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Design Track: Convincing Clients Without (much) Bravado - Mindy Wagner43:59 with Mindy Wagner
Coming up with a flawless design is only half the battle. You also have to get your best ideas past the clients even those who have trouble understanding traditional design deliverables. Not everyone is ready to walk into a room Don Draper style and say 'This. Or nothing'. But it’s our job to sell the best solution to even the toughest crowd, and you can still do plenty of convincing without the ego overload. A little bit of psychology and a persistent stream of client collaboration go a long way. We’ll break down the process for keeping clients engaged and explore tricks for getting past obstacles in the approval process.
[Convincing Clients Without (Much) Bravado - Mindy Wagner - Blend Conference 2013] 0:00 [Mindy Wagner] I'm going to talk to you about selling design without bravado. 0:05 But first I'll just give you a really quick intro because I'm probably a stranger. 0:09 I'm Mindy, and I go by "Graphics Girl" and you might have seen me tweeting or blogging somewhat infrequently on Viget's Inspire blog. 0:14 I live and work in Durham. I work at Viget, which is a design agency there. 0:26 We also have offices in Falls Church and Boulder. I'm a senior designer. I've been there about 5 years. 0:31 I don't have a southern accent because I actually come from New York—and the not cool part of New York, 0:38 but the very, very snowy part which is why I'm not there now. 0:43 Shoveling your driveway in April is just not awesome. 0:47 I started my career a very long time ago. In fact, I can honestly say that my first—this isn't mine. 0:53 I, unfortunately, don't have a screenshot of my first website, but it was in Geocities and it did have a snakeskin background. 0:58 So, yeah. Luckily now I get to do somewhat cooler work for somewhat cooler clients. 1:07 I work on a lot of different projects at Viget. So sometimes I'm working with really big brands and nice, healthy timelines and budgets. 1:15 And it might go 6 months. 1:22 Sometimes I'm working on a 2-week sprint for a demo start up or an internal project for the boss. 1:24 So I really get to run the gambit on client persuasion, conversations 1:32 and the types of obstacles that you run into at all these different levels of things. 1:36 So what I'm going to talk about is selling your design without much bravado. 1:43 And when I say sell I mean present, pitch, win, get your design through somewhat unscathed through that whole obstacle course. 1:47 When I say bravado I mean swagger. I don't have this thing—the ego and tough-talk persona. 1:56 I think there's definitely a myth—or some people can obviously do this. 2:06 I cannot be this person—the creative genius that walks in, throws out 1 idea and says, 2:12 "This is the idea. I am the best. You have to believe me." And then walks away. 2:19 It doesn't come naturally to me. When I try to fake it, it looks extremely awkward and weird, so I've given up. I've accepted. 2:23 But whether or not I have bravado, I have to be able to tell clients when they don't know shit. [laughter] 2:32 And it's really hard for me because I am anti-conflict by nature. I don't like having tough conversations, and I don't have that bravado. 2:40 So I've developed—I've been doing this over 10 years. 2:50 And in those 10 years I've worked really hard to develop enough of a system around my weaknesses to turn them into strengths. 2:53 So the path to my self-acceptance—there was a turning point in my career that really helped me out. 3:03 About 5 years ago, which is about more than 5 years of my career, I was working as an internal designer at Syracuse University. 3:11 And I worked there for quite awhile. So I worked my way up; everybody trusted me. 3:19 I got to be in on some somewhat interesting things if you work at a university. I got to be part of the committee. 3:23 And any university committee is sort of like a torture chamber. 3:31 But this one happened to be the committee to pick the vendor for the university-wide redesign. 3:34 I didn't want to be a part of the university-wide redesign team; 3:40 I wanted to be part of the committee because internally there was no way we were going to get the job done. 3:45 So we really pushed for a vendor. They agreed. They let us have this—they paid a lot of money for vendors to come in. 3:50 So I got to be a fly on the wall in the opposite side of the conversation. 3:56 I got to sit in the client's seat and watch presentations from, I think there were 6 different major design firms that came through 4:01 from New York City and Chicago and Philly. 4:09 And at this point in my career, I had not seen real-deal pitches of this level, and I was blown away. 4:12 I was also surprised by the personality that was being brought by a lot of these people. 4:19 It did sort of feel like, "Okay, either they're geniuses or they're really big jerks." 4:29 And I felt somewhat defeated because I was surprised that this was working. 4:34 I was seeing what they were saying, and I was hearing these really wild assumptions 4:46 about things we could do and technologies we would use. 4:49 And I was like, "There's no way this is ever going to work." But it was working for the committee. 4:52 My committee was really excited about this razzle-dazzle personality. 4:58 And then there was this other guy that came through, and he was much different from that show-flash ego. 5:04 He wasn't buzzworthy, but when he did his presentation and left there was no, "Ooh, that guy. Let's do that." 5:13 But he also wasn't crazy, and he didn't come across as temperamental. 5:20 So as the conversation started about pros and cons, that put him above about half the people immediately. 