There is a cute, funny and ultimately instructive little story over at graphicPUSH about the need to listen to your client “even when the client wants a logo with a monkey, and every fiber of your soul rejects the concept.” You should really go read the post (it’s short) but here is a quick summary of the action: A customer wanted a particular (possibly ill-advised) logo that looked “more like a monkey.” The designers produced a slew of (probably excellent) designs along other lines. The client was unhappy with their efforts. The designers gave in and created a design for the logo with a monkey.

This story really got me thinking about the necessary balance between expert guidance and the art of listening. At one point in time I lived above a business that chose to represent itself with three-foot-tall lettering in the simultaneously hideous and generic font Papyrus.* The day they put this up I was away at work and I almost fell off my bike on my way home when I turned the corner and saw the new signage. I sincerely hope no designer was involved in that monstrosity. If a designer had been involved, would it have been his or her responsibility to offer expert guidance that would ultimately lead to a better sign for the business? Surely that is one of the reasons to hire an expert in any field. An expert who is not providing guidance is simply a technician. And yet, an expert who does not listen, really listen, to the needs and desires of the client is a failure, or worse.

Anyone who has ever been a client probably knows something about the pain of trying communicate your vision for a project. If you are working with someone who does not take the time to understand where you are coming from, how you work, and what you are looking for, then the process is an extremely frustrating one and the results are typically disappointing. On the other hand, it can be equally disappointing to work with someone who offers nothing to the project and leaves you with a feeling that you did not get your money’s worth. The wedding photographer who fails to rearrange the shot could be replaced by a self-timer and a tripod.

For a software engineer, as for any expert, walking this line can be tricky. The best thing to do is to understand the client as fully as possible and to build a stable, secure and usable solution based on that understanding. This whole process needs to be communicated and demonstrated and documented along the way so that both parties feel aware of and involved in the direction that the project is headed. And when the client really needs a monkey, the solution is often to keep an open mind and make the best monkey money can buy.

David Brainer-Banker, Occasional monkey-maker and Software Engineer at eimagine in Indianapolis, IN

*If you love Papyrus and are not a designer, typographer or sign maker that is fine with me, but fonts like Papyrus and Comic Sans were really only intended for uses like a kid’s birthday party invitation and were never designed to be blown up and used as a brand identity.

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