Getting Clients to Embrace Fresh Ideas
The internet is full of brand new proof of concepts and ideas just waiting to be implemented on exciting new projects.
Actually getting the approval to use these features is another story entirely. Some of the most interesting ideas turn out to be hard sells when putting them into to practice.
So what’s a web designer to do when clients insist on stale ideas?
Know Your (Actual) Audience
Your client can mean the world to you, but the world is not your client. The world audience does not always share all of your client’s needs and direction. Success (in most cases) is built on the ability for other people to interact with the finished product, and not just the client’s approval of color scheme.
It’s not easy to tell a client that their idea isn’t going to work out, but unfortunately it’s sometimes a necessary part of the job. If you hired an architect to build a house, they wouldn’t build something that would fall down (even if you insisted). Web design is the same way.
Three Facts of Client Work
As a web designer, it’s important to make note of a three main points. As simple as they may be, it’s easy to overlook them:
- The person funding the project may not always know what’s best
- You’ve been hired as the professional
- The Internet is a big place
So what now? At which point do you, as the web professional, try to stop clients from pushing a project in a misguided direction?
Don’t Get Discouraged
Be careful about simply accepting a client’s disapproval without further questions. This does not mean that you should become overly-confrontational, but sometimes clients don’t know how to communicate the real problem at hand. It’s up to you to dig further in and get to the real problem.
Does the client not like a design because of personal taste? Or is it actually because their screen resolution is set unusually low? Expect further questions to come out of each round of feedback. If you’re able to pick up the underlying issues, you’ll be much more productive in revisions.
It’s your job as the designer to bring a person up to speed. This doesn’t always mean forcing them to upgrade their machines, philosophies, or business practices — but does involve a certain amount of education about the rest of the internet. If a small part of their market falls into the same pitfalls (e.g. screen resolution), it’s not always a good decision to plan for the lowest common denominator.
Ask Good Questions
Let’s say that your client requests a menu change that would cause a lot of confusion for users trying to navigate. Especially if they love a bad idea, how do you guide them in the right direction without being overly-forceful?
Give your client an opportunity to come to an answer by themselves. Rather than insisting “This menu will work better”, ask them “How would the user be able to find their current location”, or questions leading to the problem. The best person to have on your side is the client’s own mind.
Food for Thought
The goal of an argument is not to win. It is to get the other person thinking differently. Once you’ve done that, they’ll fill in the rest of the gaps on their own.
Using the example above, a good food for thought example would be “How would your intended audience like/use this?” This does two things:
- Presents the issue at hand (User experience)
- Forces the client to look from a new perspective (and not just their personal opinion)
Even though a client starts the project, the client is rarely the target audience. Designing for the Internet is designing for other people.
Explain the Purpose
It’s easy to get caught up in explaining the concept of a new feature, but don’t lose sight of the goal. What is the purpose of the new idea? If you’re only explaining the concept, you’re more likely to deal with existing bias. Hold on. Bias? How can you be biased against an idea?
A Tale of Two Networks
What’s the difference between MySpace and Facebook? Technical things aside, it’s actually a tough question. Both are social networks that allow people to connect and maintain online relationships.
If a client isn’t up to date with the technology happenings, it’s easy to assume that the audience found on Facebook is the same angst filled teenagers on which MySpace built its reputation. This same problem appears for sites like Twitter (e.g. pointless updates) and a number of other useful (but not always recognized) web services.
Consider the two options below for selling the idea of Facebook:
- Facebook is a portal to network with millions of people.
- Many companies have used Facebook as a way to connect to young people in their everyday life. Company A ran a campaign that boosted traffic to their website by 300% last month.
The first statement explains, but it doesn’t stimulate the same business enthusiasm as the second one. Simply pointing out a potential audience isn’t enough, you’ve also got to lead them with concrete examples of success and application.
First One in the Pool
Not all businesses want to take on the risk of being the first to “test the waters.” You’re up to speed with trends (reading this proves it!), but there’s no guarantee that the client is on par. Show them the other companies that are already succeeding, and it will make your job easier.
Have you ever had problems persuading a client to go with an innovative idea? How did you handle it? Does your web design organization have any strategies that work well? Share them in the comments below.
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