5:24 I was starting to feel a little better. 5:32 And then I sat back and listened because I didn't want to be the one choosing this team; I just wanted to help facilitate the conversation. 5:35 But I watched the tide turn from, "Ooh, that really buzz-worthy person with all the great lingo and the really flashy personality 5:43 and the shiny shoes—they were awesome, " to, "This guy might actually listen to us, and he's going to work hard. 5:49 So I watched the designer that I knew I couldn't be, they slowly turned to the designer that I could learn to be. 5:56 I could learn to be this guy who could communicate well and be articulate and who could collaborate and listen 6:06 and someone—in the end, they felt like they could trust him. 6:12 So some of that swagger actually worked against those other designers in the end. 6:16 So I learned that what I needed to do was play to my strengths and not try to be the designer that I'm not. 6:23 I don't enter to metal music, for instance. 6:29 If you meet me, you'll know that would look totally out of context and I wouldn't be able to pull it off, and so I'm not going to try. 6:34 Instead I have a much more subtle, collaborative approach. 6:43 But over 10 years I've found that that works better for me than brute force. 6:47 So I'm going to talk about the different stages and how at those different stages we can basically get the buy-in that we're looking for— 6:52 smooth our transitions, smooth those conversations, get our work through even at some difficult obstacle points. 7:00 And the most important part to me is before any design ever gets laid down—including mood boards—before any visual whatsoever, 7:06 and sometimes even before we're talking to them. 7:15 The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. I really like this quote. I haven't read the book. I know he's a cool guy. 7:18 The idea that—this is sort of how I function is like, "If I can smooth this path, if I can anticipate the problems that we might have 7:26 and get rid of them before they ever come up, then I'm just going to have a much smoother path along the way." 7:37 And that's ultimately what I'm looking for to get my designs through. 7:42 We naturally associate confidence with expertise and we all do this and we've all been wrong about it and realize that, 7:46 "Oh, this guy that was so confident, I thought he was going to be great at what he did, and he's actually horrible." 7:53 Or, "This really insecure person that's quiet, in the corner and seems like they're probably going nowhere, 7:59 they're like the smartest person in the room." 8:04 So we've all made this assumption wrongly. 8:06 But our clients don't have time to assess out whether or not our insecurities are due to bad high-school years or bad work. 8:10 So we have to give them the confidence in the beginning—as much as we can—so that they feel good about us and they don't have to take— 8:18 especially if they get—our work runs very quickly. 8:25 If I lose a client and in week 1, I don't have months to get that confidence back. So I really have to get it right early in the project. 8:29 So how do you do that if you don't have natural swagger? How do you gain their confidence? 8:39 This is by far where I spend the most time—in a creepy, manipulative way. [laughter] 8:46 When I say stalk them, the minute I know who my next client is, whether it's a 2-week sprint or a 6-month project, 8:55 I go and I track down all of the stuff that they sent us. 9:04 This is the thing I used to skip. I would wait for project managers to send me the valid information that I should know. 9:08 Now I just go find it. I go find all the documents—anything we've sent them, anything they've sent us. 9:13 I look at site, of course—if it exists. I try to dig up past and current marketing campaigns. 9:18 A lot of times clients don't share that stuff with us, but it's really, really informative. 9:25 And if you go into the meeting having done that leg work, you're just going to sound much more informed when you talk to them. 9:30 Of course look up peers and competitors. 9:36 If they haven't given you a list, make sure you make up your own list, and be able to talk to a couple of things in each of those sites 9:37 or each of those campaigns that you feel like is good, bad, whatever. 9:46 And then most creepy but also most helpful, if I know who's going to be at a kickoff meeting if I haven't met the team before, 9:49 I go and I look up as much as I can about them. 9:57 So I go to their LinkedIn profiles and I figure out not only what they do at the company they're at now, 9:59 but what they did prior—anything in their past that might me helpful to help me to figure out how they tick. 10:04 And I get granular. 10:11 So if I can't find somebody's LinkedIn profile and I can't find interviews with them and I can't find the kind of information I'm looking for, 10:13 I'm willing to look at Pinterest boards. 10:19 I've looked at anything I can find to get into that room and feel like I have some idea who this person is, 10:21 because even if I don't use that information at all and even if it's not really helpful, I feel better when I'm sitting in that room with them. 10:28 I feel like they're not strangers. 10:36 I've talked to as many of you as I can before this talk because it makes me feel like, 10:38 "Okay. I know that person a little bit. I know this person a little bit." 10:41 I have some basis for what the crowd is like. 10:44 This is a thing I think we tend to skip. 10:49 We talk a lot about deliverables and we talk a lot about process and we talk a lot about pieces and things like that, 10:52 but we are hesitant to talk about our philosophy and our design approach in the bigger, big D design. 