Rant #2


It’s a situation you don’t really want to be in. You’re with a new client, presenting your ideas for a new project. You show three different approaches to the brief, and explain how each has been extensively researched and analysed, and you’ve carefully crafted your descriptions to emphasize the individual merits of each proposal. A slight pause follows whilst the client appears to consider your work with all the seriousness you believe it deserves, when they reply “ I like design B, but can I have it the colour scheme of design C and use the front cover layout from design A?” Do you:

A. Say “Yes, of course I can, that will be no problem at all. Say, did you once study graphic design, as you have a real knack for this sort of thing?”

B. Snort derisively and scream “You philistine! Haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said? These are three distinct ideas! It’s not the b*****y pick’n’mix counter at Wilkinsons!”

C. Begin sobbing and mutter “This is what I’ve become! Years of education and hard work for this! They didn’t prepare me for this degradation at college.” And then stomp out.

If the answers above seem ridiculous and you know another way to react in this situation, just take a few moments to think about this: the answers above are all based on stories I’ve been told by designers and clients.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not all naturals at presenting our work, and when we are young we tend to be more protective of our work and be much more sensitive to this kind of response. It’s not something that can be taught – you have to learn on the job; by watching more experienced colleagues and (shock, horror) listening to the client properly.

Graphic designers are continually having to justify the value of what they do to clients. Why? Is it because of the credit crunch? Is it because they don’t trust us creative types? Or is it that they have a false idea of what we do? It’s probably a mixture of all three: many people think we have special creative software and we just click the computer and it does all the work for us, so they question how much we charge, and anyway, art school isn’t really proper education is it? Sounds dramatic, but it is a bit like that with some people.

So lets think about the clients’ response again. They clearly like something about all three designs, so that’s not a bad start. Because we show them work on screen, or prints of slick, digitally manipulated work, they are only seeing the end result of all your time and effort. They are only responding to the visuals. To them, these are merely images that can be chopped and changed; after all, it’s not life or death is it? Does this make them a ‘bad’ client?

Lets go back to our three options too. A -If we accept the maxim ‘the client is always right’ we must also accept that our client is better placed than us to make decisions about graphic design, even though they may have been involved in manufacturing nuts and bolts all of the lives. There are places like Prontaprint in most major towns and cities where anyone can request a ‘design’ and completely dictate every detail. It’s cheap and it serves a purpose, but is it really design?

B -If we throw a hissy fit with a client, they generally don’t hang around to be clients for long. A no-brainer, really.

C – So, you’ve studied for five or six years, started at the bottom and worked hard to move up the ladder. This was not an easy process: it required dedication (long nights, crap briefs, fussy tutors!), a huge financial commitment and a great deal of self determination (remember, it still took quite a bit of effort to actually get yourself a job once you’d qualified). And they just assume you’ve been mucking about on the computer for a bit until something pretty happened. It’s not their fault really. Most people have a computer at home or work and even the standard software is sophisticated enough to produce some quick and instant results. That’s probably the closest parallel they can relate to. We all know that doctors study for years and years, are very clever and know about all sorts of things we can’t see, and we take their diagnosis without question. Would you say to your doctor “actually, I’d prefer it if I were to take more of the medication, and see if it clears up before we refer to the hospital.” Like I say, it’s not life and death what we do, but it is still important.

The answer? Well, we’re all different, and I hope this entry sparks some debate, but I’ll get to my point. We can all complain about a bad client from time-to time, and believe me there are truly some out there, but we as individuals take the responsibility for leading the clients into a more constructive working relationship. We need to assert ourselves in justifying our approach, and encourage them to discuss individual designs further, where we can find out more about how we can resolve and progress with the project.

My best clients haven’t been the ones who were happy with my work without question, but those who saw themselves as a part of the process, challenging me and being alert to the possibilities not considered in the original brief. These are also the projects I remember most. Quite often they were tough and problematic, but positive and rewarding in the same way.

Someone once said that I should issue clients with a users manual – the kind of thing you might get with a dishwasher or something. I never did, but it might be interesting to create one just in case! It would be good to get contributions from other designers too – your suggestions are most welcome…

4 thoughts on “Rant #2

  1. Good article. Pretty spot on too. I work in the fashion industry as an in-house designer. I work along the same lines as yourself that the client, in this case my boss, is part of the process and that I can shape their, sometimes, hideous ideas into something pretty good with them thinking they came up with the idea. You may become the unsung hero but the desired result was achieved and you will stay on the boss’ good side by making them look good.

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