How close is too close to a design?

I used to be a web designer, and occasionally I still end up doing the designs on one of our websites when my designer is too busy, but I’m not overly fond of the job. I am too passionate about my designs, and I have to work too hard to remove my taste from the equation. I believe that made me a bad designer, so I moved into development and started using my right brain on inventing solutions that the client never really gets to comment on. I still get to create web art, but now it’s for myself, and for the most part those designs never get to bathe in the beautiful light of a LAMP environment.

As developers we’re all pretty arrogant about our development skills if we’re honest, and I’m sure every full time web designer is at least a little arrogant about their skill too. And that’s fine, as long as you (the designer) can remove yourself from the website design.

At the time of writing this I am building a website for a family member (that’s a whole other article: working for family). He’s a very successful guy, and a very good businessman, but he is infuriating. He says “no” to absolutely every change. It seems to be his default response. I finally convince him that a site devoid of calls to action is a sinful waste of opportunity, I give him a way more commercial looking design, and amazingly he’s happy. I then start polishing it and end up simplifying the design. I’m all about simple design and I’m sure he’ll love it. I show it to him with the same passion as my 10-year-old niece showing me her new horse; after five years of working for him I’m convinced I’ve hit a home run. But alas the answer comes back: “No. Why did you change it?” I’m irate. The design I first showed him was an unpolished draft of an idea. Unbalanced, no attention to details like even spacing between form elements, not enough consistency in html elements. An OK design but unfinished. This new one was really elegant. It stuck to the spirit of the old design but removed elements that made it look cheap and unsophisticated. My first mistake then was not letting him know the design was still happening, but I assumed he knew because of the meeting we had about it.

I write him an email expressing exactly that opinion and he takes it well, as he always does. We are very good at separating business from friendship so we always end up having a laugh about any conflict, but I realise something…

I’m too close to the design. When I used to design only and pass to a developer, I sometimes had to leave the office and go to the gym for an hour after a client meeting to release energy about a rejection of one of my ideas. In the meeting I had become very good at smiling and saying “I see your point”, or convincing the client that he/she was wrong if I believed strongly enough that the objection was harmful to the design and not just a matter of my tastes blinding me. But on this occasion with working for my family member I realised that with the freedom to speak my mind had come the ultimate incarnation of a serious problem – designer tastes getting in the way of great design.

I still think he is wrong about the design and I still think the variation he wants is unprofessional and weak, but at the end of the day, it is his design and his money. I have advised him what my market research and minor market testing has revealed (the budget is not big enough for anything too extensive on this project). I have advised him on what I believe will work best.

I have done a good job. On the job alone, even if not the final product, I can be proud of my work.

It’s now time to let go. The end decision must be his.

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