“Find the Twin Sumo” or “No, Your Client is Not an Idiot”

You’ve been there. You’ve felt the knot in your stomach. You’ve tightened your grip on your iPad ever so slightly after hearing your client say “You know, on that header? I want our logo to be bigger. Way bigger.” And you think to yourself Great. I just found me another do-it-yourselfer. He designed a newsletter for his student club twenty-seven years ago and now he’s ready to tackle his corporate website. He just needs me to run Photoshop for him.

The world slows down for just a moment. You stare down at your notes, half pretending you didn’t hear and half expecting your iPad to feed you your line or something. But nothing comes. Time picks up its lumbering pace again. The street noise outside your client’s office window wakes you up and you realize now you have to say something; something that acknowledges your client’s statement. Something that isn’t “You wanna do this thing yourself?”

But, what?

Newton, Sumo Wrestling, and Design Iterations

Newton’s third law of motion states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Of course the guy was talking about the physical world. You know, like the pull of gravity working against your overwhelming desire to dunk it, or the tension of your belt working against the fierce push of your expanding gut. But, of course, we can always twist his words to apply them to design. And it’s fun.

In the “very complicated act of faith” that is design, there are two main forces at work: the problem and the solution. Their relationship is a lot like the one between your beer belly and your belt: they mirror each other. One is the question, the other the answer. They’re twin sumo wrestlers in different-colored diapers, pushing at each other with tremendous force. They’re the yin and the yang: identical, but opposite.

This is a fact that designers the world over use to their advantage. Want to come up with a great solution? Understand the problem. Want to understand the problem? Come up with a solution. If you figure one out, you immediately understand the other.

The design iteration, then, becomes a nice, sweaty wrestle between problem and solution. A designer will do a bit of research on the problem, and then propose a solution. That proposal invites feedback (aka more information about the problem), which the designer then takes into account for the next solution proposal. Rinse and repeat. Slowly, the designer’s understanding of the problem and the solution grow together, until finally, voila! We’ve got ourselves a finished product.

Clients Have Brains Too

As designers, we’re comfortable with this relationship between problem and solution. In fact, we use it to make a living. We’ve come to accept the iterative synthesis of solutions as the best way to come to understand problems. And we love it.

Well, it turns out our clients are often doing just that when they blurt out an unsolicited design suggestion. They may see a problem with our design, but instead of describing the problem by saying something like “You know, the home page just doesn’t feel ours enough. It still feels a little generic to me. I don’t think it reflects the personality of our company quite yet” they propose a solution and say “I think the logo should be bigger. Way bigger.”

This is because clients have brains too, and they understand that problems and solutions are like bellies and belts, like crooked teeth and braces, like moobs and manziers. So, perhaps involuntarily, they blurted out a proposed solution instead of a description of the problem.

So why are the solutions they propose rarely great? Because they’re not trained designers. But that doesn’t mean they’re bad clients. They may be diagnosing a legitimate problem, but because they did so by prescribing a lousy solution, you think they’re dumb.

Take a step back. Breathe.

Find the Twin Sumo

Now it’s back to you in your client’s office, iPad clenched in agony. You need to say something. What to say, what to say, what to say?

Well, if you understand that your client’s lousy design suggestion is really the mirror image of a problem he’s trying to diagnose, all you have to do is find the twin sumo. Take the proposed solution and turn it into the problem you think it was designed to solve. Then shoot it back at your client. Hmmmm…bigger logo…what could he be talking about?

“So, what you’re saying is that you think the current design doesn’t really feel like it belongs to your company, like it’s really you?”

Whew! You made it. Now, relax. Wipe your brow and get rid of the poker face. The conversation is ready to go somewhere.

Did you nail the problem on the head? Maybe so, or maybe not. But when you translated your client’s proposed solution into a diagnosed problem, you did something priceless. You let your client know that his input does matter, but you did it without compromising the integrity of your work, or your role as the design expert in the room.

