Clients don’t know nothing


12th August 2019

I’ve lost count of the memes and social media accounts dedicated to cheap laughs at the expense of design clients. Hilarious? Rarely. Amusing? Occasionally. Justified? Probably not.

I’m not a fan of the way clients are often demonised.

Every trade and industry has its fair share of difficult customers; I’m sure I have probably been that difficult customer for someone before, as have those funny guys devising their comical designer ripostes.

Design as a relationship

The truth is that design is best undertaken in collaboration between design team and client team. Mutual willingness to listen, learn and see things from a new perspective. Practical steps in place to ensure aligned expectations. Clear communication throughout the process. Balanced and gracious responses.

Our job is neither to dismiss [client requests] out of hand nor to simply cave in and make bad amendments without question.

Building walls between the design industry and its very lifeblood, the people who commission us, is remarkably short-sighted. If the business world sees designers as elitist or liable to shame them online, our skills and services are naturally going to lose respect and, subsequently, value.

Doing things differently

Don’t misunderstand me. Difficult people DO exist, and might become our clients at one point or another. Unreasonable ones. Stubborn ones. Haughty or arrogant ones, even. And these difficult people should be dealt with professionally, appropriately and privately (as should our frustrations). But most of our clients are honest, passionate people who need us to work with them to achieve their vision, and we need to at least try to remain gracious.

They will very rarely have had the same training as us. Typography, aesthetic style and the nuances of grid-based layout aren’t their forte and they might need things explaining, sometimes more than once. Make a compelling case for your design decisions and remove subjectivity where possible.

They might make very specific (and incorrect) assumptions or requests. Our job is neither to dismiss out of hand nor to simply cave in and make bad amendments without question. Dig in and understand their mindset – what is the real problem? What does the client think they are fixing with their request? Our expertise is likely to help us uncover another way that achieves the same thing more successfully, meaning everyone’s happy.

So when things break down or a designer receives unwelcome critique, the first step should be to get down off their high horse and think about it from the client’s side – not create a mocking gif to share with the world.

They don’t always know everything, but they certainly don’t know nothing.

Written by Owen