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Should you listen to your client or follow trends? For many people this question is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, there are still many talented designers who wasting their time and blindly chasing the trends. In this post, I will do my best to convince you that listening to your client is the best move for your career and craft you can do. And, I will give you exactly five best reasons to support it. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
Listen to Your Client vs Listen to Trends
Before going any deeper into this topic of why you should listen to your client instead of trends, let’s make one thing clear. Just because you want to listen to your client doesn’t mean you have to ignore trends completely. This is not at all what am I trying to tell you. The real goal of this post is to make you switch your attention from following every new trend to your client. That’s all this post is about. You definitely can watch current trends in your industry and use them in your work. Just make sure to always put more emphasis on what’s really important.
Meaning, your main job is to listen to your client. Please, keep that in mind while reading or skimming this post and be patient with your arguments. You can tell me to fuck off later.
No.1: Client Is The One Paying You
Let’s start this one-sided debate with first and foremost reason to listen to your client, which is … Your client is paying your bills. It is as simple and straightforward as that. No matter how many trends you want to try, they will never pay your bills. Sure, you may argue that if you are a product designer or product maker, trends can earn you money. Well, wrong. These new digits on your bank account are not coming from trends either. They are coming from your customers. It is your customer who is willing to buy your products.
Although many of these buying decisions are partially made on the basis of your product’s design, design is only one part of the equation. There are other even more important factors such as functionality or features of your products. Saying that design itself influenced by certain trend is the main reason of commercial success of your product is either naïve or sad. The same applies to situation when you work for other people. Let’s suppose that these people (let’s call them … clients) may want you to follow some direction or trend for a moment. By the way, this direction will often not be set in stone. It may change a lot. I experienced this on my own skin couple times.
Anyway, let’s continue in this hypothetical situation … You were just approached by new client. Luckily for you, this client has already pretty clear idea of the final design on his mind. Since you don’t have conflicting personality, you decide to follow his decision. You will create couple wireframes and send them to your client for approval to get his approval. Then, you will nimbly move to building the first prototype or two. You want to be able to demonstrate at least the basic functionality and provide your client with better more real experience.
Unfortunately, the initial idea will not cut it. Your client will quickly sweep it off the table. After a short brainstorming session, both, you and your client, are ready to iterate and try different approach. How many times will you repeat this loop, nobody knows. So … Where was I heading? Yes, client is paying you. The purpose of this example is not to show you how tedious and painful design process can be. You will find that out on your own (don’t get discouraged, the feeling you will experience in the end is great).
The takeaway: When you accept new project, you have to first and foremost listen to your client. He is the one paying your bills and giving you the chance to make life of certain number of people (his customers) better. If you want to suggest any design direction right in the beginning, go ahead. Just be aware that the goal of your work is to solve existing problem, not to show how great trend follower you are.
No.2: Your Client Doesn’t Care About Trends
It will be about a week since I finished one of the client’s projects. My responsibility here was focused on creating brand new web design and branding for a smaller company followed by coding their website. Thanks to this project, I had the chance to understand how people not so interested in design are perceiving trends. The short answer is … Most of the time, they don’t give a shit about them. This is actually what my client told me when I told him to use some pieces of current trends and implement them into the design of his website.
The next sentence was that what he cares about is profitability of his business, not how cool or modern his website is. Here, someone could argue that in this situation it would be better to not to listen to your client. Why? Well, part of the business success can and will, in a fact, depend on how your website looks like. It is just like when you work on package design. When you think about it, website is basically a package either for some of your products or services or both. And, one of the first lessons in marketing and design is (at least I think is) that it is package what sells the product.
Again, package can be presented in virtually any shape and form. For example, if you are a car dealer, your showroom is the package and cars inside are products. Just ask yourself … Would you buy a luxurious car in a showroom that looks worse than pawnshop in the slum? Almost certainly not. No matter how great could the cars parked there looked, you would probably rather stay as far from it as possible. The thing is that the package (showroom) influence how you perceive the products inside. The same logic applies on any other area, such as website, as well.
