You are only reading this sentence because you are angry that I called you petty.
And you should be angry. Because, if you are a designer, many of the people you work with have thought you were petty at one time or another.
We try to use other, more positive phrases to explain the way we work. “Detail-oriented”, and so on. But it doesn’t work. When you explain your design vision, you see the accusation on their faces.
They think you are petty because you do things like this:
Dear designer, when will you learn that trying to enforce your design vision will never work?
You enter every project like a bouncer at a rock show. Ready for a fight. Aggressive posture. Glaring at everyone. Occupying the space in which you stand as if your family has guarded it for a century.
But everyone else is there just to experience some amazing music and take some small part in it.
People think that designers are petty because we enter every project looking for a fight. We have an us vs them mentality. We try to force our vision upon others and refuse to let them take part. Of course they resent it.
A designer is not a bouncer. A designer should be like a guitarist inviting kids on stage to dance and join in with the band. Because music is for everyone, and so is design.
So, why are designers petty? Because we try to force people to follow every detail, without budging, and without explaining why it matters.
The truth is that non-designers don’t need to approve every detail of a design. They think they do. They see details, and think that reviewing a design means giving commentary on those details.
But what they actually want is not usually specific fonts or colors. (If you ask a non-designer to come up with details on their own, they are usually unable to give suggestions.) What they want is to feel confident that the design solves the problem. That the design is going to work. That before they jump on board with you, they know the ship isn’t gonna sink.
So, if you don’t want non-designers to think you are petty, you need explain why your design is awesome and why it will get people what they want. Show the non-designers you work with how you solve problems visually instead of trying to enforce small changes which seem minor to them. Talk about reasons, not design details. Teach them why, not how.
Further, welcome their input, and provide a structure for when and how they should be involved. I’m not saying you should follow every request, but instead invite others to participate and contribute ideas to the design project early on. Let them get invested into the project and have their say before that will cause you extra work. You might even find that some of their ideas are worth considering! But regardless, setting up this structure positions you as the expert and removes many conflicts that happen late in projects because people feel excluded and uncertain about the design.
When people get to feel like they get to participate in the design process, they won’t think you are petty. They’ll be more open to your ideas, because you were willing to listen to theirs. And, they’ll be much more excited about implementing the design faithfully because it’s their design too.
So are designers petty? Not more than any other professional. Getting the details right is part of doing a good job. No one ever accused a lawyer or doctor of being petty for getting the details right.
However, people know that lawyers and doctors focus on details for their clients’ and patients’ benefit.
Designers do the same.
Design's Iron Fist is a collection of essays with advice for both design learners and professional designers. It's been featured as one of the best free design books by the Creative Bloq and the AIGA.
Enter your email address and I'll send it to you along with my newsletter. You'll get 1 email per week on average. More details here.