My dad is an auto mechanic. Growing up I spent many days in his shop, learning how to change oil, use a grease gun, clean parts, and pay the bills.

I liked listening to the interaction between customers and the mechanics. There was one lesson I learned that has stayed with me.

Tell me the problem, not how you think I should fix it.

Meaning: the mechanics don’t want to hear your solution to your car’s problem. They want to hear what is wrong. They are the experts. Let them figure it out.

As I got into art and design, I’ve learned this is true in my line of work as well. It really applies to any type of feedback. The receiver benefits far more from hearing the what rather than the how. At the same time, the giver stands to learn something new.

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9 Comments

  1. Hearing problems is the name of the game when working with clients. But in my professional experience I’ve never had to deal with people telling me how to fix something. That would be so frustrating! If they are telling you how to fix something, why would they come to you in the first place? : \

    1. It happens quite often when designing websites, at least in my past experience. You will hear “Can we use less blue?” instead of “This is looking a bit too corporate.” Thankfully, its a rather easy problem to solve. Instead of asking “tell me what you think” when you present a design, you can ask more direct questions like “does this convey the fun and quirky style you were going for?”

  2. This is a such a great way to put it. In the three years since you’ve written this post, I’ve seen it come up again and again (most noticeably, maybe, with Mike Monteiro and “Design’s Lost Generation”), so hopefully that means we’re finally starting to get it!

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