10:58 And I think that's a huge mistake on our part. I think that we are setting ourselves up to be pencil pushers instead of designers. 11:07 So I do this quickly and I don't get poetic about it, but I do always put in a few slides 11:14 or just have a quick conversation about how I approach design from a philosophical view point 11:23 and how I think that's going to make their project awesome. 11:28 And to me I think partly we're still just partly getting over that little brother design thing, but I've been doing this now for, 11:31 as I said, over a decade. 11:39 So I can have this conversation and I should have this conversation with people 11:42 and make sure that I set the tone as creative person, not as decorator. 11:46 It's very easy for clients to see us as decorators if we don't have this kind of conversation. 11:51 Another thing I do and try to figure out really early on is what their lens is on the design or the project or whatever task we're doing for them— 11:59 what it is they're focused on, because it's not just the goal. 12:08 And a lot of times our goal and their goals aren't always the same. 12:11 Sometimes the lens is—well it's got to be easy to maintain because holy crap, we're going to be stuck with this thing. 12:15 That's often times a lens, and so speaking to that lens throughout all of the parts of the process makes everybody feel better, 12:20 even if you know that's not the main point and even if you know that's not the main goal—just being able to put it into context. 12:26 Another lens that often comes up is the CEO needs to be happy or whatever. 12:34 This is an example of a project that I worked on where this company sold school books, 12:38 and they basically had 2 totally different sites for school books, but they were the same site; we were going to skin them. 12:45 They sold regular school books and then they sold religious school books. 12:51 And they were really hung up on how we were going to translate 1 of these designs. 12:56 We were going to do 1 design first and then translate it later into this religious site. 13:01 And they were really hung up on how we would do that. 13:05 We knew that was really easy and I could have easily just been like, "Yeah, yeah. We got it." 13:08 Instead I took about 2 hours in the mood board phase—so this is the regular school-book design. 13:12 I took another 2 hours and skinned for them the mood board to show them that, 13:18 "Hey this religious site, we've got it. There's no problem. We understand what you're looking for. We will get to it. 13:22 We know it's a couple months down the line. No big deal." 13:30 And that couple hours basically shut down hours of conversation we would have had around each step of the design 13:33 if we hadn't shown them that we totally understood that lens and we could work with it. 13:40 The last thing I'd like to do before comps is—again, maybe sort of creepy, sort of manipulative thing, but it really works— 13:47 and that's to plant seeds for whatever it is you know you want to do next. 13:55 So a lot of times in kickoffs or in those first meetings you have something in your head, something you're kicking around. 13:59 You've talked with your team, hopefully. You guys are starting to get to little bits of ideas. 14:06 Or you might know that you want to use a certain technology or you might what to do a certain cool interaction 14:12 that you think you could fit into the project. 14:17 I plant the seeds for those as early as possible and just try to make it seem like they were along for that decision, 14:20 that it wasn't made without them way before they got into the project or when you went off with your office. 14:27 But if you can come around to those in meetings, that works out great. And I'll get to an example of that. 14:32 I worked on Upenn.edu. I was the senior designer and actually only designer. I don't know why that matters. 14:40 And when I got them as a client I first of all realized they're an Ivy League school. 14:49 I did not go to an Ivy League school so I had to learn who all the Ivys were and why that mattered and how old they were and all this. 14:55 They were founded by Ben Franklin, so I really got to know a 10th-grade version of Ben Franklin 15:03 so that I knew why there were 10 statues of him on campus and how important he was to them. 15:09 I looked at all their sites. And having come from a university world, I knew there was going to be tons of sites. 15:15 But I looked at the important ones and the ones I knew were possibly going to come up in meetings 15:20 and also things that were done well and things that were done really poorly so we could have this conversation about the environment 15:26 and who's going off the ranch and why and how maybe we could fix that kind of stuff. 15:32 This is our pre-mood board exercise that we don't always do but occasionally do. 15:38 We call them moodlets for lack of—it's a horrible name, but that's the only name we've come up with. 15:44 So before the kickoff I had a couple extra hours, so I sat down and I basically—having done all this early research, 15:49 I could kind of frame up 3 concepts. 15:55 So gave each concept a name and I gave it a little bit of a visual direction idea and I gave it a couple of adjectives, 15:58 and I just kind of set this aside. 16:04 It was just a thing I did as an exercise to be prepared for that meeting. 16:06 We went to Philly, we ate lots of pretzels—lots of pretzels. I never got a Philly cheese steak, but I ate like 5 pretzels in 1 day. 16:10 Then we went to the kickoff, and we spent all day with their team there. 