Now you can work to refine your understanding of the problem the client is trying to diagnose. And your client? Not an idiot. Not a deadbeat. Just a guy with a brain trying to tell you something’s wrong. So listen up. You just might learn something.

posted by davidlindes on Friday, Oct 14, 2011

“Mobile Content: If in Doubt, Leave It Out”
Title of Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox.
I like.

posted by ted on Monday, Oct 10, 2011

“Get the company to see what the customer sees. If the executives inside the company could just “see through the eyes of a customer,” it quickly would become clear how to improve the experience.”
Great post by Mark Hurst in Good Experience. I am experiencing this right now on a project, and it’s exciting when key stakeholders are committed to “seeing through the eyes of the Church member.”

posted by ted on Friday, Oct 07, 2011

“There are many recipes for great personas, yet the teams decide to take shortcut, skip steps, or just plain do something that doesn’t make sense. They don’t follow the recipe. Then they complain when the project doesn’t turn out well.”
From a great article by Jared Spool titled
5 Ways To Suck Value Away From Your Persona Projects.
Very timely as I gear up to train a team on creating personas.

posted by ted on Wednesday, Sep 21, 2011

“If you find that your company buys expensive enterprise software instead of putting your A-team engineers on making awesome internal tools, then they don’t understand what the word ‘leverage’ actually means, and you my friend, likely have a serious and systemic problem.”
From John Hitchings, engineer at wealthfront on the importance of internal tools

posted by scott on Tuesday, Sep 13, 2011

“The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.”
John Lasseter in The Pixar Story. In his honor, I have decided to start calling all Hawaiian shirts, “Lasseters”.

posted by scott on Tuesday, Sep 06, 2011

“Fewer than one-third surveyed by Tealeaf cited low priority as the reason for struggling to understand the customer, so it would appear that there is a disconnect between knowing what needs to be done and overcoming funding constraints.”
Discussion of how ecommerce companies know what they need—better customer focus and understanding—but don’t know how to get it, or aren’t willing to pay for it. Seems to me they haven’t adequately measured the cost of having a bad user experience…
Via eMarketer

posted by ted on Thursday, Sep 01, 2011

“We need fewer technologists and more customerists.”
I like it! But maybe “Customerologists”?
From Mark Hurst, on Twitter

posted by ted on Monday, Aug 29, 2011

“Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”
—Conan O’Brien. Words to live by.

posted by scott on Friday, Aug 26, 2011

Wim Crouwel, the legendary Dutch typographer and graphic designer, when asked about design in today’s world, had this to say: “[for young designers], the stimulus is coming from the new techniques, from the new wonders, from the freedom of life – and that makes it difficult I think. ...What I say to young designers is to keep your radar turning, and pick up everything that you love, but in the same time, be very sure that you find your own way in it, but not be brought off your path by all the things that happen in the world. You need to find out what you love yourself and try to stick with it and try to find your own way” – great advice.

posted by bloodra on Monday, Aug 22, 2011 · 0 comments

Cool bookshelf design on Design Inspiration (via Cameron Moll).
Love the idea—though a little high for the average reader in my family!

posted by ted on Wednesday, Aug 17, 2011

ifttt.com is my new favorite site

Ifttt.com is an app to manage and automate all my social profiles. I love it for three reasons. First, it’s based on the dead simple concept that if I do something then it will do something else for me. So if I post on flickr, it will send that image to facebook. If a stock hits a certain price, I’ll get an email. If I publish a blog post, it will tweet about it. Each “task” is completely customizable, so I can set it up exactly the way I want. Second reason I love it, is the UI. It makes a 7-step process feel completely effortless. I wanted to take a video of it, but then I got tired and gave up. Last of all I love the sheer number of apps & services that it works with. Below is a screen shot of just the popular applications.

The app is in private beta, so you have to sign up. Additionally I have 5 invites, so if you want one and are quick feel free to reach out.

posted by scott on Tuesday, Aug 16, 2011

10 things I’ve never heard a successful startup founder say

#3. “I wish we had spent less time talking to prospective customers before designing interfaces and writing code.”

