Is the customer always right?

“It makes my eyes hurt, but this is what the client wants”

This plaintiff cry was heard drifting over the office from the front end team last week. Nothing that unusual about that – they are not the most reticent of teams at Collaboration Towers, but it was the content of the cry as well as the resigned and world weary tone that irked me.

If the idea / request – in this case an interface design for a web app – is that bad, should we really agree with the customer and tell let them continue in the belief that they are right?

Where, in fact,  do you draw the line between providing service and being a glorified automotron?

A large part of me thinks that these people – clients – are paying us for our expertise and our experience – shouldn’t we then give them the benefit of that experience? Are we doing a bad job but actually doing what the client would think of as a good job?

We should respect our clients enough to treat them like adults rather than toddlers who will throw a tantrum if their every mad whim is not served immediately – surely this is the different between employing a code monkey and a true craftsman?

Would you draw a circuit diagram and tell an electrician to wire you your house using this self-drawn circuit diagram?

ok, bad example – a lot of you would be capable of this without causing your house to burn down in an electrical fire but go with the metaphore people!

If you don’t want to do it for the client, do it for yourself – do you really want to be the person that has to always explain the lemon in your portfolio as “This wouldn’t be how I would have done it, but this is what the client wanted” with a shrug of the shoulders? How do you think that makes you look – does it make you look like you care about your client’s user experience?

The client almost always had the right idea for their particular problem – and lets face it, they (hopefully) know their industry / team / department / space better than you do – but the nuts and bolts of the implementation and execution should be left to the experts – that’s they pay you for.

Please  – don’t let your clients accept sub-standard implementations

Ladybirds in Chains

Some bugs in the wrong environment

3 thoughts on “Is the customer always right?

  1. Bad design and lack of usability are things that experience should prevent… but eye-searing – sometimes that would involve tackling an entire corporation and asking them to change their entire brand (e.g. have a particular pink for their logo and their website is a strain to look at due to all the bright colour)

    It can still be good design even if with bad visuals. If it’s painful on the eyes then it doesn’t go in the portfolio (well, not as is) – simples 😉

  2. As with most things, there’s a balance to be struck.

    I would certainly do my best to steer a client away from poor decisions, explaining in careful detail exactly why I felt what they’d asked for wasn’t the best idea, and even some experiences to back that up if need be.

    And actually this has happened on a number of occasions. And often, I’ve found that it’s worked.

    But, sometimes it doesn’t and, once you’ve discharged your duty to (genuinely) try and steer the client down what you believe is the best path, sometimes you have to allow them to make decisions that you don’t agree with.

    In my case, as I’m self-employed, I have the luxury of walking away from projects/ clients where we disagree fundamentally about the best approach (not in the middle, I hasten to add, but following initial two-way interviews). It’s not a case of “if you don’t do it my way I’m throwing my toys out of the pram” but a case of “in my professional opinion, I believe this approach is wrong, and I’m not willing to deliver it this way” and then a (genuine) wish that they find someone that suits their needs better and best of luck…

  3. Completely agree. But what is the best method to tell a client who truly believes that they think they know what’s best is actually commercial/design/technical suicide?

    I have this problem today.

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