Jan 17, 2007

The Tenuous Relationship

We designers love our work. A lot. We're like mama bears cuddling our precious cubs. Cute right? But, alas, there are other creatures in the forest. Take for example, the wayward hiker (our client). Sometimes a hiker (client) will inadvertently wander into the mama bear's (designer's) territory and separate them from their beloved cubs (work) by suggesting changes or offering disapproval. This is when the urge to kill (to kill) rises in the mama bear (designer). But if the mama bear attacks the hiker--who happens to be armed to the teeth--the mama bear will be sadly offed (fired) and the cubs (work) will starve and die (become a waste of time).

So how can the mama bears (us, you, me) keep their heads about them? Well, here's how I think you do it:

A client (hiker) is never wrong. If there is a weak link in your presentation, the clients are usually spot on in detecting the errant piece. but they may not have the vocabulary to truly express what's wrong with it. They may just say "I don't like this so and so, try something else altogether," or maybe they'll give you a specific direction: "We don't think this element should have this so and so, do this instead."

That kind of relationship is like a hiker poking an already angry bear with a stick. Speaking for all the legless wonders out there (they're the lucky ones) this is not something you want to do.

As a designer it's our job, surprisingly, to ask for something more from our clients. Yes, they're paying for our services and if they want something they should get it, but they're also paying for our expertise, for our eyes, for our vision. It's our job to listen, to help them explore a vocabulary for their concerns, to help them feel around the problem until both we and they have a true sense for what's ailing the work, at which point--if we've done our jobs--the solution should be clear to both parties.

By keeping an open dialog you disarm your client. Demanding legitimate communication keeps your client from treating you a bit like a trained monkey and allows you to create real solutions for your client, instead of just taking orders.

Why do I preach so much?

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