down the road, as well as a greater sense of inner peace as we live our lives.

I was a design hypocrite. I was giving clients what they wanted to hear (“Sure, we can make that logo bigger!”) while inside thinking something completely different. Monteiro called me out on it, so now it’s time to keep digging in, re-engaging with projects and making better stuff.

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