The jerks actually help

I once overheard an executive impart wisdom to the person who was about to review our designs. “Always reject the first design. it makes the designers try harder.” That meeting then went as you would expect. Afterwards i thought, “That’s effed up.” These days i am realizing that, in some ways, that statement makes sense.

The a-hole who just rejected your design is actually helping you. It depends on what you do with that rejection of course and how the rejection is delivered. But when it happens, the best thing to do is step back and try to take another perspective on the solution.

I have found myself time and again in a position where the first version of a design absolutely nailed it. What i think really happens is my idea of the problem and the solution begin to merge. The design is perfect because i am slowly rewriting the problem to fit the solution, and vice-versa. Every person it is then shared with has another perspective on the problem and will question the solution.

Rejection will only make the design stronger… if:

  1. You, or your team, serve as the central collector of perspectives. that way you can recognize themes and feel stronger that changes need to be made. I never jumped to make changes too quickly – if everyone sees a different solution you cannot recognize themes.
  2. You treat reviews as a form of usability test. Everyone who looks at a screen is asking herself “what can i do with this?”. There are some who think “what can i say about this that will make me look like i am contributing?” — but even that perspective is important to factor in.
  3. You hold firm with the aspects that you feel strongly about. There are some pieces worth fighting for and you have to choose your battles. Again — you are making progress if you are the feedback collector. That will also allow you to make smart decisions about what’s worth digging in about.
  4. You recognize you need to make compromises: You can only dig in for so long, so be prepared to have a couple of battles go to the other side. Plan ahead for that fact.
  5. You are making progress: There is a certain feedback loop i’ve found myself in where the problem changes so frequently that evolving a solution just becomes futile. While a solution needs to evolve, the problem has to be refined along with it. That balance will ensure that progress is made, even if it is hard progress.

My most successful projects have been with clients who challenge my designs and continue to make me think about the choices i’ve made. And the longer the project the more conviction I feel that the solution actually solves the right problems.


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