Stop Telling People What To Do

Jared Spool over at Johnny Holland Magazine has an article out this week about why making design recommendations is a bad thing. It’s true that critiquing a client’s existing materials, be it print or web, is a touchy situation. I for one am slow to judge another designer’s work. For all I know, he could be dealing with an owner telling him he MUST use purple if he wants to keep his job. Sometimes you do what you gotta do.

But when someone asks your expert opinion, you gotta say something, right?

Jared suggests a different approach.

What our preliminary research has found is a typical recommendation looks something like this:“Users had trouble seeing the field labels. I recommend you put the label on the top of each field, instead of on the left.”

However, some teams are using a different approach: “We’re seeing that our users have trouble with the field labels. We’d like to try an experiment and see if moving the labels to the top of each field makes an improvement.”

I think this approach is much superior to just telling a client what you think. By framing your suggestions as an experiment, you have one more opportunity to make your clients partners in problem-solving.

The advantage of a client who feels like part of the solution is that they start thinking more strategically. It also puts them in the mindset of ongoing work to solve a problem instead of a magic bullet that will make everything perfect. Because when clients expect a magic bullet and don’t get it, they will often go looking for a real one.

So the next time someone solicits your opinion, give them an experiment instead. You can’t go wrong, and even if it doesn’t work you might end up with Post-its.

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