It’s not about what you like.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for a project can be “I like it” (from the designer) or “I don’t like it” (from the client). What we like or don’t is personal and individual, meaning it is hardly ever a good litmus test for whether something will successfully communicate the correct message and function to a group of people larger than one.

A designer who explains a project’s rationale to a client by saying “I like it” does a disservice to their own work and the reputation of all designers. What “I like it” translates to in the client’s mind is not, “I considered all of your objectives, goals and preferences and I used my extensive training and experience to create this work, which I’m very proud of and am confident will serve your needs,” but rather, “You’re paying me to make whatever I want based on my own personal preferences having nothing to do with you.”

As designers, it’s tempting to not push when a client says, “I like it.” The client’s happy, we can move on to the next stage of the project. A worthwhile exercise is to gently elicit information from the client about why they like the work. This will help you know if the client feels that the work is meeting the goals, or if it’s just that the client likes the shade of blue you used but later, upon further reflection, will reveal that they aren’t happy with the rest of it. It will also cue you in to whether the client really is satisfied, or just doesn’t feel comfortable talking about what his or her concerns are.

At the other end of the spectrum, when clients react to work by saying only, “I don’t like it,” it’s tempting to throw in the towel or to argue with why they should like it. A better approach is to discuss the project goals with the client and explain why this solution achieves those goals. Give the client the opportunity to express themselves and don’;t try to force them to use design terms. Be sensitive to your client’s likes and dislikes. Remember that you don’t know the source or the depth of them; you could be treading on childhood memories or deep-seated fears. Try to work out what is a concern about the success of the project from the client’s personal preferences. This will yield better, more constructive feedback and in turn strengthen the work.