A designer’s most powerful words

To give a bit of background into this article, I’ve never been much of a ‘yes man’ and I’m proud of that. To be a designer isn’t just accepting what your superiors say, you have to question their decisions to get context and motives for their suggestions and by doing so you can provide insight as to why it is or isn’t such a great idea. If I’m asked to design something that will have a detrimental effect on a client’s project, I will try to let them know in a constructive manner as to why they may need to rethink it and why it could be a waste of their resources.

Questioning decisions and offering alternatives is the difference between a designer and a pixel pusher.

I realise that depending on circumstance and who we work for, some of our hands may be tied when it comes to being able to express our professional opinion and we simply need to grin and bear it, however, there are two simple words that can help clients see the error of their way. ‘Why’ and ‘No’.

They’ll usually come in that order and sometimes you won’t even need the second one.

Question everything

Let’s assume that you’re designing an interface of some kind, whether it’s for a website or a mobile application, you will have spent a considerable amount of time researching, assessing the client’s brief and requirements, producing wireframes, ideas, flow diagrams and working on the content hierarchy amongst other things and after being given the thumbs up to continue, are ready to move on to produce design mockups in your design software of choice.

Now, let’s fast forward to the point where you’ve designed an interface based on all your research and you’re waiting on feedback…

Ping! There’s that email from your client with numerous suggestions for your design. Le sigh right? Granted, some clients are clued up and will come up with some good ideas and useful information to help with the project, however, if your client is one of these people that insists on changes for the sake of them to make themselves feel useful, question everything. If experience has taught me anything it’s that you should be prepared to stand up for your designs based on the research and planning phase of the project and while it’s not easy telling a client that they’re wrong, letting them figure that out for themselves is – so always ask for justification to their suggestions.


Suggestions such as moving X feature to another area or altering the colour of a specific call to action can always be counter acted with questions like “why do you think that arranging the features this way will benefit your users?” or “is there a particular reason why you want to go against the brand guidelines for the use of that colour?”. Sometimes there will be good justification for the requests and that’s fine. I don’t ask questions such as these because I’m either precious about the design or lazy in that I don’t want to do the changes, they simply come from wanting a better insight into the client’s way of thinking.

On other occasions the client will respond with comments such as “ah I dunno…”, “…it was just an idea” or even more rarely “you’re right, leave it as is” and because they realise that they’re ideas are simply on the spot reactions rather than ways of improving their project, they talk themselves out of it. Told you it was easy.


It’s not very often I’ll flat out say no at a request but it has happened. As I previously mentioned, I’m not precious about my design work but if people from well outside the design process are making decisions based on a whim I will, for the sake of my sanity as much as anything else, pull out the big guns. No. Say it out loud, it feels good.

One such request involved turning a website’s main call to action into a flower purely because it was Spring. The website was for a florist’s though right? No, this was for a large used cars sales and van rental company.

What annoyed me most about this request was that it had to go through 3 other people before it got to me and nobody else questioned it’s validity. The job was later completed by someone else, as I knew it would, but at least I stood up for myself, my work and my sanity.

I am not a yes man and yes, I am proud of that.

  • Wow. I’ve gotten into design recently as a leisure activity so I don’t get bombarded with criticism from others but I’m gonna start “Why”ing and “No”ing MYSELF while I desgin from now on. :’)

  • Hi Bobby,

    No one should be a “Yes Man” for the sake of it. I admire your confidence.

    You mention that you research, as far as I understand you, the client’s requirements. And you list “user experience” in your about-me call-out, pardon me, “user
    experiences” — could you define the difference?

    In any event, user experience research normally includes research on the
    projected, expected and eventually undiscovered users of the product
    that will always surprise you with knowledge and insights that you
    will never have if you don’t do that kind of research properly. With
    nearly 20 years of experience I can tell you with certainty that I
    know nothing about a project unless and until I know something about
    the target audience.

    With that said, I beg you to consider your users first and to allow those users to teach you things you could never imagine otherwise. Surely, clients can be stupid and cock-sure, but when we as designers conduct ourselves likewise, we are no better.

    We know nothing until we know everything, right? Let us learn from those we yearn to serve; users over clients. (And yet, I still shudder to casually use the word “users”.)

    Without user research and diving into that data which will back up your claims as to why this or that choice is better than the client’s whim, your choice really is no better than the client’s other than you have experience in designing stuff. Approach every project with a measure of naivete, would be my recommendation. Until you have data from user research to apply all that you’ve learned as an experienced professional, undoubtedly a
    very valuable supplement to the results of that research, you’ll have more confidence in your proposals not because you are not a “Yes man” but because you’re a listening man who has heard the call of the people, as it were, witnessed their (louder) actions and can
    demonstrate your findings to the client in ways that will always trump the bravado of “Why?” and “No!”.

    In sum, I still admire your confidence and trust you’ll take my advice with a grain of salt.

    Thanks for your post. It truly is worthy of and motivation for self-reflection, which we all need to do from time to time.

    -kevin b.

    • Hi Kevin, thanks for taking the time to put together this reply. The difference between experience and experiences, is that its plural, similarly as to how I would design apps rather than app.

      Great point regarding users before clients, this is what any designer should be aiming to do, this article is purely a general view in terms of managing a client’s expectations and requests rather than how designers should tackle every project. It’s just some advice I’ve written based on personal experiences, nothing more.

      I’m glad that all in all you enjoyed the article, if you ever wanted to add a post of your own to this site please just let me know.


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