Are you open enough to allow great design work to happen?

Are you open enough to allow great design work to happen?

Sure, we all want to do effective and noteworthy creative work, but are we keeping an open mind about it? It’s really not a one-sided agenda. The client gets a well-designed and conceived piece of communication and the designer/design firm gets something worthy of their portfolio and potentially some new business to go with it. It’s a win/win situation for everyone involved, right?

I work with a lot of entrepreneurs in my day-to-day operations, and there is a certain mindset to that type of business owner. The entrepreneur is often times the sole or main employee in their fledgling company. They not only have the overall vision for their enterprise, but they are usually the ones answering the phone and taking out the trash, too. From the beginning, they had an idea or skill that was the inspiration for a new business. They are used to doing nearly everything themselves to maintain their vision and keep costs down. Being so focused on their goals, they are the absolute expert on every nuance of their business. So, when the time comes when they need outside help, they’re often not used to asking for advice – they are giving directions.

Having a client that knows exactly what they want is a blessing, right? Yes and no.

There are two types of clients that come to you for design work in this case. The client that comes to you for your expertise, knowledge and the ability to help them take their business to the next level. And the client that just needs someone to put the piece together because they ‘don’t have time to do it themselves’.

Hopefully, you get to work with the former.

Having an open mind and relinquishing control of your business’ future is scary for many people, especially the entrepreneur. They have been the sole guardian of their baby for so long, they can’t imagine letting someone else help out.

Here’s where the designer comes in.

As a designer, you are used to having business owners of all varieties and experience approach you for your skills and expertise. Many times, even very seasoned business owners have little background in working with a creative person. And rightfully so, they want the process to go well, so they are often apprehensive about how it works and most of all, how much it will cost.

Some clients have worked with a designer on a limited basis, or had a project or two turn out badly. These people are often apprehensive about going through the process again and may be way more ‘hands on’ than the designer would like. What needs to happen is the designer has to gain their trust. It’s not an easy task in the first place, let alone after a job gone wrong. Educate them and things will likely go much smoother.

With a client giving all the creative direction and manhandling the job, it certainly creates an often stifling and tense work environment for anyone to endure. Do they want a decorator or a designer?

On the other hand, is the designer being an effective listener to the client’s needs? In addition to the information the client is providing, are there any new tidbits of research that might help? Is the designer asking lots of pertinent questions before starting? Are they sharing these insights with the client and integrating them into the work?

The key to this whole client/designer dynamic working effectively is that both parties keep communications open. It’s much like dating, really. Many times you can tell how it will go in the first meeting. As any good business person can tell, if you don’t get a good vibe about the person across the table, it’s not likely you’ll do great work together.

So, keep an open mind. You never know where this relationship may take you. And that goes for you, too.



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  • As always, it’s a two-way street. The truly best work happens when there is mutual respect on both sides.

    One thing I find helpful is reinforcing the notion that good design is a process and the client is just as important to a project’s success as the designer is. This usually helps alleviate any initial apprehensiveness because it makes the client a partner and demonstrates that the work is done in phases so there shouldn't be any “surprises”.

  • Good summary of the danger signals (of a controlling client), but I also liked your point about the designer needing to listen and ask questions.

    It does seem, as you said, that one knows almost immediately whether the client-designer relationship is going to work, and, in most cases, nothing's going to change that. But who knows– every so often there might be a case where the designer asking the right questions might garner enough client trust to push a gig into the Win column. Nice post, thanks.

  • I would have to agree with your point about keeping your options open and working through the potential relationship. I think it's that undying optimism that keeps us going in this business.

    Thank you for your comments.