16:19 And then while the other parts of my team—the UEX and the FED and the sales and project management were going on, 16:24 I was sitting in the corner writing things on post-it notes looking a little bit crazy. 16:30 But what I was doing was writing down adjectives that the clients were saying throughout the meeting, 16:34 things they said about the university. 16:39 So when it was my turn to go, this was where I was doing the planting seeds part. 16:41 I asked them to put it in 3 buckets, we were able to frame those words up into 3 bucketed concepts, 16:46 and lo and behold they fit the names of my moodlet concepts, which no one had ever seen. 16:52 So I could lead them into these 3 concepts I knew I wanted to go with and make it seem like it was a team approach, 16:57 make it seem like we were all a family together. 17:04 And I wasn't lying. Those words had already come up in my research. 17:07 I knew these words were going to come out. I knew what directions we were going to end up with. 17:11 So it wasn't extremely slimy—it's a little slimy, but it's not terrible. [laughter] 17:14 And what happens then is we get to mood boards and they feel like they've been really, really involved in this process. 17:19 We do the 3 mood boards based on the 3 concepts. They love them. 17:27 We basically built that foundation, so the rest of the project went really smoothly. 17:30 This is like the craziest mood board. When I put this in I'm like, "Yeah, this is really Ben Franklin." 17:34 Clearly they didn't go with that one, but somebody had a lot of fun on that one. 17:40 So those are the things that I try to do before comps to set myself up. 17:47 When I get to actually—when I say comps I mean mood boards, I mean whatever your design deliverables are. 17:52 And if you're not a designer, hopefully these same principles apply. 17:58 When it comes to sharing design there's the regular stuff we always do, but there's some other stuff that I think we should keep in mind 18:03 to make our approach a little bit better. 18:10 One of them is to avoid dogmatic approaches. 18:13 I think we've all gotten really used to certain deliverables like style tiles or mood boards or style guides—these types of deliverables— 18:17 and they're written into task orders. 18:26 So we're handed the direective of, "Here's the things you're going to do." 18:28 And more and more I'm finding that that approach—we're pushing back and sales is listening and we're saying, 18:33 "We don't want labels on what it is we're stuck with." 18:39 But a lot of times a client wants a label. Someone asked earlier in an earlier talk, "When a client forces 3 mood boards, what do you do?" 18:43 You let it go in sales and then when you get to the design phase you ask them, 18:51 "Can I change this? Can I do something that makes more sense for you guys? Can I stop wasting your time? 18:55 Can I do something that's more efficient or that's a better fit for the project?" 19:00 So an example of where I just went off approach, I got to work with TimeLife.com of the like 3 am infomercial of TimeLIfe.com, 19:04 which was awesome. 19:13 Everybody else was like, "That's so cheesy." I was like, "No, I love it. Send me some box sets now." I have box sets at my desk. 19:15 So one of the challenges with Time Life was that this is just a small sampling of their visual design for their products. 19:26 Their products are all over the map and very, very strong visually and very different visually. 19:33 Each one just had a totally different look and feel. So I knew that the UI for this site was going to be very minimal. 19:38 It was going to just—I wanted to basically disappear. 19:44 Another challenge was that we were going to hand the site off to internal designers at Time Life, 19:48 and they wanted the product pages to look really customized per product. 19:54 But what the Time Life team was doing basically now was something like this. 19:58 So their skill level was such that we didn't really want to drown them with some type of really complicated template 20:02 or really complicated graphics that they would have to create and maintain. 20:08 We didn't want to give them this huge overhead. 20:12 So I kind of sat on it for a couple of days and I looked around at what they were doing and what I could do, and I thought about these mood boards. 20:14 At the time we were supposed to do 3 mood boards. 20:22 I was like, "I'm not feeling that." So I talked to the team at Time Life. 20:24 I said, "Hey guys. I want to take a different approach. I just want to bring in a design exploration to the next meeting. 20:30 If you hate it, we can go back to mood boards. But let me take this." 20:35 I've done this on a number of client projects. 20:38 It's always hard for me to do because I feel like, "Oh but they think they're getting this thing. 20:40 This is bending the rules, and I don't break rules. I'm a rule follower." 20:45 But I've never had anyone say no because at this early stage they're really ready to throw in and see what you can do. 20:49 So this is a great place to get off the—if you're going to go off track, this is a great starting point. 20:56 I brought to them this, which basically there's a really simple, dark wrapper. 21:04 It's hard to see on the screen that there's even anything there. 21:10 Dark wrapper and a concept that, "Hey, these CD covers are so strong, you don't really need much else. 21:13 But let's give it 1 background image and these CD covers." 21:18 And I showed it to them in a couple of variations. 21:21 These were really fun to make. I got to do the whole site, and I think I made 200 of these things. 21:24 They were awesome—just like churning away all day. 21:29 They loved this. They loved the idea. They loved the fact that they could maintain it. They didn't need mood boards. 