In a short span of two years, almost everyone we know has suddenly switched to WhatsApp for conveying their feedback, suggestions and references to a design studio like ours. Allow me to explain why it is a bad idea for customers of any business, including those offering design services.

Design studios like ours invest in basics like an owned domain and e-mails, and reliable online tools like Basecamp to manage projects efficiently and keep the clutter at bay. Other tools include good ole Google for tasks and Do-It-Tomorrow for individual task tracking. Some customers are reluctant to use these very useful and proven tools – and we end up spending valuable time on reading a flurry of WhatsApp messages, where the conversation often has too many ‘jumps’ and rarely stays focused.

Here is an all-too-familiar scenario at the studio. We have a design submission and we post 3 concepts to the corresponding Basecamp project and wait for the customer’s feedback. An hour later, 4 random team members from the studio get added to a WhatsApp group, and customer feedback starts coming in bits and pieces. It’s barely coherent and has little or no references to our original submission for us to collate and implement the changes. The group keeps getting around 10-12 pings an hour requesting for a status update. The day ends with a typical “Why is taking so long?” message from the customer.

The following may please be noted here:

  1. There is too much scrolling involved on a small mobile screen to figure out what the customer has given feedback on (as opposed to a laptop screen where we can review feedback on, say, a Basecamp project message thread). That’s some time lost.
  2. Someone at our end needs to collate all the feedback and segregate it by the concept it pertains to, so the team member assigned to the design task can receive this feedback and implement the changes. That’s some more time lost.
  3. Usually, the nature of IM conversation implies that the messages are in IM shorthand – this warrants at least one phone call to the customer to clarify what exactly was implied. More time lost.
  4. The group conversation has references to other projects or design tasks that are unrelated to the submission made and the feedback sought on the same. This makes it difficult for some team members to understand the context, as they may not have been involved with the task that is being suddenly referred to. More time lost in seeking answers.
  5. Valuable time that could be invested in working on the same project iterations, is unfortunately lost in compiling, segregating and relaying customer feedback to the designated team member/s.

In most design studios – including ours – we rarely check IM messages while working. WhatsApp and other IM tools like FB Messenger are positively discouraged during work hours, as they are a distraction (with personal messages far outnumbering relevant official ones). This policy helps us to ensure a steady focus on the tasks at hand, with little or no distraction from frivolous forwards, memes and post-work catch-up plans.

When customers choose to relay feedback via a WhatsApp, for example, it often goes unnoticed until the next break during a typical work day. E-mail and Basecamp alerts, however, pop up instantly on our work screens and allow us to review customer feedback and implement the relevant changes.

Acknowledgement of feedback received goes out near instantly, with an estimated time frame for a revised design delivery. The designated team members responsible for the task are also looped in on the entire conversation, and they prioritise their deliveries accordingly. Isn’t this a much more efficient and smoother way of functioning?

I speak on behalf of most design studios like ours, when I say that WhatsApp is simply NOT a tool for official correspondence. The biggest drawbacks of WhatsApp that I can think of to support this statement, are as under:

  1. It is not possible to segregate conversations by topic or project in WhatsApp.
  2. Conversations are stored on individual devices and cannot be retrieved if deleted from the device, or if the device itself is lost. That’s not the case with, say, e-mail or Basecamp.
  3. While there is end-to-end encryption of messages, there is simply no reliable archiving of the group conversations. This implies multiple rounds of checking back and forth in the conversation, to get relevant pieces of information or verify customer feedback.
  4. Images shared on WhatsApp are compressed by default, often leading to pixilation when zoomed in for details (customer feedback scribbles on a printout of a design submission, for example). This feature alone renders the app ineffective for design and image-based communication.
  5. WhatsApp conversations, more often than not, imply a resource to be dedicated to parsing the feedback and conveying it to the team members concerned – something which is completely avoidable with the right tools like Basecamp.

WhatsApp is surely good for personal IM, group chats with friends and family, and location sharing (this is undeniably very useful, indeed!) But as a tool for official communication, it just fails miserably. If more customers choose to read this, imbibe the gist and switch to proven mobile-friendly tools for business correspondence, it might just help everyone function a whole lot better and add the much needed trackability and accountability for projects.

About the author:

Nishant Fadnavis is the founder partner of Dzynestudio, a boutique design studio based in Pune, India. Dzynestudio specialises in visual communication solutions, process consultancy, marketing solutions and brand strategy for all kinds of businesses. Driven by a small but dedicated team of professionals, Dzynestudio believes that good design is, apart from image and aesthetics, about improving experiences and simplifying information.