Understanding clients in a Blink


I’ve been reading “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell. What a fascinating book! It’s not a design book and contrary to the way the title sounds, it’s not a “how-to” book. What it does is help us to understand how/why humans make snap judgements in the blink of an eye. When you think about it, this concept has a lot to do with how we do what we do as designers. It particularly speaks to how clients react to our work as well as to us, personally.Clients at a BlinkAt some point during every project, while selling our work to clients or while our clients’ clients are interacting with our finished product, Blink comes into play. Clients make a snap judgement to the initial design comps we show them based on their own, subconscious feelings/emotions/biases. An award-winning design which we created for one client, a design the client may have loved, could be soundly rejected as crap by another client.Same work. Polar opposite reactions. Is it really the work the client is reacting to? Maybe not. Maybe they love the work we show them because they love us? More specifically, the love the process we have just subjected them to. Conversely, maybe they hate the work because they hate us or the process leading up to the presentation of work.

Imagine sitting in a five star restaurant where they lost your reservation, made you wait 30 minutes, the waiter talked down to you and wasn’t very attentive. What are the chances that despite the horrible process you’ve been subjected to, you’ll find that your meal was an absolute delight? Not great. On the other hand, you could receive a lesser meal served to you by a friendly staff who remember you and greet you warmly every time you come and think it’s the best meal you ever had.The “New Coke” of designOne of the examples Gladwell uses in his book is that of New Coke. By now New Coke is infamous as one of the biggest branding and marketing failures of the 20th century. Those of us old enough to remember, know that New Coke had it’s origins in the rise of Pepsi as a solid #2 competitor to perennial soft drink king, Coke. During the 70s, Pepsi started a “Pepsi Challenge” during which it depicted in TV commercials featuring blind taste tests in which consumers would sip both Pepsi and Coke and declare which one tasted better. In Pepsi’s ads (as well as private blind tests conducted by Coke) a majority of consumers tested chose Pepsi.This set off a panic which led Coke to tamper with it’s #1 selling formula and come up with a new one. New Coke was born. By all scientific reasoning, New Coke should have been a hands down success. Unlike regular Coke, New Coke handily beat competitor Pepsi in blind taste tests by a wide margin. Yet New Coke ended up being an instant and unmistakable failure! Why?Gladwell explains that New Coke was built to win taste tests. To appeal to consumers who only sipped the cola in small amounts. Of course, consumers don’t sip cola out of small cups, they drink it by the glass, can, bottle or cup. While New Coke did very well against Pepsi during taste tests, it failed to make a positive impression in the arena where most consumers interact with their cola and in the amounts that they drink their cola.This has implications in design because we do the same thing! We craft designs and initial comps that are built to push clients into a specific design direction and hopefully pick one design over a variety of others we provide for them.But they are not interacting with our design the way they would normally, just as consumers in the “Pepsi Challenge” were not interacting with Coke and Pepsi the way they would normally. With a set of web comps, clients are not allowed to scroll the page or click on the menu items. For brochure comps, clients are not allowed to hold it in their hands and feel/smell the paper.So they must make snap judgements based on artificial criteria and in atypical settings that can send us into the wrong direction and lead to faulty solutions. New Coke of design.Now of course, I understand why it’s not possible to create fully navigatable websites at the comp level or brochure comps that can be printed, held and touched. But understanding how snap judgements are made can help us to understand the gulf between designer and design client and perhaps lead us to better ideas in our process that help us to get feedback that is truly helpful in creating better, more effective design solutions..chris{}


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