21:33 They didn't need to look at different styles. 21:40 So it was fun to impress them with this, and it immediately went into the design. 21:42 So what ended up being the final design was something very, very similar to what I started with, which was cool. 21:48 It was really nice to see there wasn't a lot of waste on this project and my vision was executed exactly the way that I had intended. 21:54 So this is the home page, and this is the product page for an awesome disco box set. If anyone needs one later, I have it. 22:02 It's basically one-to-one. The top area, though, UEX changed it a little bit, but the design basically carried straight in. 22:11 A problem I have with a designer without that bravado thing, is that when I input really early on like,"it has to be easy to maintain," 22:21 or "it has to be green because green is my Mom's favorite color," or whatever, I take those things really seriously 22:30 and I start to let them box me in. 22:35 So I've got this long list by the second or third meeting of all these things that I think they need—that they've said they need. 22:38 But 10 different people might have said 10 different things, and they may have only meant it in passing. 22:45 It's really hard to figure out just how important those things are to them 22:50 and how important it is versus the trade-off that you're going to have to make if you do that thing. 22:55 So I've made some mistakes. This is Ashley Furniture, and they were a project I worked on awhile ago. 23:00 And they hemmed us in pretty good in the beginning. 23:08 They were very scared of maintenance, they wanted certain pictures, they wanted boxes. 23:11 They had what they thought was a vision, and I executed on that vision. 23:17 And I let myself deliver something that I wasn't really that excited about and that I didn't feel like was a great solution. 23:22 So when I went into that first presentation with this comp, I wasn't excited but I thought,"Well, this is what they're asking for." 23:30 It turns out they weren't excited either because while this was what they had asked for on paper, this wasn't what they actually wanted. 23:36 They had bought into our design work based on our portfolio, and they wanted that work. 23:44 They didn't really understand that the things they were saying were basically a trade-off to what they would get. 23:50 So we went 7 rounds on a homepage—7 really difficult rounds to get to something they approved. 23:56 I don't even know if they were—I think they were happy in the end, but it was a really, really tough process. 24:04 And it need to go that way. 24:09 What I should have done and what I know now is I should have delivered something that was awesome and hard to maintain 24:11 and not hemmed in the beginning, and let them tell me to take it down to the thing that they want. 24:17 Not that I'm going to make them something they can't ever maintain, but this turned out to be a great compromise. 24:24 There's only a couple images on here that they actually have to do much Photoshop work to. 24:29 And they were willing to do that when they saw it. 24:33 If I had just made that compromise in the beginning, I wouldn't have had to go 7 rounds to get to it. 24:35 So the next project I had was like the complete opposite. This was 2-week sprint; Ashley was like, I don't know, 6 or 8 months. 24:42 Beat Deck was a 2-week sprint with a Y Combinator group—2 guys basically in a basement in San Fransisco. 24:50 When they came to me they were making sound cloud with music analytics, basically is what Beat Deck is. 24:57 Their target audience, for the most part, was going to be electronic dance music people, so ravers—like really young ravers. 25:04 If you're a really young raver, you probably call it something different. I'm from a totally different generation. 25:12 So that was their target audience, but they brought to me all these examples and all this inspiration that was basically really plain, 25:20 really drag, sort of like Apple.com—gray, white, whatever. 25:28 And they were like, "Yeah, this is how we want it to look." 25:32 I remember sitting at my desk and being like, "I have 2 weeks to get this done. I don't have time to churn on stuff. 25:35 If it doesn't go well in this first presentation, I'm going to be here late trying to figure this out." 25:41 But I don't really feel like what they're asking for is right. 25:47 I had just gotten done with Ashley and I thought, "I'm going to do it. I'm going to do what I think they should have." 25:50 I gave them a much punchier pallet and a little bit bolder treatment and also did all the UEX on this because their was no UEX designer. 25:56 So it was me and a project manager flying through this project. 26:05 This was the first comp I delivered, and I don't think it was what they expected but they were really excited and happy 26:11 and loved the idea and thought that this color pallet was great and that it would stand out from the rest of the competition. 26:18 So I won that one, and I was able to really move through that project quickly and successfully and get them way more comps 26:24 than we thought we would because we hit the nail on the head the first time, and I felt like going with my gut 26:33 was absolutely the right approach there. 26:38 That's just another comp. 26:41 I write myself scripts because I kind of babble and I kind of get off track. I forget things things that I want to say. 26:47 I don't have a great short-term memory, so before a big meeting a lot times—or even a small meeting— 26:55 I'll take between 5 and 15 minutes to give myself an outline and write down all the things I want to say. 27:00 This is an actual document that I had written up about questions I need to ask people and things I really want to clarify 27:08 and basically my agenda for the meeting. 