First, don't panic. You can figure this out.
Second, ask yourself what could have gone so wrong that the client loved everything you did.
- Are they easily impressed?
- Do they know what their goals are and did you ask the right questions during discovery to uncover those goals?
- Is there a gas leak in their office?
It's rare that we (or any designer, really) get things right on the first try. It's not because we're not good at what we do... it's more that every project involves new information, new audiences, new usage contexts, new people, new goals. Every project, necessarily, is a learning experience.
The flip side to this is that I believe with every ounce of my being that there is almost never just ONE right solution to any design or communication problem—there is instead a spectrum of better and worse solutions. And you're always trying to move towards better. “Good enough” is what people think losers aim for, but, to me, “better enough” is a winner.
There are lots of Big Scary Dangers in client work, things that get in the way of both good and better: tight deadlines, budget constraints, endless iterations, imposter syndrome, clients who miss their deadlines, creative blocks, scope creep, and other kinds of creeps.
What no designer is ever afraid of is this: "You nailed it on the first try."
It's almost always cause for celebration, pride, relief. There are head nods and smiles and high fives, along "thank you's" from both sides. We all welcome this.
And maybe that's fine. Maybe all's good. Maybe the script or storyboard or sketch or wireframe or mockup or design or illustration or animation really is solid and just needs little tweaks. All I'm saying is that if the client isn't asking questions, we should.
I don't think any smart, experienced designers go into review calls 100% confident. We always have doubts, questions, worries, insecurities. When they're not about your own personal talent or ability, voicing these concerns to our clients should be seen as a catapult for making things better rather than a roadblock to getting things done. I hate the feeling of knowing that I was worried about something but didn't say anything... then the worry becomes reality down the line. But, of course, we all dread the feeling of throwing a wrench into the works.
Our clients are subject matter experts. We are communicators. Our process is collaborative. The road to "better" communication that leads to understanding always involves both sides pointing out potential weaknesses along with strengths. The point is that hearing "this is perfect" on the first round causes a kind of confirmation bias that suppresses questions and critiques, and limits how much better anything can get.
So the next time a review call goes completely wonderfully, good for you. But don't just jump for joy—it might be smart to dive deeper too.
Illustration by W. Scott Matthews / Tremendousness.