We’ve all been there: a client or stakeholder stomps in and tells you exactly what you need to make.
If you’re new to the design biz, your knee-jerk reaction may be to make it. On command. Immediately.
The longer you spend in the design world, the more you realize that building on command never, ever ends well. People usually ask for things they want, not necessarily for what they need.
Case in point: a buddy of mine works for a major design firm. They have a program in which senior designers mentor newbie junior designers when they first come in the door. At the start of his career, about 10 years ago, my friend was that newbie designer.
“People usually ask for things they want, not necessarily for what they need.”
His first week, his mentor had a meeting with a sizable client and invited him to come in, shake some hands, and observe the kickoff session.
As soon as they all sat down, the clients immediately whipped out a comp that outlined exactly what they wanted, down to the colors and fonts. They basically predesigned the entire project.
My friend’s mentor looked over the comp, looked up and simply asked, “What are your goals?”
The clients looked a little confused and taken aback. They responded with something along the lines of, “Um… we haven’t really given that much thought.”
My friend, the newbie, admitted that the sudden left-hand turn in the conversation made him squirm a bit. He said the clients were visibly very uncomfortable, and he was sure that they were going to storm out of the room.
His mentor smoothly responded with, “Okay, lets talk about it.”
After an hour-long discussion, his mentor had a full list of goals to take back to the rest of the design team, as well as the client’s blessing on taking a week to brainstorm the best possible solutions to meet those goals.
When my friend caught up with his mentor in the hall after the meeting, he told him he couldn’t believe that he “stood up to them” like that.
“Great designers dive deep to uncover what a client actually needs.”
The mentor just grinned and said, “I wasn’t standing up to them, I was making sure that I clearly understood the problems that they need to solve. Good designers take orders and hand over exactly what a client wants. Great designers dive deep to uncover what a client actually needs.”
Those 3 sentences completely changed the trajectory of his entire career. He knew at that moment that he wanted to become a great designer. And as it turns out, he did.