27:16 We might have a totally separate agenda that talks about all the other people's parts, but this is me; this is what I want to say. 27:18 I don't usually refer to this once I'm in the meeting. Sometimes I print it out just so I have it on hand and I can take notes. 27:25 But most of the time this disappears and it's sort of an artifact, but I've organized what I want to ask. 27:30 It's like taking notes in high school. You might not ever look at them again, but the act of just thinking through that thing is really valuable. 27:38 A lot of times it does help me to clarify what the big problems are that are going on 27:45 or what the little problems are that are going on that we've been ignoring, maybe. 27:51 So the third section I'm going to talk about is the feedback loop. And this is the hardest section, clearly, to be good at. 27:56 It takes a lot of strategy and it takes a lot of smoothing of things, I think. 28:06 The longer that I watch great designers, the more I think handling feedback is one of the hardest skills to learn— 28:14 to be able to take it and then put out and skirt right around it to the thing that you actually want to do.—not because you want to do it, 28:22 but because it's the right thing. 28:31 I don't ever recommend designer bulldozing. 28:33 One of the things that I try to make sure I do now is to teach my clients how and when I want feedback—at each meeting; constantly. 28:37 I feel like sometimes I'm talking to children because I keep reiterating and I feel bad when I do that, but it is very effective. 28:46 What we forget because we're living and breathing these projects, what we forget is these people go off and don't think about it for 2 weeks. 28:56 They don't remember the decisions they made. 29:02 We are marinating in them, and they are off doing the thousand other things that are calling their attention. 29:04 So teaching them how we give feedback—one of the first things in every meeting,—and I was talking earler about this— 29:13 it's sort of the soap-opera recap. 29:20 If any of you have ever watched soap operas, the first 3-5 minutes are basically, here's all the stuff that happened before. 29:22 So if you haven't been in in 2 weeks, you can still watch. 29:28 And that's what I do at these meetings because people are coming in and out of meetings, they are not paying attention, 29:32 they are not reading things coming through email or base camp. 29:38 So setting yourself up for, "Here's all the decisions that we made last time." 29:41 or "Here's why we're going to look at what we're going to look at." is really, really valuable. 29:45 Sometimes it feels childish, but I don't think it does to them. I've never had a client say, "Stop repeating this stuff." 29:49 I've only ever gotten good feedback about that. 29:57 Clarifying what's up for evaluation is important. 30:02 If you just open the screen and you're showing them whatever it is you're showing them and you're not telling them what you want to hear, 30:05 they're going to give you feedback that's all over the map, and you're going to be frustrated. 30:11 You're going to be like, "I don't get why they're focusing on this one little thing? Who cares? They've seen it 10 times." 30:13 But you didn't tell them what you wanted them to look at. 30:19 So tell what it is you want them to look at, and tell them what type of feedback you want on that thing. 30:21 So if I'm showing a mood board, the first thing that I say is, "I want your gut reaction. 30:28 "You can tell me the other stuff. You can tell me what button you like and why the gradient's great on that. 30:33 But what I really want is just that big picture view." 30:38 If we're looking at round 7 on the homepage on Ashley, my conversations like, 30:42 "Hey guys, we need to decide on this headline and this picture here." 30:46 And I give them very pointed places to insert themselves because I think a lot the times, 30:51 clients have no idea where they should insert themselves or on what. 30:57 So they're searching for like, "Okay, well what can I say about this?" 31:03 Then you're going to get somewhat useless and all over the map feedback. 31:06 Digging for clarity is a thing that I used to not do, and then I'd get frustrated afterwards that I hadn't done it. 31:12 So when I hear feedback that doesn't make sense or that is really high level or that is just maybe random feeling, 31:19 I ask a lot of questions because I don't want to leave the meeting and be talking with another designer and say, 31:28 "Oh yeah, they said I couldn't use green," and have that designer go, "Why?" and then be like, "Actually I have no idea." 31:36 So I want to know the answers to the reasons that I'm changing something. 31:43 And then I might have a way better solution than they do or at least a better idea of what they think the problems are with those things. 31:46 So instead of just sitting there and writing all the feedback, make sure you're a part of this conversation. 31:55 I know sometimes designers are in between and not in these conversations, but you should be really trying to force yourself in 31:59 so you're getting the feedback firsthand and not through a project manager or somebody else who can't ask those questions for you. 32:06 Responding with authority is, again, I'm not awesome at authority or at like, "I know this, so do this." 32:15 But I work hard to—when I'm getting feedback that's about something in my area of expertise, especially when it's a detailed thing, 32:27 like recently I had a client—I don't want to say bullying—but really worried about the text size. 32:36 And I knew why the text size was the way it was and I knew all of the decision making that went into that 32:45 and the expertise that went into that, but they were just bound and determined it was going to be a different way. 32:51 So I kind of butted heads in a really polite way for a number of conversations over this point and eventually won. 32:57 I don't like to be bullied on things where I am the subject matter expert. 