How to choose your UX fights

Or — How designing for a client is like arguing with your romantic partner

Every designer is told somewhere along her/his career “Don’t fall in love with your work”.

“Don’t fall in love with your work”
Someone, sometime

I was told not to fall in love with my work, understood why, and let this sentence just pass me by. It wasn’t until I got really frustrated and upset (even after work) that I understood that I REALLY shouldn’t fall in love with my work. Or, as Elsa said in Disney’s “Frozen”: “Let it go”.

Working with external factors, such as other designers, developers or stakeholders, means you’ll face other opinions, judging your own work. Your precious and amazing work, which you’ve worked on for days in a sealed office, bashed your head against the wall, drank too many cups of coffee, sharpened your pencil a 4-digit amount of times and spent hours on your computer making it a living mockup.

After all this tough process, your precious work has to be developed by developers, for example. Those developers don’t know how hard you worked on that mockup, don’t understand the reason for every pixel you’ve beautifully crafted. For example, a certain beautiful design might not work with the product’s JS libraries, and then your whole work will go to waste, and your heart will break. And why is this happening? Because the only person knows what’s going on in your brain is you.

What to do

In design, as in romantic relationships, the keys for success are communication and compromising. We can break these keys to three major tips:

Explain why are you doing what you’re doing

Ever said “How can’t {someone} see how important {something} is for me?!”, without even once trying to explain why this {something} is important to you? We tend to think people, and mostly those who care about us, will just know what’s important to us and why, and we tend to forget that they have so much other stuff going around their mind, that they can’t just know what’s going in our mind. Explaining your design work is also important for selling your design. By telling why you designed something in a certain way, you can upgrade your design from “nice” to “wow that’s really what I needed”.

For example, an issue I faced a couple of times is the struggle between screen space and functionality, when the client wants to save the most of the screen, in order to put every component on the screen, while I insist on using more screen space in order to make the interaction clearer or make the screen structurally right. This was the opportunity (and even my duty) to explain exactly why my opinion is right and what benefit it has (satisfied users, more accessible interface, etc.).

In my opinion, the key for an effective explanation is why your solution is good, and not why it’s not bad. I know it sounds stupid at first, but when you think about it, it makes sense.

“The key for an effective explanation is why your solution is good, and not why it’s not bad”
Me, like a sentence ago.

Understand the other side’s needs and wills (also technical specs like JS libraries)

Again, as for design and romance, the other side has motives that might not be similar to yours. Hell, you might not even relate to them. When we’re talking about design — one example is that developers will most likely want to use the Javascript libraries they already use, in order to work in a more efficient way. You, as a designer, need to know these things and then make a better decision about whether or not insist on your designed component, or change it to a more compromising component (That’s also why I think designers should code).

I guess, in a romantic relationship, you won’t fight about Javascript components, but you get the hang of it.

Choose your fights

After you’ve worked so hard on understanding the person you’re arguing with, whether it’s your colleague, your client, or your date, know what’s worth fighting for. For this example, I would like to dive a little deeper into the details.

As a UX designer, I’ve found myself trying to force my design and insist on every pixel, because, as I thought then, I know best. The result was, of course, my temper got worse and my blood pressure rose, I got disappointed and felt offended, and my communication with that client / designer / developer was damaged. For my own good, I decided there are some things worth fighting for and some things aren’t. It’s still annoying and frustrating not getting your ideas heard, but some problems are solved by taking a deep breath and moving on. Don’t get me wrong, when something doesn’t seem right to me, I do say what and why I think isn’t right, but if I didn’t manage to change the other side’s mind, that’s the other side’s problem to deal with.

The change was between saying “God!#$ Why isn’t anyone listening to me?!” and saying “I’m not going to win this argument. I’m going to let this one go, take a deep breath and go drink a cup of tea. Or a cold glass of water, cause it’s the middle of freakin’ July”.

That’s the old angry me

Those tips can’t be prioritized. They are all working together and making a whole package of good communication. Whether it’s your client, colleague or partner. Just let them know your motives, make sure you know theirs and choose your fights accordingly.

And breathe. Don’t forget to breathe.

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