Why Ask “Why?”

There’s this old joke – probably the only one I know about designers – and it goes something like this:

Q: How many designers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: Why does it have to be a lightbulb?


The best designers I know are masters at questioning their clients. I’ve watched a few of them in action, and the methodology plays out in a variety of ways. Before agreeing with anything upfront, they are respectfully probing the problem with “How’s, Why’s and What If’s.” Before they say “OK,” they artfully ask “Why?” And in doing so, they are working with their clients to make a good solution an even greater one.

I don’t think it’s a sneaky tactic either, it’s more of an outward expression of an internal exchange. These creatives are in the habit of questioning their own ideas. It’s a part of their process to look beyond the initial concept. They are comfortable pushing at the parameters to fully explore every facet of the design challenge.


The problem is that some designers are often afraid to counter a client’s direction. Maybe we fear conflict. Or worse yet, maybe we worry over losing a project by being labeled “difficult.” It’s a tough economy and jobs are hard to come by – no one wants to tick off the Marketing Manager, or worse yet, the CEO.

But here’s the thing, clients are looking for your counsel, they need your expertise. If they only wanted someone to produce their project, they could drop it off at the nearest copy shop. By asking “Why?” you bring greater value to your creative services.

There is nothing wrong with questioning your clients. I will say that again. When done tactfully, there is nothing wrong with questioning your clients. Using “Why?” turns order takers into problem solvers.

This is why they hire designers in the first place. If our clients are not used to that practice, then it’s our obligation as creative professionals to gently educate them. This is how the greatest design thinkers operate. They know that asking “Why?” yields solutions. The work is stronger and their clients respect them more for it.



Case in point. Recently, I saw an online listing seeking help in finding a vendor to produce a tri-fold business card. OK, think about that for a second… a tri-fold business card… was “WHY?” the first question that popped into your head? (I mean, really, how much info do you need on that thing?)

“Why?” is the most powerful tool in my design arsenal. Asking “Why?” is the reason my clients contract me for their next project.

At your next brainstorm session, kick-off meeting or presentation, I encourage you: don’t be too shy to ask “Why?”



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