Speaking in Tongues

Us polished, professional design-types know the drill.  We package our work into slick presentations and try to sell our ideas to those non-designers our clients.  I have actually sat in a room as a series of options was presented, each one poked holes in until the final (architect-preferred) option was presented to the client as a fait-accompli.  A feat of logic, that if they had any sensibility they would now understand was THE solution.  The ONLY solution.  Of course, the client liked the first option.  What ensued was a sickening display of professional arrogance that played out over several weeks as the presenter refused to acknowledge the validity of the client's preference.
The people that use a space or live in a neighborhood know more about their needs that we ever will.  What they don't know how to do is design buildings.  What we need to do is to learn how to listen.  We take everything that our clients say to us literally, instead of drilling down to find the deeper meaning.  We don't ask the right questions at the beginning and try to overlay our opinions about how they should work on them.  Someone who says, "I want green," may, upon further discussion turn out to just want a more natural palette.  Or they may really mean that they like green.  Or, they may have noticed that green had a positive effect on their patients.  You need to know the difference, as well as why they are making this request in order to design a responsive and successful environment for them.  It is not our job as an architect to speak the language of design, it is our job to use design as the medium of translation.