Creativity vs. faux-science

Looking into communication problems with the sophisticated client

The Clients who are knowledgeable scientifically, usually have higher tendency to try to take control of the design process. This leads to a less effective solution at the end.

This article tries to share more than ten years of experience on how designers try to avoid such situations, how and why they usually fail, and what are some of the possible workarounds.

The problem

The well-educated client, equipped with the tool of analytical thinking, believes s/he can analyze every design problem, finds solutions for it, and applies what s/he has learned from the past to any similar problem at present or in the future (and perhaps consequently even unseats the designer). In their own minds, they only lack the production tools to do a designer’s job.

Designers tend to protect their leadership position through indirect approaches that help them to avoid such situations altogether like:

  • Trying to direct the communications by creating a vast personal space, avoiding the client as much as possible, and avoiding “unnecessary” meetings
  • Using silence as a weapon, avoiding lengthy arguments about the project, and avoid verbally defending their designs out of fear of losing the argument, that is always a possibility for everyone with any level of negotiation skill
  • Leveraging their portfolio, awards, exhibitions, workplace atmosphere, teaching experience, lifestyle and social class to create a “take it or leave it” atmosphere for the client, forcing them to accept their design decisions out of fear of shame and risk of being labeled as uninformed or art-illiterate.

Creating this “sacred” atmosphere around art and design obviously is not an answer to the logical inquiries that arise in the minds of the clients. Even if the mentioned behaviors work on some of the less informed or simply shy clients, the bolder, more analytical minds will always remain unsatisfied.

Design and faux-science

The universal success and ubiquity of scientific approach in solving problems, leads public to disregard other ways of thinking, like various methods of creative and design thinking. In society, the scientific approach is the de facto norm of problem solving and the only type of “correct” thinking. That is why usually the clients’ first step to evaluate a design is to use their scientific leanings; overlooking the fact, that scientific method needs concrete input data from the world outside in order to produce something meaningful, something nearly impossible and inapplicable in many areas of the design process.

Consequently, without real data, clients just re-approve their own reasoning and reassure themselves that their decisions are based on “scientific / logical” methodologies.

If one leaves the two main verifiable inputs of the design process, the user science, and market research aside, the rest rely on instinct, experience, creativity, courage, imagination, and brilliance.

A solution: notice and emphasis the difference



Reviewing fig. (a) that shows a simplified view of the two thinking processes side by side, one can observe the scientific method tends to use, and rightly so, theories that already exist as law, in order to solve present issues. The foundation of scientific knowledge is very solid, stable and scientists return to revise or delete entries only in rare cases and usually after decades of study.

In design method, although some solutions can be applied to various situations, the changes in the problem’s background (Social, psychological, demographic, and temporal, etc), i.e. the “gestalt” part of the problem, rarely let the same “experience” happen again using the same ingredients and production guidelines. One also cannot satisfy the other main requirement of the scientific approach that no two people experience and evaluate the result of a design in the same way. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why obsessions of the software design experts with “design patterns” always have dubious results and their usefulness is difficult to prove.

It can be helpful if a designer masters the differences between the design and scientific approaches and informs the client of the process road map. This way, the client will base her/his reasoning on the correct path from early stages of the project (even by revising the structure of contract) and harmonize with the designer and the problem that needs to be solved, and avoids various unnecessary, energy-consuming issues.

One by-product of this argument is helping us to understand why a client dismisses a designer/design firm after receiving just one round of successful of industrial, advertising, or other kinds of design services. After observing a complete round of successful design project, some clients think that they have found “the formula” – just like the scientific approach, and they can repeat it as many times as they want to the extent of their desire and when they see appropriate. In this viewpoint, paying the designer is a waste of resources, of course. Actually, that is not true. Constraints always change and what used to be a trendy idea (or even the master pattern that produced that idea) one year ago is no longer considered as such.

That is why designers are here to stay.