One of the things I have noticed throughout my working career (whenever working on a project basis with client review that is) is the odd distribution of concern over various elements. Time and again, I as the project manager or designer feel certain that some very important and fundamental questions must be answered before we go forward. I present to the client the alternatives and set the table for a particular discussion of central organizing principles. In the case of a web site design, these are things like site structure, organization, and navigation. Secondarily, these important items are also about points of design involving the brand, identity, overall color scheme and the like. Of course along with these decisions, any programming and code must work well across browsers and systems, and work with a consistent interface when clicking through the various choices. These things are fundamental to the structure of a project. The page by page nitty gritty of what extra photo to use here or what subhead wording to use there or whether to link to a particular outside resource are just that – small details that can easily be changed.
So it is with some mirth that I realize that very often clients are much more interested in the nitty gritty than the overarching. The things that speak to them are the small details. I have several theories as to why this may be the case. One is that people inevitably talk about the things they understand. While the big picture elements may very well be important to them, it can be a bit complicated to connect all the dots and make the big decisions, whereas the small ones are easy to make. Another reason is that people’s thought processes are not very often hierarchical, despite what we would like to believe about ourselves, and so every thought about a project is held in the brain with somewhat equal weight, and things are brought up as they occur. A couple of months ago I was working on a project for organizing a photo library, for example, and my client kept bringing up being able to copy resources in a particular way before we had even built the functionality to get those resources into the database in the first place. I kept explaining that there was a hierarchy of importance of functionality, with some things necessarily preceding others, and that we were time limited and could not do everything so it would be necessary to prioritize. I suspected that this did not sit well with him, but we came to agreement. And sometimes, the reasons people focus on the small stuff is that they trust me to take care of the big stuff and really aren’t all that interested in the big picture. This happens more often than you might think, and the challenge for me is to recognize this and not let my ego get in the way. Sometimes I worry that the client (for the lack of feedback I get about the big picture stuff) is unhappy with my work but unable to articulate it. In a situation like this I can sometimes take it personally, but this is pure ego and pride getting in the way of what is actually happening. As long as ample room has been given for the client to express their particular opinions (when they have them), things generally work out well. Sure, there can always be misunderstandings and disappointments. But when I take myself and my pride out of the equation and let the work be the work, things go better and we are all much happier.