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I have been working remotely with a developer that has become my main and only partner in a business project - a website - I have. I am the CEO and I'd like him to be the CTO if this becomes a bigger business in the future. I pay him 25% of the revenue.

We have a good relationship, we usually speak every week. He is very good at what he does and I have given his almost complete freedom and control about decision making when it comes to software-related decisions.

I usually handle the rest: business and design (UX/UI) decisions.

I have not studied design, but I know our users well, and, to certain extent, I trust my skills in this regard. Also, I take input/feedback from professional designers (friends of mine) frequently.

He has sometimes given some design ideas, which I disagree with by giving reasons on why the idea I had was better, or on why his idea was not good. I'm usually referring to the user behavior or psychology when formulating my arguments.

Even if he does not express this, I have noticed that he gets slightly resented about getting his design ideas rejected.

This is not a problem and our relationship is still good, but I want to prevent long term consequences or this escalating in the future.

I have to admit that I have the tendency to control things and think that my ideas are great (I've been proven wrong many times).

Also, I have to mention that, compared to other developers I've met, he is quite social-savy. I like him as a person and respect him as a partner.

My questions is: how can I better reject his design ideas when I disagree with them, but not discourage him from giving input?

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  • Hey Wilfredo, welcome to IPS! Does your CTO ever give design ideas that are good enough to go in without you disagreeing with them? And if you disagree, are there ever any parts you could say are good, but better if done otherwise? I'm wondering if you're just giving counterarguments, or if you're also using any known feedback-methods already.
    – Tinkeringbell
    May 8 '20 at 16:39
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    I haven't thought of any specific method. I usually adjust to the idea specific that he is suggesting. If I like something about I'll say it, I try to understand the logic behind the idea and to think about the customer first. May 8 '20 at 17:18
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I will give you my perspective. That does not mean it's the only perspective though.

As a developer, while I'm not a professional designer, UI/UX design is a part of my professional education. Just like database design or setting up the server. At bigger companies there might be specialized departments for it, but generally, I was given the education to do every single of those tasks.

So I have a professional education, I have done some private reading and coursework on the matter and I have read the design documents for the platform we are developing for and I have taken all of that and tried to make a good, professional design based on those guidelines. Now, when someone comes along with no professional education in the field and blatant disregard for any design documentation or even light literature on the topic and "had an idea in the car this morning" and "likes it better", then that is just insulting. There is no sugar coating it. I can see from a mile away that it will look like a Range Rover fender duct-taped to a Yamaha motorcycle and it will work about as well as that car analogy sounds. But the person does not know better, due to lack of education and lack of spending the time actually reading up on things like platform guidelines, so they don't know it's shitty. And I cannot do anything about it. How do you argue with "I like it better"? You cannot find an argument that will trump feelings.

So for me, it's not about whether you take my idea or yours. It's about whether your idea is better in a measurable way. For example, my current boss very much likes the idea of having very few clicks or actions to reach your intended goal in the app. And while I might not agree on that overall goal, I can clearly see why he sometimes favors other ideas than mine. Because they have less clicks. It's very predicable, very measurable, it's objective. Something I could argue if I wanted to.

So the IPS side of things is really simple. As the non-Developer you should make sure that your decision is based on something objective and you need to explain that thinking to your CTO. If they can see why you go with your idea and not theirs, that should not be a problem. Developers tend to be very logical minded. If "better" is something objective, they will go with "better", not with "mine".

In addition, if you have decisions where it really does not matter... why not take theirs. It will give them a good feeling and will probably benefit you, because their idea is already half-implemented. No developer pitches an idea without a plan to implement it. So their idea is already further in the planning stages as yours.

To sum it up: explain why your idea is better in objective terms and if in doubt, just use theirs.

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As a person who works in tech and has been doing UX for a number of years, I run into this with developers all the time. Sometimes this is forever the way you have to deal with it - by constantly handling them with care, which it really sounds like you have been. The fact that he gets upset may not be due to your delivery of the news, but may be more of him trying to impress you and feeling let down when you are not. There are many ways to handle this, but first I think you must decide what you want long-term in a partner.

If he is going to potentially be a partner for you in the future, you need to be on a level where you can disagree without him being upset every time, or you are going to have to work a lot harder on your side of the relationship forever. If he cannot, then I would strongly suggest you consider another partner, or prepare yourself to coddle him for the duration of the business relationship.

Next time this happens, consider addressing it head-on with something like:

Hey, I can see you might not love that I don't always take your ideas. I do really appreciate your input, and (maybe give examples of his good ideas that you've used). I want us to work together long term, and I don't want you to constantly feel rejected, just as I don't want to constantly be hurting your feelings. What is the best way for this to go for you? Would you prefer I give more design direction? Should we meet more often throughout the process so you don't have to re-do as much? (etc. based on the situation)

I think this is a skill you two are going to have to work on. A partner running a business with you needs to be a deeper level of understanding and interaction than, say, a subordinate and a manager.

As someone who is incredibly conflict averse and non-assertive, I can tell you that being faced with a conversation like this would fill me with anxiety! However, in business I try to imagine I'm playing a role and it does make it easier to have tough conversations. The way you explain the problem, it does not sound like you've been a jerk, and you don't want to be, but dealing with a sensitive personality can get exhausting over time so this may help you gauge what you are in for, at least.

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