You are paying me to be the expert. Let me be the expert.

I’m not new to the concept of being becoming the mouse for some business owner who’s ego just can’t handle the concept of someone handling their web design of visual brand identity, even if they are paying me to be the expert. It’s something every designer goes through. Business people and small business owners have the tendency to believe when it comes to their business, they know best in all regards. Which is as ridiculous as it sounds. I like to compare it to telling a financial planner or investment consultant exactly what money to put into what stock, regardless of what the financial expert has to say….

I want every client to see this before we start. Yay Oatmeal.

I want every client to see this before we start. Yay Oatmeal.

I think the problem stems with the idea that the hired expert is somehow required to sell the product to the business owner after the business owner has already purchased it. Because it isn’t the design or the website or the code the business owner is buying, it’s the skills, knowledge, experience, expertise, and talent the designer brings to the table. A business owner or decision maker, once the contract has been signed, has purchased your expertise. To not trust or take advantage of it is just wasting money.

Many other design blogs and articles on this subject give advise that sounds logical and straightforward. “Explain your decisions and why you made them”, “Show data and research”, “use the power of example and show how big players in the client’s field take advantage of certain design elements and languages”.

These all sound fantastic on paper, but I’ve had terrible luck with them. Explaining your decisions usually falls on deaf ears because the explanation usually contradicts what the client is saying. Multiply that effect when you show real data and research to back your claim (which, by the way, as the hired expert you shouldn’t really have to do). Nothing gets a alpha-business personality’s blood boiling like real facts that dissolve any design input they are trying to give. And the worst: using examples proven, established, and successful design language is usually met with a “we don’t want to do anything they are doing.” or “we want to be different”. There’s reasons why largest and most visually recognizable brands use very clear, clean, and unobtrusive design — because it’s effective.

This all isn’t to say that feedback from non-designers are worthless. I’ve has some fantastic ideas grown from feedback given to me by people who do not have any education or experience in design. It’s sometimes hard for people to understand feedback can be considered but not acted upon because the expert felt that it would be a step in the wrong direction. Too many times in my experience does someone have an emotional reaction to this. Going back to my previous example, I like to compare this to someone getting emotional over a financial planner telling someone to invest wisely or don’t buy in a seller’s market. Ultimately, as designers we should always consider feedback, but leave impositions off the table.

The Elephant in the Room

I think many problems come up between designers and non-designers are all related to a single, huge, massive fallacy. And that is Good Design is not Subjective. No one’s opinion factors into good design. It either works or does not. And like those financial planners and those investment strategies, the person in the best position to tell you what good design is and what is not, is a designer. In my line of work, web design is required to convey multiple messages to users:

  1. Firstly and clearly state and identify the brand, service, or product.
  2. Convince that the user has found what they are looking for.
  3. Convert that user into a paying, satisfied customer – and make that conversion as easy and clear for that user as possible.
  4. All of the above through branding, imagery, layout, and typography, regardless of copy.

Branding is a little trickier. Creating a visual brand identity can have multiple goals, and I think the fallacy here is that the primary purpose of brand identity is to be different than everyone else, and that somehow different for difference sake directly translates to top-of-mind awareness, which is what all good brands accomplish: Shoes. Tablets. Electric Cars. I’m willing to bet that the majority of people just envisioned Nike, Apple and Tesla right there. Three companies with very simple icon logos that, from a design standpoint, aren’t actually groundbreaking or particularly interesting – but they are used with confidence and portrayed in a way that makes them incredible. By experts, trusted to harness that experience, education, talent and expertise to do what they were hired to do.

Mr D. says it pretty clearly here, if you pardon the 1960’s shade of sexism:

“You’ve already tried your plan and you’re number four. You’ve enlisted my expertise and you’ve rejected it to go on the way you’ve been going. I’m not interested in that.”

Obviously, this all this doesn’t apply to every client i’ve worked with, and certainly not often to such a strong degree… and luckily, I’ve had the pleasure of working for employers and art directors that have an eye for design or some design experience.