Meaning, whatever your client is selling, the website itself will also either increase or decrease the chance of “closing” the sale. It will be hard to, for example, sell luxury cosmetics through website that looks like it wasn’t touched since 1995. This is something every client will understand. The thing here is that this example will work only in some degree. What I mean is that many clients will be satisfied with design from, for example, 2006. Design still has to be on certain level, but for big amount of clients, this will be enough.
We, designers, have to understand that for business owners, keeping their business profitable is much more important than having a website mirroring the latest trends. Does this apply on every client out there in the world? No. You may be approached by a client who will want to tailor the design of his website (or any other product) to some specific trend. From a psychology point view and according to my own experience, clients who are rather conservative are also more likely to stick to the design that has been tested by time. They don’t like changes for the sake of it.
In other words, you will have a hard time if you try to convince this type of client for something more fresh and trendy, but it is still possible. What you have to do is to change your point of view. You have to take a look at the situation from the side of your client. Then, you will be able to really understand their problems, goals and come up with reasonable arguments for your idea. However, I would still recommend that you listen to your client first. That will give you better insights into the problem your client has and increase your chance to create the best solution.
The takeaway: Client’s first and foremost interest is in keeping his business afloat and customers happy. Although there can be, and possibly are, many other factors in the game, following the latest trend is none of them. In a different words, your client has to pay the bills just like you.
No.3: Trends Are Temporary
Trends are temporary. It doesn’t matter what industry you are working at, every trend comes with a specific expiration date. What this means for you? By getting too attached to any trend you are potting yourself in risk of losing flexibility. Meaning, when the moment comes and your favorite trend will start to fade away, it might slowly kill your business. Remember, people like trends when they are … Trendy. This is the time when you can turn trend into gold mine. On the other hand, when trend retires, people will look for something else to replace it.
As a result, if you decide to stick to it, you are depriving yourself of potential business and job opportunities. This is something you should avoid at all costs. Solution? Every time you will find interested in any trend, don’t get too attached to it. Play with it, experiment with it, let it even influence your design taste. However, always be ready to move on. Since we are talking about your design taste, this is something I want to emphasize. Instead of becoming a trend follower, focus on nurturing your own design taste.
Any time new trend will appear, don’t reject it on the spot. This kind of stiffness can be as dangerous as becoming too attached. Instead, give yourself the permission to experiment with it. You can take it even further. Let the trend question your current taste and opinions. Who knows, you may find that some pats of this or that trend may actually work better than the ones you are using at this moment. In that case, don’t hesitate to implement them. In the end, it is only through constant questioning and experimenting your design taste can improve and evolve.
The takeaway: No trend will be here forever. If you get too attached to any, chances are, you and your business will fade away with your favorite trend. Feel free to play and experiment with trends, but always be ready to move on.
No.4: Trends May Not Be That Neutral
Another solid reason why you should think twice before blindly following trends and suggesting them to your client is that trends may not be neutral. What does it mean? Although trends are not tailored to any specific type of industry (I am talking about web design now) directly, some trends will just work better. Meaning, you would probably never use one design direction to every project. Simply said, different industries require different approach. For example, website for an app or some small business will probably look different from website for a bank.
Both of these examples will also use different structure and have different target market. However, one may argue that what I’ve just said is a bullshit. You can take one concept, change the content, maybe do some small change here and there and use it for completely different project. For example, you may want to take the mockup you created for barbershop on the corner, change the content and items in navigation and use it as a layout for some bank institution. Is this possible? You bet it is. Will it work? Well, it depends on what “work” means for you.
