360 Degree Design

What I am about to show you is known as the Design Circle or 360 Degree Design principle. It states that you initial design and/or layout is usually correct, but it will never be accepted by the client who will keep changing it until he gets back exactly what he started with.

Let me illustrate this using an example. I was asked to put together a simple static page existing website. It was a bio of a VIP of some sort with name, title, picture and some text. The headers, footers, color scheme and the off-color sidebar part seen in the picture below were all parts of the existing design. All I really needed to do is to copy and paste the text into the template and then put the picture somewhere.

The sidebar area on the page is not really used for navigation but for displaying quotes and/or images related to the content (the navigation is in the header). Thus, it seemed a natural place to put the picture. My original layout looked like this:

First Layout Prototype

First Layout Prototype

I sent the sample to the client and she was not entirely pleased. She asked me if we could “move the picture under the name”. I didn’t really know what that meant, and she could not explain it. About 6 emails and a phone call did nothing to actually make this any clearer so I took a guess and did this:

Can we move it under the name?

Can we move it under the name?

“Better”, she responded, “but it should be to the right”. Fair enough, I flipped the image around and sent it back to her:

I meant on the right side

I meant on the right side

Apparently that was not what she wanted. She wanted it “under the name”. We went back and forward trying to define what exactly did it mean. I even took a screenshot of the website and put a grid over with letters and numbers. I was like “right now the picture is in square F5. Please tell me which square should it be now and I will make it happen”. Of course she ignored the grid and after 5 or 6 more emails she finally told me she wanted it to be “above the text, right aligned”.

Hoping that we were finally getting somewhere I repositioned the heading a little bit to accommodate the picture:

Above the text please

Above the Text

This turned out to be wrong. Apparently this was “above the name” according to her. It didn’t look “above” to me – it was aligned with the heading, but whatever. She explained wanted it “below the name but above the text”. I figured that this translates into not wanting the text to wrap around the picture.

Now that confused me a little bit as it just seemed awkward. That would push the paragraph down and create a huge gap in the middle of the page. She said she doesn’t mind. I asked if she wanted to make the picture smaller, but she said it was the right size.

So I did it, knowing full well that it will get rejected:

No, under the name

No, under the name

She admitted that this created to much of a gap the page and she asked me to move it back to the left and have the top of the picture align itself with the top of the name:

Let's put it back on the left

Let's put it back on the left

Guess what? Wrong again. She wanted the “far left” or the sidebar. Where does this get us? Back to the square one:

First Layout Prototype

First Layout Prototype

I took the original design and re-sent it to her. Verdict: Perfect!

Actually she was very proud of herself for figuring out the right layout.

“It took quite a bit of tweaking but I think we finally got the right design for this page! Thanks for your help Luke.”

No problem! It’s not like I have like 20 other projects that are due yesterday sitting on my desk. It was totally worth the time. I mean, I’m really glad we didn’t go with that first draft layout I sent to you. That would have been a disaster.

I probably should mention this is not the first time this has happened, and not the first person who insisted on going through this exercise. This is actually a typical design procedure for me. I make something, they change it and re-design it until they get back to the initial design.

The downside of this is that a simple 5-10 minute task turned into a drawn out project that took 3 days to accomplish and required over 20 emails and 4 phone calls to complete.

Fun times.

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16 Responses to 360 Degree Design

  1. Morghan UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    There is a reason I prefer to work with animals over people….

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  2. Rob UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    “We” got the right design? *sigh*

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  3. Kenny CANADA Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    I’ll tell you a trick I learned from the best web graphics guy I’ve ever known: Add mistakes.

    I learned this trick while at his desk one day looking at what would be the suggested design for our new webapp. I noticed one of the blue’s really didn’t go and asked about it. Turns out he did it on purpose, along with a few other easy to fix ‘mistakes’. That way when he showed it to management a few hours later they could all find problems, offer solutions, and generally feel like they accomplished something.

    It doesn’t matter how good you make the first draft, it’s human nature that when someone is asked to review it, they’ll find something to change. It if you can control this by making easy to fix mistakes then you don’t have as many 3-day fixes, and everyone is happy.

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  4. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    It may just be your storytelling, but it sounds as if she wanted the “No, under the name”-design until she saw it and realized it looked awful. Some people just have a hard time visualizing designs in front of them, which can make communication difficult when one assumes that the client likely not suggests an obviously horribly-looking change.

    Another suggestion along the lines of Kenny’s is to initially produce more than one design. With three of them, where two looks awful, the client will feel good about selecting the nice one.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Morghan: LOL!

    @ Kenny: Heh! That’s actually an excellent suggestion. I didn’t think about that.

    @ Tino: Yup, I think that’s what it was but the communication was not clear, and as you said I didn’t really think this was what she wanted.