33:08 If we're talking about business schools or something like that, I'm totally open to critique. 33:12 But if we're talking about very specific design principles, that's where I step in and try to bring that authoritative personality. 33:18 But I always try to do it without getting defensive, and that's a hard thing to do, too, 33:28 when you're hearing negative feedback and you think it's silly and you think, "These people have no idea what they're talking about." 33:32 It's really easy to get emotional about it, and the minute you get emotional they stop listening because you've become the designer 33:40 that is heart-and-soul tied to this color or tied to this thing or tied to this picture. 33:47 You are no longer the expert; you are just a person with an opinion. 33:54 And everyone in the room is a person with an opinion so you just lost your edge. 33:58 So trying to do it without defensiveness is really important. 34:02 If all else fails—this is the only—see, I do get metal for like 3 seconds. [laughter] I forgot about this. 34:07 I made this for a co-worker of mine. We were in a project where there were more stakeholders than you could ever imagine. 34:14 So we were having some difficulty getting even the smallest of things through. 34:23 So when it get's to that point—when you know you're making the right decisions but you can't win them over with just a conversation 34:28 and when they can't win the next person over with just a conversation, annotations are the way to go. 34:34 It feels awful to do these types of things, but this is my font size chart and it took an hour or maybe 2 hours to go look at all their competitors 34:41 and look at their font size and line them all up in a chart and show them, "Hey guys, it's totally cool. We're fine. Everything's fine." 34:50 So that's what I did— I shut off the conversation. 34:58 It doesn't feel good to have to do these things, but it's part of our job to get the right solution through. 35:02 And if we had changed what they wanted to change, we would have been giving them a worse solution, 35:08 so I needed to solve the problem for them. 35:13 This is another calculator. 35:16 When you get to the type of people for which this works, just throw it at them as much as you can 35:19 because it's going to save you time in the end. 35:24 Empathizing with their fears I think can be difficult because we are in such totally different roles in the project, 35:29 so we're trying to make the best possible solution and they're trying to deal with all the politics and all the emotions and all the history 35:37 and all the baggage on the other end. 35:45 And that's hard. I've been working with Lansinoh, and they make baby and mom stuff. 35:47 If you have a baby, you've probably had a bottle of Lansinoh product in your house and you probably recognize this horrible, horrible purple, 35:53 which is their brand color. 36:01 When they came to us—this was their current site, so you can see why they're with us. 36:03 When they came to us they said, "Yeah, we know the purple's too much. We get it. 36:09 We know we look really dated. We have to drop the purple or at least go way less heavy with it. We're ready to do that. We're on board." 36:15 So we're like, "Oh awesome, we're not going to have to have this horrible conversation. This is going to be awesome. " 36:22 They wanted something really—all the words that came across whenever we talked were like modern, bright, weight space, open, 36:28 blah, blah, blah. 36:34 So this was the still fairly purple, in my opinion, comps that we started with. 36:36 They loved the comp, and we went on to design a number of other pages before we had the purple panic, and they just got nervous. 36:42 They started looking at all the other stuff that they had been putting out, and they were worried that people 36:54 would get to Lansinoh.com having gone there, typing Lansinoh on the computer and yet not really feel Lansionh-ish when they got there. 36:59 But one of the reasons they went here is because they have 3 other brands under this, none of which are purple. 37:08 So we knew that purple was not actually going to be the best choice for them. 37:13 We would, yes, lead with a purple tone, but we didn't want too much of that heavy-handedness. 37:16 It's hard to see in here, but what I ended up doing was saying, 37:25 "Okay guys, we can do this. We'll show you a couple of different things. We'll lead you through this and see what feels right to you." 37:29 We showed them a purple background with—their products have these goofy flowers on them, 37:36 and every woman that I talked to hated these horrible, goofy flowers, so I was really not interested in leaving them on. 37:44 But I showed them this option and I was pretty honest and I was like, 37:51 "Guys, the flowers are pretty bad, but if you want to, here's what it'll look like. We can do that. 37:55 And here's what it looks like just plain purple without the flowers. It's okay; it feels kind of heavy; it loses all that openness." 37:59 I gave them some reasons why I didn't think this was the right approach. 