Why you should learn to love your clients

Designers can improve the way they work with a just a little empathy, argues senior user experience designer Viviana Doctorovich.

They ask for too much. They don't respect the value of our time, our knowledge and experience. They make ridiculous demands. They just don't listen. They're our clients and moaning about them is the web designer's favourite sport.

If you think I'm exaggerating, go to Twitter and search for hashtags like #badclient, #stupidclient and #horribleclient, and see what comes up. The web is full of beautifully crafted articles, websites, even memorabilia dedicated to expressing the web design community's disdain for its clients.

Viviana easily found a lot of unhappy designers online

The main idea seems to be that we, the designers, are a force for design good and our clients are what stand between us and getting some good work done. If they didn't exist, the web would be a better place.

The thing is, we can kick and scream as much as we like but our clients aren't going away any time soon. Internal or external, there is always going to be a client involved in your projects and moaning about them might be cathartic, but it's unlikely to make things better for any of the parties involved. Maybe it's time to change tack.

Radical acceptance

I recently came across the simple yet powerful concept of radical acceptance. The main idea behind it is that we should totally accept what we cannot or don't want to change, and focus on changing the things we can and want to change.

How does this apply to our struggle with our clients? It means we stop wasting energy on fighting their existence and behaviour, and totally accept that they're not going to disappear and that we cannot change them. Once we have accepted this, we are then free to focus our efforts on changing the one thing that is in our control: our own behaviour.

We've all been a client

How do we know how to change our behaviour? A good starting point is using our empathic skills. We have all been 'clients' at some point of our lives. Do you remember how it felt like to rely on someone else's expertise? Maybe you had to use the services of a repairman, a plumber, an architect or a doctor.

Use your imagination to go back to those moments in your life when you were a client and try to remember all the details. What was good and bad about the experience? Can you think of anything that would have made the experience of being a client better for you? Excellent, I now challenge you to do those things for your clients.

Watch and learn

Have you ever feel disrespected as a client? Focus on being respectful. Respect is something earned and not given. To earn someone's respect, we need to start by respecting them and respecting ourselves. It's about knowing where our and other people's boundaries are, and ensuring they're not crossed. If we want our clients to respect our boundaries, we must start by respecting theirs and making it clear to them where our own limits lie.

Or maybe you felt you were not being listened to? Become a great listener. It's amazing how much more receptive clients can be to what we have to say if we truly listen to them first. And you'll be surprised at how much you can learn from them.

"Listen first, then design"

In his 'Five secrets from 86 notebooks' talk, Michael Bierut says the main reason he became a designer is that he wanted to help people to solve problems, and that he sees himself as a bit of a 'doctor'.

Bierut believes if he listens to his 'patients' really hard, they will actually give him the solution to their problem themselves. The first of his talk's secrets is "listen first, then design".

It's simple really. Treat your clients as you want to be treated. You might be surprised at the results.

Words: Viviana Doctorovich

Viviana (@vivdoc) is a senior user experience designer at Firefly (fireflylearning.com) and has been working in digital for 10 years, with clients of all shapes and sizes​. This article was originally published in net magazine issue 266.

Liked this? Read these!