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Can’t with, can’t without

One of the strange & interesting things about design is that we need clients to do the work we love to do (ok, ok: to get paid to do the work we love to do). The flip side of this is that we often (not always) learn a lot from our clients about the work that they do and how we can better help them do that work.

The friction comes when clients decide to do something based on “the way they’ve always done it,” not necessarily the way that serves their best interests as we understand them to be.

I, for one, don’t have a good solution to this situation. So, how do you deal with a client who is ignoring what may be in their own best interest?

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
Todd’s comment is:

In addition to A) how well what they are doing now works and B) the perceived value of a new way is C) the cost of getting from point A to point B. That cost has to be compared to the expected long-term value of change. Sometimes even when a new way is "better" the cost of making the change outweighs the short- or long-term benefits. Yes, it's frustrating when clients are averse to accepting our well-intended recommendations, but just as they need to learn to trust our judgment of design, etc., I think a lot of us need to learn to trust our clients' knowledge of their own businesses.

On Oct.06.2002 at 01:00 PM
Tom Dolan’s comment is:

It can definitely be injurious to your client relationship to exude the attitude that you're smarter about their business than they are (whether it be the case or not). My experience is give it time. If you're able to maintain the relationship, and build the trust, then you are rewarded. It's taken me years with a couple clients but the relationship is in a great place with both of them. They trust me, because what I've said has proven to be correct over time. It's possible to have this relationship out of the gate --- like love at first site --- but it doesn't happen too often. Stay the course, stick to what you believe, and build the trust.

I believe getting to this point is critical in making good design happen. Learning the client management skills to get the designer-client relationship here is as important to success as any of the technical skills you've acquired.

On Oct.06.2002 at 02:27 PM
Armin’s comment is:

But how many times have you guys wanted to scream in their faces because they made design decisions that you would have never made?

I completely understand that clients know more about their business than me, the designer, would know. But I always feel that I know more about design than them, and as a result I believe that what I propose would be more adequate for them. I always respect their choices and opinions, because it is their business, and I'm there to help them out as much as I can.

I always get a little bit pissed when they say, for example, make the logo red not blue, even though it is my professional advice to do it blue, but they insist on red because that's what they have always done. If a doctor says you are dying and you need to take these pills, I don't go ah, no I'll just keep eating bacon and die, because that's what I like. Sometimes I feel like they don't respect our opinions as designers, because we are just the people who make things look pretty, when we are consultors and, supposedly, experts in our profession.

I know, I might not be making much sense.

In other cases I have had dream clients, which do exist, that have let us lead them to great solutions and succesfull marketing efforts. And it's a great feeling when you are able to really help them out and work together with the client, instead of looking at them as the enemy.

I'll just finish with a story. One time I was doing a newspaper ad for a client. The client we were dealing with was a media buyer and supposedly knew about these matters. We had the usual stuff in the ad: picture, headline, subhead and body copy. The body copy I set in Garamond. The client was pissed at the first comp. Why? and I'm not making this up, the client said Why would you use a serif font for body copy? nobody uses a serif font for body copy in a newspaper!!! I just wanted to yell TIMES ROMAN, YOU KNOW? that font that was created specifically for a newspaper and is actually named after that newspaper? no? doesn't ring a bell?. But I didn't. That same client questioned my use of a bold, sans serif font for a billboard.

You win some, you loose some. But it's a fun trip no matter what.

On Oct.06.2002 at 03:23 PM
Stephen Coles’s comment is:

“ah, no I'll just keep eating bacon and die, because that's what I like”

Thanks for a good laugh.

On Oct.06.2002 at 05:43 PM
Tom Dolan’s comment is:

Bacon rules, and you make perfect sense. But ... there is a but. (More later, off to San Francisco).

On Oct.06.2002 at 07:32 PM
Todd’s comment is:

Armin, your reaction was spot on, except perhaps the bold all-caps tome. When clients want to do something you wouldn't recommend as a professional and their advisor, it's our responsibility to give them a cogent, lucid argument as to why what they want to do is wrong. In your case, a quick jog to the newsstand would illustrate your point in a jiffy. As would a short discussion of readability studies.

I'm sure you tried all this and more. If so, at the end of the day, you can have the satisfaction of knowing you did your best, even if the result was not to your liking. If your contentment lies with the end product, you're going to be super frustrated more often than not. Learn to enjoy the process.

On Oct.06.2002 at 07:46 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>except perhaps the bold all-caps tone

You are right, but it was one of those projects that thing just kept going wrong, and that's the way I felt at the moment. I would never say something like that to a client. I don't remember quite exactly how it went, but in the end garamond stood strong.

>If your contentment lies with the end product

For some time I thought that was all there was to it, making a great end product so I could get some awards. But, obviously, it's not, and I had to learn it this exact way, by understanding that I have to meet the clients needs and not mine. I still wan't the end product to be kick ass, but I don't see it as the main goal anymore.

Clients still drive us nuts when they get a chance : O

On Oct.07.2002 at 07:08 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Back to the original question:

>So, how do you deal with a client who is ignoring what may be in their own best interest?

What I've tried, and has worked, is showing them examples of things that are already in the marketplace. Just as an example: if I create a logo and I want to use just the icon of the logo, without the word mark, in a brochure I mention Nike and how they don't put the swoosh and the word Nike together all the time. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Overall what you really need is patience, confidence and a bit of salesmanship in your blood.

On Oct.07.2002 at 09:31 AM
Todd’s comment is:

>What I've tried, and has worked, is showing them examples of things that are already in the marketplace.

Not to switch horses in mid-stream, since that's the tack I recommended, sometimes this approach leads down a road where you are unable to try anything that hasn't been done before because the client always wants to see an example of your recommendation already in use. I guess it just shows there are always issues to be resolved no matter what approach you takeand there is no magical dream project where the client just thinks you're so swell and everything you touch turns to gold. What a bummer. ;-)

On Oct.07.2002 at 10:21 AM
Armin’s comment is:

How many times have you just thrown the towel? just given up, and said screw it, I'll just do whatever they ask from me? It's a sad state to reach, but I'm sure everybody has gone through that. I have, and it solves the problem short term, but in the end nobody gains anything.

It's not easy.

On Oct.07.2002 at 03:13 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"It's a sad state to reach"

Not always. Yes, we usually want to give the client the best solution, but c'mon, we *are* a service industry.

When you walk into a resteraunt, the waiter usually recommends some dishes. Do you always take their recommendation?

If you have legitimate arguments to back up your decisions, then it simply comes down to the client making an arbitrary decision. The sooner a graphic designer learns that this is very much a service industry, the sooner they realize that they are only in business to please the client and get paid.

That does not mean one should compromise their design, but rather, just know which battles you can win, and don't waste energy/time/money on the ones you can't.

On Oct.08.2002 at 09:15 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>we *are* a service industry.

Which probably ends the "is design art?" discussion.

On Oct.08.2002 at 09:19 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Which probably ends the "is design art?" discussion.

Which probably warrants it's own thread. ;o)

On Oct.08.2002 at 10:21 AM
Rick’s comment is:

This thread is older than dirt, but today I really needed it.

So thanks. Maybe someday, now that SU is a powerhouse, it could be revived...? I'd like to hear what more people have to say, before I murder a certain client...

On Mar.23.2005 at 02:00 AM
Harmony’s comment is:

Rick - I'm also new to this older post (new to Speak Up actually) but it's a good one. I read another older article today about badly behaving clients which might be of use to you - http://www.underconsideration.com/speakup/archives/002564.html#002564

On Mar.29.2006 at 09:46 PM