If you want average (mediocre) work, ask for it. Be really clear up front that you want something beyond reproach, that’s in the middle of the road, that will cause no controversy and will echo your competition. It’ll save everyone a lot of time.

On the other hand, if you want great work, you’ll need to embrace some simple facts:

It’s going to offend someone. If it doesn’t offend them, then it will make them nervous. The Vietnam Vets memorial offended a lot of people. The design of Google made plenty of people nervous. Great work from a design team means new work, refreshing and remarkable and bit scary.

If you want something great, you’ve got to be prepared to protect it and defend it. Come back too many times for one little compromise, and you’ll make it clear that average was what you wanted all along.

You can’t tell me you’ll know it when you see it. First, you won’t. Second, it wastes too much time. Instead, you’ll need to have the patience to invest twenty minutes in accurately describing the strategy. That means you need to be abstract (what is this work trying to accomplish), resistant to pleasing everyone (it needs to do this, this and that), and willing, if the work meets your strategic goal, to embrace it even if it’s not to your taste.

Read the full post here: How to live happily with a great designer.

Via @bernadettejiwa.


June 7, 2012


Great article. So many times my Clients tell me, “I’m not really sure what I want, but just work your magic and it will be fine.” This is great and all, knowing that they trust my work and my style, but when it comes down to it, it’s wasting time.

As soon as they see the first mock, the Client magically knows exactly what they want and it usually involves many rounds of revisions.

Like you said, the Client needs to invest 20 minutes of their busy day to sit down and plan a strategy for the final product. This small investment ends up saving tons of time…

As always, awesome post David!

Well said. It’s also a surprising constant in this business that the clients who commission work based on their business’ goals and needs, instead of their personal goals and wants, are not only easier to work with, but the satisfaction both client & designer get from the result of working together is that much greater.

There are very few clients that can write a good brief. It’s not difficult so not sure why they struggle. I created a very in depth briefing form which gets clients thinking what they really want. You should also charge for amends or build them into your costs.

“I’ll know it when I see it” is a huge red flag and always means there will be lots of revisions.

It also means that for whatever reason, the strategy has not been properly worked out and the client is going to make his/her decision purely based on how pretty it looks.

“I’ll know it when I see it” makes me cringe. Agreed, it equates to about 900 rounds of revisions and time consuming meetings. Few and far between is when we get someone in here that has a “this is what I want. Make it happen” attitude!

This is in direct opposition to the Steve Jobs philosophy which is that people don’t know what they want because what they want hasn’t been created yet. Personally, I totally disagree with this. Steve was wrong. Here’s why: people did know they wanted portable music (transistor radios, SONY Walkman) and they did know they wanted to access it online (Napster, etc.). Steve just spent a lot of time thinking about how he could unite different “wants” into “needs” for consumers.

As designers it is our role to also discover what our clients really want and what they need. If we only give them what they need they won’t be satisfied. Conversely, if we give them what they want they won’t be satisfied either. It is our role to find out the things that make them tick both personally and professionally and then create a solution that meets both their needs and their wants. That is what excites them!

This takes a LOT of time. It takes lots of time up front in Discovery work. Even the best written brief does not contain clues to the key stakeholder’s wants. Basically we designers must act like detectives and psychotherapists to find out things. This is where the true value lies in working with a great designer.

Discovery should constitute a minimum of 25% of the project. For logo projects, I’d say I spend close to 70% of the time in discovery and only 30% actually designing. Logo projects are the most emotional of all for clients (a topic for another post/comment, I think), therefore, make sure you include enough time for discovery in your quote to the client. I sell this time by letting the client know that I’m going to (theoretically) hold his hand throughout the process and spend a lot of time collaborating with him on making his ideas a reality. The key to all projects, really, is executing them in a way that allows the client to feel he is in control. Design is scary to a lot of clients so you need to be a true leader here.

Great comments Susan!

I agree with you about what our job is as designers. It’s our job to take our Clients “problem” and do our best to “solve” it in the most efficient and effective way.

The way you break up the time spent in each phase is definitely eye-opening and when I relate it back to my process it matches up almost perfect! Hand-holding is one of the major roles we have as a designer…

Awesome advice, thanks!

Asking the appropriate questions is usually how I try to defend myself against difficult clients who have no direction whatsoever. This is a great way to explain the difference between fitting in and standing out. Sometimes I don’t think they know the difference. Usually, I find the projects with the most revisions are those that I’m pushing at the client and they hate it.

I really enjoyed this post and reading all the responses. I too have developed a questionnaire, the answers to which provides the outline for a creative brief. It gets clients thinking about what they need and to see there’s a difference between that and what they want.

I think it’s difficult for someone who has never hired a designer to know what is expected of them as a client. I often hear from new contacts that they have had bad experiences in the past. Some designers don’t ask the right questions of their clients, and apparently some ask hardly any questions at all.

I had a client say with a sigh of relief “No one has asked me these things before. They make perfect sense.” I feel it’s part of my responsibility to educate clients about the design process, what I need from them, and how we are going to successfully work together.

Rather than “I’ll know it when I see it” the right design solution should meet the goals established in the creative brief that both you and the client developed together, in what ever manner you both set up.

Thanks for all your posts David.

Debbie, definitely — it’s hugely important to ask the right questions before deciding we’re right for potential clients, and this client screener by Mike Monteiro is a great example of what questions to ask (thanks, Mike).

Kurt, one small thing probably worth picking up on from your comment. Seth said the client needs to invest 20 minutes in describing the strategy (to the designer). The creation is likely to take a fair bit longer.

Thanks for taking the time, everyone. I hope you’re all enjoying the week so far.

I love this article David.

It’s funny because you hear that saying quite often but in reality, some would say that’s not an effective method at all. This is a very interesting perspective and I enjoy articles that make you question :)

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