Asking the simplest of questions can debunk the oddest of requests. Asking Why? means those requesting the questionable must stand tall and proud and explain with certainty why they make their request. If they cannot answer, then it proves it was on a whim and probably worth ignoring. If they answer well, then chances are there is something beautiful-in-reason to be found in the answer.

As designers, we provide a service. Ok, nothing revolutionary in that statement. We’re service providers. Clients come to us with a problem, we perform the service of giving them a solution. Right? Right. Hmmm.

A problematic mind set …
is that we are nothing more than button pressers

A problematic mind set that has infectiously attacked many of our brothers and sisters of design is that we are nothing more than button pressers. An easily found conclusion. After all, when clients come to us for something, we must give it to them, that’s our role as, all together now, service providers. They want – we give.

The client, or some of the nastier ones, think along these lines, but aren’t stopped by the cure carrying designer. They demand we do it their way. And that’s fine. What isn’t fine is when the designer doesn’t question the decisions. Because when you, the designer, doesn’t question and just acts, then you simply become an interface that sits dumbly between the client and the software. You know the magic buttons to press, you have the software and the large monitor. Apparently this makes a designer.

You simply become an interface that sits
dumbly between the client and the software

The best part of doing so is that these types of designers later bitch and moan the loudest. The job looks awful! My client is an idiot! Why, oh why do I get the bad ones? Wah wah wah.

Don’t be one of these stooges. Just don’t, it’s stupid and a waste of your talent and time. The only difference between the self-loathing Mac operator and the happy and successful designer, who have both had their suggestions ignored, who both have clients who push them to develop shitty work—work the client loves and the designer loathes—is a simple question. Why?

The good designer will always ask Why?

The good designer might end up with the same result as the bad designer, at the behest of the client, but they questioned it.

If the bad decisions were able to be justified by the client, if their reasoning and logic could stand up to your simple question, then maybe it isn’t completely a bad idea? After all, it’s their message you’re voicing.

Because chances are they’ll probably give you an answer you can live with – an answer in which their real needs are hidden. Let’s play this out——

Client: “Make this line of text fluro pink, I like pink. And the background yellow. Yeah! Yellloooww. I like pink and yellow.”
Designer: “Pink on yellow? Mmm. From what depth of the ABYSS did the logic you insult the intelligent by pretending to posses come?! Answer me with nobility and reason, lest I cast you into the fiery pits of the damned for wishing such a horror on the eyes! Why’s that?”
Client: “It’s more important than that other text there”
Designer: “Ah, I see what you’re going for. But.. Pink on yellow will be a bit strong and hard to read because of the low contrast—in fact, it’ll probably be ignored because of it… Why don’t we go with a rule in the margin, between this column and the one next to it? Nothing big and bold, something subtle and gentle – it’ll grab attention without being too over the top, which means people will be invited to read the text. We can also make the heading a red, which is your corporate colour, so it links in with your other branding materials as well as the rest of the book and will grab attention to this text, which will clearly be important because of it.
Client: “You’re awesome, have more money”


The good designer asked why, discovered why the client was making their request and turned it around. Sometimes the client has no real reason and the suggestion disappears into the ether. Sometimes they’re just masks for an effect or emotion they are going for but can’t articulate.

Sometimes they’re just masks
for an effect or emotion they are going for

The bad designer would have said “ok”, gone out, gotten drunk and left a curse filled message on the client’s answering machine. Or hate themselves a little. We all roll differently.

If the client had not cared about the reasoning? Had they told you to do it their way? Well, two ideas come to mind – either ditch them amicably when the current job is finished, or be happy in knowing that you played the role of the designer and do what you can to make the client resepect your decision making, should you choose to work with them in the future. And remember that, just because you didn’t get the response you wanted doesn’t mean asking the questions is any less satisfying and a flexing of your creative skills.

So ask Why?. A simple question. A question that can be asked in a million different ways without once using the word.

Be a good designer and ask the client Why?
Be a great designer and ask the same of yourself

We get it beaten out of us through education. Don’t ask Why?! It’s annoying! I don’t have the answer! Don’t question the material! Do as your told! It happens to us and our clients as children. It happens and so we forget the power it holds, the insight it can provide. Be a good designer and ask the client Why?. Be a great designer and ask the same of yourself.