Archive for March, 2009
Let’s get this out in the open right off the bat: designers can’t design without clients. That being said, there is a long-standing debate in the design community about how to view and interact with clients. One side operates under the notion that we as designers are the experts in this field and, as such, it is preposterous to have our “masterpieces” questioned by the client. How dare they, right? The other side, however, believes in that old adage that ”the customer is always right” and are able to put aside their ego (and often better judgment) to please the client.
As a designer it is easy to fall into the first line of thought. In a perfect world all of your clients would know what they want and have some technical/design knowledge. Instead you often have to deal with people who understandably don’t know why you need and eps file of their corporate logo versus a tiny jpeg. Admittedly, this is not their fault, but it can get frustrating. Many designers are offended when clients have the audacity to tell them how the piece should look, and what elements of the design should go where. Of course there is the always dreaded “can you make my logo bigger” request. Thanks to modern science, we now know that the bigger your logo is the more product you will sell. Pfff. In all seriousness though, every decision a designer makes in regards to the layout and size of objects is done for a reason and with careful consideration. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, there is some “science” behind what we do.
Clients come to designers because they can’t do what we do and we are considered experts in our field, right? Then why question so much of what we do? When you take your car to a mechanic because it won’t start and he tells you it’s because you need a new alternator, do you say, “No, lets replace the radiator instead”? No, you don’t, because he is the expert and that is why you brought your car to him in the first place. It is okay, however, to have questions and concerns and those should be addressed by the mechanic (or designer in this case).
All cynicism aside, many of these things are worst-case scenarios and not all clients are difficult to work with. Because this is our area of expertise many designers unfortunately have an elitist attitude and their egos have built up to the point that they believe they have the right to decide what good design is and therefore should not be questioned. Despite what we would like to believe, good design is subjective, and opinions vary even amongst so-called experts in the field.
On the other hand, there are those who feel that design is strictly a business and should be handled as such. The purpose of most graphic design is to produce a specific result (sell product, raise awareness, etc.). Therefore, the end justifies the means, so to speak, so who cares what the piece looks like or how it got there as long as it produced results. Those who whole heartedly subscribe to this school of thought are often fine with being a production designer, allowing the client to design the piece while they simply put it together. More often than not, though, it is the client perpetrating this scenario; they feel that they are paying for a service so it’s okay to micro-manage the project. It is unlikely that this method is ever going to produce impressive, let alone groundbreaking, innovative work. There are going to be times when a client’s idea is so unbelievably bad that nothing a designer does can save the piece. Garbage in, garbage out. However, I think this can separate really good designers from the rest of the pack If you can take a client’s bad idea and turn it into something great that you are both proud of, that’s something special.
Successful design and fruitful partnerships, I believe, result in a combination of the two ideologies. First of all, it is a partnership. Both parties have the same goals: if the clients’ campaign is successful, the design firm is successful. Heads together, not head-to-head. When a strong relationship is built, trust emerges and designers are given more latitude in future projects. Try to pick your battles. As a designer you need to learn about your client’s personalities. Everyone is different, some need to have control over the project, and some want you to tell them what to do. So, designers out there, it is okay to bend a bit. Don’t completely check your ego at the door but realize that not everyone is going be awestruck by your sheer “brilliance”. At the same time, you do not want to become a spineless production designer who gives no thought to your designs, has no convictions and will do anything for a buck. Talk with the client, figure out their goals and design what you want in order to meet their goals, and then sell them on why they should proceed with your idea. Explain the piece to them in a way that they can understand because often they do not understand the visual rhetoric with which designers speak. If you design the piece how you want it to look (keeping in mind the client’s goals) then it should be an exceptional piece. It is much easier to sell great than to sell ordinary.
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