The other nine quotes can be found here.

posted by scott on Monday, Aug 15, 2011

Check out Do Lectures. Looks like some interesting content (kind of like TED Talks), but that’s not why I’m posting. Take a close look at how they handle re-sizing the window. As you change width, the screen goes through a series of at least 4 seamless transformations to adapt to the new format—hiding secondary elements, re-sizing things, re-positioning. Very impressive flexible layout. (Via UIE podcasts.)

posted by ted on Thursday, Aug 11, 2011

A lesser known feature in Chrome that I love, is the ability to directly search only in a given site AND end up on that sites’ search results page. To enable it, do the following:

1. Go to youtube and do a search. This is a one time step that teaches Chrome how to search.

2. Then, in the location bar, type youtube.com and hit the “tab” key

3. Type your search query

This will dump you onto youtube’s search results page. So far I’ve got it to work on Facebook, LinkedIn, Craigslist and Amazon, among others. From what I can tell it “learns” as it goes.

posted by scott on Tuesday, Aug 09, 2011

“Be careful listening to cheerleaders. They’re on the sidelines, not in the game – and they’re cheering for the side paying them.

Where you find the point of resistance is exactly where you have a chance to make a change.

Newton’s third law predicts that somewhere, recently, Google Minus was born.”
Love these quotes from Mark Hurst’s Twitter stream.

posted by ted on Monday, Aug 08, 2011

Why don’t all companies buy the best hardware?

Great question. Here is a quote from stackexchange on the topic that is pitch perfect:

“So suppose you can save $2000 every three years by buying cheaper computers, and your average developer(or designer) is making $60k. If those cheaper computers only cost you 10 minutes of productivity a day, not at all a stretch, I’m sure that my machine costs me more than that, then over 3 years the 125 lost hours would add up to a loss of $7500. A loss of 1 minute a day ($750) would give a net gain of $1250, which would hardly offset the cost of poor morale”

Would a contractor ask his carpenter to cut with a dull saw? Full thread here.

posted by scott on Thursday, Aug 04, 2011

Want to make the world a better place? I think Ghandi said “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Anything worth doing is worth doing together. Right?

Sometimes as creatives we lose our bearings and wonder what the point is. With so much raw awesomeness, illusion, tools, and effects all around us all the time, it’s helpful to remember a few things:

We need more story and less special effect.

We need more character and less manipulation.

We need more connection and less fortification.

We need more solutions and less technology.

We need more reality and less simulation.

We need more friends and less acquaintances.

We need more teams and less heroes.

We need more neighbors and less celebrities.

We need more face-to-face friendly speaking and less facebooking.

We need more substance and less superficiality.

We need more creativity and less critical passive-aggressiveness.

We need to exercise more faith and not be driven so much by “fear of offense” or “lack of control”.

People matter more than business, innovation, or invention.

What needs to happen will happen. What innovation is needed will occur when the time is right. When it unfolds, were we part of it? Or, when a great thing is invented, will we despise it because it was not forcibly willed by us according to our own timeline?

“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.” -Charles de Montesquieu

“Let’s fight together and make history” (1:32)

posted by bloodra on Wednesday, Aug 03, 2011 · 0 comments

Web Development Survey Results

First off thanks to all those who particpated in our survey. The data points included some surprises that I hadn’t expected. I’ll let the results speak for themselves. As for the schwag, we’ll announce that soon too!

View survey results on Scribd

posted by scott on Monday, Aug 01, 2011

Help! 11 Question Web Development Survey

Annually alistapart has a web design survey which is jam-packed of interested data points about our industry. Their survey is built around the people, how they work, and how they learn. I enjoy reading it each year, but I’ve always wanted to know a little more about the technology behind it all. To that end, here is our first annual web developer survey. Each year we’ll solicit feedback from folks in and out of the NorthTemple community, then pool together the results and post them here.

As a thank you participating, we’ll randomlly send a few lucky readers some NorthTemple/FamilySearch swag.

Click here to take the 11 question survey

posted by scott on Monday, Jul 18, 2011