    It never ceases to amaze me when users invent a whole new vocabulary when trying to explain how to do things with respect to web pages and desktop applications. For example, I once got a request to:

    “Add like a floating box on top of the text – and the box should be sub-divided into three sections with the logo on the top and the address above the headings and the third one containing a white square as wide as the sentence on the first page”

    Which meant:

    “Add a header with company logo on the left and address on the right, aligned with the navigation links”

    Of course if this was a document, that person would accurately tell me to add a header. But web pages are magical and since we don’t know the arcane jargon we need to improvise and make it as convoluted as possible.

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  6. chris GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    nice principle, i’ve read something like it somewhere, so i think you’re touching on a known subject.

    your example also shows, that delegating stuff is only ever effective if the communication is clear and everybody knows what they’re doing. also, you have to accept the other side’s area of expertise.

    i myself have not mastered that yet.

    if i delegate stuff it is always out of lack of time and never out of me thinking i could not do a better job. :)

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  7. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    This is worthy of thedailywtf! Submit it! Awesome story!

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  8. Brian Scates UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    It seems to me this is an issue of you failing to sell your design. I know with some clients they like to think of themselves as designers by proxy, but often times these situations can be avoided by explaining WHY you put things where you did. My recommendation would not be to add simple mistakes for them to fix, but to do it right and know how to sell it. Don’t just accept whatever feedback you get and do it – you’re the expert, you should know what works best, and you should be able to convince the client why.

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  9. MiniBlueDragon UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    This is also the case with colour palettes, navigation links, choice of image etc. More often than not the suggested is not as the customer would like right up until you show them “their” version and they ask for it to be changed, ending up back at square 1.

    My first thought in design is ROI. How much time will it take me to do the site and what does that equate to in terms of how much I’ll be paid?

    I tend to draft up 4 mocks as shown above and allow the customer to choose one of them as part of their ‘purchase price’ rather than design one themselves. If they don’t like the designs I charge an hourly rate for changes outside the scope of the contracted 4.

    That’s normally enough for a customer to stop trying to be a web designer and let me work in peace.

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  10. John S UNITED STATES PHP says:

    Brian Scates is 100% right. Being able to get your design through the client review is part of being a good designer. You probably have an incompetent project manager, or none at all. Sorry :(

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  11. Sean CANADA Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Brian has it right. Whether you’re a designer or a developer you need to be confident enough in your work to offer a rebuttal to clients who ask for changes that don’t make sense. In the end the client should respect you for it.

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  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Brian Scates, @ John S and @ Sean: Oh, wow… What happened to “client is always right” attitude?

    This was a failure in communication – plain and simple. The client didn’t seem to understand terms like header, footer, side bar or navigation links. Instead, she insisted on using vague descriptions like “above the large letters on the right”, “next to the text”, “where the black letters are” and etc. She kept calling links as “headings” and could not find a term to describe actual headings on the page.

    I mean, I could talk about composition or aesthetics but I really didn’t know what she wanted. I assumed that perhaps she had a certain look in mind and tried to accommodate her.

    I’m not really a front end designer – I feel much more at home at the back end. This was merely a quick hack they wanted me to do so that they wouldn’t have to call their expensive real web design people.

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  13. Brian Scates UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The client may be ‘right’ – but I assume the reason they hired me is because they needed an expert who knows design better than them. It’s a disservice to your client to immediately give in to ideas that don’t work, and it results in busy work for the design team and reduced margins.

    I’ll give you a pass if this isn’t your normal job, but I would hate for any other designers reading this to think this is how things should be handled.

    Another suggestion – get GoToMeeting or something so you can talk through things like this live and both be looking at the same thing. That could go a long way to improving communication, especially when the client is struggling to describe what they are looking for.

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  14. emp SWITZERLAND Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Being the web development company working for another, bigger company we had a client like that.

    He would pull this stunt with every, every, every change we made.

    At the end, we talked to his boss who authorized charging for the extra work.

    He turned out to be our most loved customer after that.

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  15. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Brian Scates: Oh no! I keep telling people not to take my “advice” seriously. I mean this was supposed to be yet another, semi-humorous rant about annoying luser type behavior – not a serious look at design process, client support or negotiation. I’d hate hate to see other designers read this and think this is how things should be handled either.

    Again, this is just me making a “lusers say the darnest things” post, and exaggerating to make it seem funnier than it was.

    It was a very informal thing really. Like: “Luke, can you put this photo on this page” – and me going, “sure, no problem”. There was no contract, no money exchanged hands or anything like that. So yeah, don’t look too much into it.

    @ emp: LOL! Awesome! I usually see the opposite to be true – the clients will agree to a set price and then try to masquerade feature requests as bugs and demand them fixed for free.

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  16. Mister CHILE Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I had a similar problem, except that when we got back to square one, I said in my reply that it was the very same design as I first envisioned, so the client was unable to accept it (no “added value”). So changes continued and continued and continued. I was paid by the hour :D

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