Thoughts on the designer/client relationship

Thoughts on the designer/client relationship, courtesy of the Design Council. Interesting watch, via Glug.

“If I go to see the doctor, I accept that the doctor has trained, has skill, has experience, is concentrating on one aspect of me. I’ve asked them to do that. What I don’t do is what bad graphic design clients do. I don’t lean over the doctor’s shoulder and say, ‘Could we make that pill a bit larger?'”
— QUENTIN NEWARK, ATELIER WORKS

“A good client has the responsibility to choose the designer that they’re going to work on the project with carefully, and when they get that job right it makes your job a lot easier.”
— LUKE PEARSON, PEARSONLLOYD

“I’m not sure there is such a thing as a perfect client because people are messy, just like I don’t think there’s such a thing as a perfect agency or a perfect consultancy or a perfect advisor.”
— RITA CLIFTON, INTERBRAND

“You make your client a good client or a bad client. After you’ve worked with clients over the years you know how to handle them, from a selfish point-of-view to get the best out of them, but also, to give them the best.”
— EDWARD BARBER, BARBEROSGERBY

“Most clients come to us with no real idea of what identity they’re trying to achieve. They’ll often come to us thinking that what they need is a new logo, that going forwards all their problems will be solved by this new logo, and our response to them would normally be, ‘Who do you think you are? How does your audience see you? How would you like your audience to be seeing you?'”
— NEVILLE BRODY

There’s a full transcript here.

The Design Council also has a resources for designers page you might find useful.

Related, from the davidairey.com archives:
The vendor client relationship
Handling the client approach

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6 comments

  1. Some good thinking here.

    I don’t agree with Quentin Newark’s position – I think it’s the designer’s job to educate clients to understand what they are being offered ( I expect doctors do get scared patients asking for pills that are, say, easier to swallow!).

    I trust in conversation with my clients.

    There has to be real openness and empathy to get a full understanding of them, their issues and motivators, and deliver ideas and project responses that meet them face on.

    I work hard to not face the client with a process, but to sit/walk alongside them and create a process together. It’s worth it even on small projects because it’s a great education for them. It strips away the common fear of confronting designers and gets them to engage actively and buy more, more often. That room papered with the project that Tim Fendley describes is bang on – by including the client in the discovery you generate excitement and commitment to the project.

  2. I’ve become slightly numb to more of these complaints about clients… yes there are such things as bad clients and everyone hates their job (and everyone’s entitled to complain), but in this case the doctor went through years of med school and had to be certified several times over, THAT’s why you trust him… if there was a standardized way of certifying graphic designers and made it so people couldn’t just throw a website and a cute business card together and start charging people 100 dollars an hour, then maybe clients would trust them more.

    Oh wait, there’s also the thing where designers create art and subjective value, not fixing your toilet or giving you a flu shot. if we want to work in an esoteric industry, then maybe we shouldn’t be so high-minded when the guy writing the check wants the logo a little larger.

  3. Edward Barber’s point is definitely more useful: “You make your client a good client or a bad client.” I can look back at a number of past-projects where my lack of experience led to the downfall of the assignment.

    If something goes wrong, look first at yourself.

  4. An interesting one David.

    I can see it from both angles, the designer is there to guide and educate the client, but the client needs to accept the advice and experience of the designer with trust that they have years of experience.

    It is different though, as all designers have different ideas and angles of looking at things, whereas all doctors (should) have the same line of thought based on their training.

  5. An interesting debate, I agree on a lot of the posts – my best analogy is one that compares a designer to a chef or a restaurant – if you want fast food, go to McDonalds, if you want more a la carte, then off to claridges – of course designers need to be able to adapt, but it’s also important that as a designer you can pick who you work with. Yes, the customer is paying and should be able to comment and be satisfied, but, honesty to yourself is the best tonic, if your stall is set-out correctly then the right customer will come along.

  6. Whats the perfect client? – Is there such thing as one :).

    Personally, I only ask for two things from a client. One is that communication lines are always present and open. Two is that they are as dedicated to their project as I am. For me this leads to a good designer/client relationship and a good project outcome. Everything else is then solvable.

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