Bonnie Siegler | Dear Bonnie

Dear Bonnie: Aggrieved in Atlanta + Bumming in Brooklyn

Editor's Note: Dear Bonnie is our truth-telling advice column from Bonnie Siegler. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and invite our readers to submit their questions directly to: [email protected]

Dear Bonnie,

I have a lovely friend who is not a very good designer, yet who insists on giving me “feedback” on my work whenever possible. It is making me crazy and I don’t know what to do. Thoughts?

Aggrieved in Atlanta

Dear Aggie,

Unsolicited feedback can be difficult to take even when it turns out to be really good, constructive criticism. In this case, however, the advice is not only unsolicited, but also unhelpful. Assuming you want to remain friends, the best response is as follows: “Thank you. That is a very interesting perspective and I will definitely think about it.” Say it every time. Say the same thing, and nothing more. Like a mantra. It's gracious, but also lets you easily ignore the feedback. Just be glad you’re not married to her.

Dear Bonnie,

My client has terrible taste. I thought she hired me for my taste, but since she’s in charge her (bad) taste is trumping my (good) taste. Frankly, I assumed she hired me for my judgment but apparently I'm wrong. Help!

Bumming in Brooklyn

Dear Brook,

Nobody, and I mean nobody, thinks they have bad taste. Your client believes she is working WITH you, and is under the assumption that her taste is equally valid. And she's right. The client is always a solid half of the design equation, which makes her your equal.

You can’t do the great work you were born to do without her and her approval. So really, her taste does trump yours because she gets the final call. You need to stop questioning why she hired you and start figuring out how you can show her the light and teach her why your direction is better. In addition to coming up with the strategy, the idea, the visualization and the presentation, you also have to be able to sell your solution.

If you do it well, she won’t even know it’s happening. You will lead her down the path of good taste with such skill that she’ll end up thinking it was her decision all along. Everybody wins.

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Posted in: Business, Dear Bonnie

Comments [3]

The tone of the first letter implies that the "feedback" is not helpful, but I think it's worth noting that just because someone is not a good designer doesn't mean that they can't give good criticism. If everybody had to excel in a field in order to have an opinion nobody would ever watch sports.

I think "Bumming..." needs to find clients who LIKE her taste. It is insane to hire a designer and then not like her work. What's with that? Sorry, but the client's untrained taste is not "equally valid." "Taste" is a nebulous term that should be left in the culinary world. "Skill" is the term for a trained designer. If "Bummer..." is stuck with an unskilled client who prefers her own design skills over the skills or her hired designer, "Bummer..." should grasp that sensibility, nod and exit with aplomb. Find better clients.

I totally agree with the advice to "Bumming". I work in a very small creative department in a healthcare startup. My creative energy is mostly spent communicating with my clients, many of whom have little design knowledge but ALL of whom THINK they know everything. I do a lot of LISTENING first, and then I build trust. We end up having long relationships and learn a lot from each other. But guess what?! That's my job! Designers don't get to sit around and design for other designers all day. The most rewarding projects can be when you make a very uncreative person's life better through your work for them. It's not unlike relationships with people in our everyday lives. It's give and take, and we all have to be open to be good partners :-)
Sarah Leigh

Jobs | July 19