38:06 Then I showed them again the original comp, and I said, "Your products—"and if you look at, this is a category page. 38:10 But if you look at the product page, their products are just all the same color. They're all purple with teal. 38:16 There was no way anyone was going to mistake that they were on the Lansinoh site. 38:21 So leading them through that exercise and empathizing with them and letting them know we understood 38:25 and that we were willing to go in that direction if they really needed to was all we needed to do to get through the purple panic. 38:31 So we ended up going with exactly the same comp that we started with and just spending a couple hours 38:37 riffing through the other options for them. 38:44 The last thing that I'm going to address and only somewhat briefly because you could talk about this all day is prescriptive feedback. 38:48 This is the worst kind of feedback in the feedback loop, and it happens all the time. 38:56 When I say prescriptive I mean, "Change that button to orange," instead of, "That button needs to stand out more." 39:02 My feathers get ruffled when I hear this kind of stuff in meetings because I want to be the one helping make that decision. 39:08 I don't want someone coming in and deciding that for me. 39:16 So I have a couple of tricks for when that starts to come out—and the minute it starts to come out, 39:21 because if you let it go for a few meetings, then it starts to build and it starts to pile up. 39:26 It's a slippery slope that if you allow, it will just constantly build. 39:32 One of the things that I like to stop people and say is, "It sounds like the problem that you're trying to solve is—" whatever the problem is— 39:39 whatever you think the problem is. 39:48 And at that point they can tell you, "No, that's not the problem. Actually the problem that I'm having is this other thing." 39:50 But you've changed the conversation from solution to problem, and that's what you guys want to be talking about 39:55 when you're hearing feedback. 40:01 And then I don't ever throw out a solution in the meeting because that hems you in. 40:04 So you might, in the back of your mind, immediately know, "Oh yeah, this is what I would do." 40:10 But one of the things about this is sometimes prescriptive feedback comes in and goes away as quickly as it came in. 40:14 When it comes time to make revisions, that may totally fall off and not be important. 40:22 It might have been 1 person's feeling or the saying that they felt like in that moment but later come back and they're like, 40:26 "I'm not really worried about that." 40:32 So that's 1 reason I don't give solutions. 40:35 The other is I really want to think about what my solution is going to be before I just throw something out. 40:37 And I want them to feel like it's not this [snap, snap, snap], "Oh yeah, psh, psh, psh," 40:41 that it is a bigger design and holistic thought process that goes into these types of decisions. 40:45 The last trick that I go through—and this happens a lot in the prescriptive feedback description— 40:54 is what I call the "This or That Approach." 41:01 This is one of my favorite tricks for somewhat more difficult, annoying little feedback bits that maybe you're going 'round and 'round on. 41:03 I try to give 2 options that I can live with, and only 2 because more than that seems just muddy conversation. 41:13 So 2 fairly specific changes—either the header's bold or it's 4 pixel sizes larger or whatever. 41:19 Giving little points of choice, because most of us have stopped giving 3 homepages to decide on, 41:28 so they're losing a lot of choice already in that we've all narrowed our process down to maybe choosing a mood board 41:35 but not choosing a homepage and that kind of thing. 41:43 So giving these kinds of points along the way can really be helpful. 41:46 It heads off power struggles with everyone. So this technique works well in client meetings. It also works really well with toddlers. 41:49 It also works really well with significant others. 41:58 I have found that instead of saying, "I need help," you can say, 42:03 "Could you do this or could you do that—one of these things, will you choose this thing for me?" 42:07 So it's a technique I use a lot and I find it really, really helpful. I would suggest trying it everywhere. 42:12 And last but not least, hopefully this doesn't happen, but if and when the feedback loop gets awkward, 42:21 if you feel like you're losing their trust or if you feel like they're getting frustrated and you don't know why or you can't solve it, 42:29 you have to have the conversation with them—the really awkward, painful conversation of like, 42:35 "It seems like you guys kind of hate us and we don't really know why you hate us, but let's talk about it. 42:40 What about this process isn't working and how can we fix it?" 42:44 A lot of times the temptation, especially since we communicate mostly on email and things like that, the temptation is to just let it go. 42:47 It's to hear that weird sound on the phone of the voice and you're like, 42:55 "I know they're bent out of shape about something, but maybe we'll get to it in round 2 or 3." 42:59 You probably won't. It's probably just going to build. 43:05 I've had some really awkward, relationship-y conversation with clients where I feel like, 43:08 "Geez, I feel like I just talked to my boyfriend about my middle-school breakup." 43:14 But having those conversations usually really, really helps to move to the next level without that awkward tension, 43:18 so hug it out, move on, don't ignore that tension. 43:27 In summary, if you can communicate design and understand human psychology and the irrationality that comes with it, 43:33 you don't need as much bravado—not much. 43:43 So if you are not this person, that's okay. 43:48 Don't worry about being this person; just worry about being a great designer who can communicate design really well. 43:52
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