Why Ego is the Nemesis of Good Design (And What to Do About It)
There are tons of people out there who think they are brilliant designers despite never doing any professional design work. We all know people who don’t know what kerning means, and think a “stroke” must require medical treatment. But that doesn’t stop them from having an opinion when it comes to design.
As Jessica Greenwalt pointed out at Collision Conference in New Orleans recently, while this can be frustrating at times, it’s not the real issue. The problem is that this self-proclaimed design expertise can have a serious impact on the success of a company’s projects and bottom line.
“Good designers care about the success of the clients they work with. It is their job to produce projects that help their clients achieve their goals, but some clients make this so hard to do,” said Greenwalt. Why? Ego.
“There are a lot of people who want to get credit for participating in the design process, because it makes them feel clever. It makes them feel like they are closer to the CEOs we read about and idolize, who talk about how design thinking transformed their business.”
On the bright side for designers, this generally means that everyone thinks your job is really cool, and they all want to be just like you. However, you still have a job to do, and you want to do it well. Involving stakeholders late in the game doesn’t usually produce the best result.
Your process probably looks something like this:
- Meet with client – find out what their goals are and do a ton of research
- Build a design – help client achieve goals based on research
- Stakeholders give feedback – design gets mixed around until it’s almost unrecognizable, and it ends up not aligning with client goals
How can you change this process so your thoughtful design isn’t torn apart at the presentation stage?
Get all the stakeholders involved at the initial stage of the design process.
Find out who has a say on how the project will turn out and meet with them one on one. As you’re talking to your stakeholders, you’ll find out they fall into two groups: the no opinion camp, and the micromanager camp.
The no opinion group says things like, “Do what you think is best, I trust your judgement,” which sounds really nice. But this is actually the most dangerous of the two groups. These words encourage a designer to get right to work, to produce and finish a design, and to present it. But all that stuff about not having an opinion is usually a lie, which means a designer has sunk all sorts of work into something only to find it doesn’t align with a client’s vision. Some clients don’t actually realize they have an opinion until a design is put in front of them.
“The trick to working with a no opinion client is to keep asking questions,” said Greenwalt. “If they don’t know what they want, show them samples and ask them what they like and what they don’t like about those designs.”
Once you’ve gathered feedback on different samples, patterns will emerge that reveal what their preferences are. They have an opinion.
The second group, micromanagers, are non-designers who like to say things like, “I have a great eye for design.” This tells you right away they are extremely opinionated about design, so talk design with them. Learn about their preferences on the project, take notes and listen carefully.
Once you’ve talked to all of your stakeholders, you can then resume your design process as normal, sprinkling in the feedback you’ve received along the way.
Getting people involved before you actually do any design work makes your stakeholders feel like they are part of the design process. This makes them feel like their opinion is important and their preferences matter, and sometimes that’s all people need.
When it’s time to present the design, you should address how each stakeholder influenced it. “This means your stakeholders are emotionally invested in your design, they will defend it, and they will get it approved,” said Greenwalt.
Your new design process should look something like this:
- Identify your stakeholders
- Show your stakeholders their opinion matters by getting them involved in the design process
- Go about your process as usual, sprinkling in what you’ve learned from your stakeholders
- Present your design and give your stakeholders credit for their contributions
If you do this, everyone will be happier and your client will get a design that helps achieve their goals.