Let me explain it. When you are using you unleash your creativity machine, you have to consider wide array of factors. Some of these factors are based on sociology, demography, education, income and so on. You can learn more about all these factors and more in my post Personas: Crafting Great User Experience. Anyway, one segment of these factors is about psychology. Here is the important thing … Design is all about communication. You have to understand the language your client’s customers are using and tailor your idea to it.
This is why I intentionally used the examples of barbershop and bank institution. The difference here is visible on the first sight. On one side you have a small business owner working either for himself (a barber) or employing handful of people. On the other side is large financial house with dozens or hundreds employees and extensive infrastructure. While barber will be willing to experiment with some trendy ideas for his website to attract new customers, the same will probably not apply to the manager of the bank.
The problem is what these people are putting at risk. The barber from our example has less or even nothing to lose if the design will not be the right choice. On the other hand, bank manager has a lot at stake. The Bank our manager is working for has clients that are used to professionalism and presentation on a certain level. Approaching him with a flashy and trendy mockup would probably make him reconsider you as a designer for his project. Our barber? He might give it a shot because … What the heck! It can help him get new customers from younger generation.
Remember, trends are not conservative nor stable. So, trying to suggest trend to a person who is or is working in conservative industry is a losing battle. How to find whether you are dealing with some conservative? Listen to your client when you ask him what are his values and what he wants to represent. Words such as stability, trustworthy, tradition, safety and predictability are clear indicators that pushing bolder ideas will not make it. In that case, keep your radical ideas for another project. Now, you will be much better with following well-some tested design direction.
The takeaway: Every industry has specific requirements, traditions and cultural norms. No matter how strong this or that trend may be, these factors will always win. So, don’t try to adapt them to trends. Instead, do the opposite and adapt the trends to these norms. And, always double-check whether the direction you have in mind is the best for the industry your client is in.
No.5: Trends Will Not Help You Become a Better Designer
I intentionally left the best reason why you should listen to your client instead of trends to the end. This reason is that trends will never make you a better designer. Seriously. No matter how many trends or movements are you able to work with, they may have no effect on your design craft. Active listening to your client will. Why? Whatever your idea about discipline of design may be, the truth is that design is about solving problems. It is then no wonder that the best designers in the world are also the best problem solvers.
For the exact same reason, sites like Dribbble or Behance will never make you a better designer neither. These and similar websites are great for exploring other design directions, current trends and evolve your tastes. They can also help you improve your skills of visual communication and expand the number of design movements you can work with. Unfortunately, you will not be able to improve your problem solving skills. At least not significantly. The reason is that when you will find some interesting design, you have only one piece of the puzzle.
You have only the result. However, if you want to improve your problem-solving skills and progress as a designer you need the missing pieces as well. You have to understand the problem the designer was solving with his design. You also have to understand all the factors mentioned in the “neutrality” section the designer has to consider. Only then, you will be able to follow the steps, complete the puzzle and learn as much as you can. Luckily, Behance is doing a better job here.
Many portfolios featured there are rather case studies instead of plain shots. Designers are often showing their whole design process along with decisions they had to do. By following their thought process and steps you can gain a lot of knowledge. If you decide to shadow their work, you will gain practical skill as well. However, always aim for the “invisible” part of design process at first. Doing so you will soon realize that the best designers always listen to their clients first. For them, trends are only tools that can get the job done. Nothing more.
The takeaway: Trends on their own will never help you become a better designer. To become a better designer, you have to become a better problem solver. You have to learn how to listen to your client, find the problem and create the best solution for it. Remember, trends are only tools.
Closing Thought on Why You Should Listen to Client
Let me end this post with this: The ability to listen to your client is the most important skill you can develop. If your work consist of blindly following trends, you are doing a disservice to your clients. You may be even causing them a damage. Why? Trends have no real value. They don’t solve anything on their own. They are only tools you can use or ditch. Remember this the next time you will want to suggest or force a trendy idea to your client. Instead of that, just stop, shut up and listen to your client. And ask a ton of questions. You can solve a problem only if you have all the information.
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