There are loads of good guides and top 10 lists for digital designers out there. Most of them are generic and do not contain a personal view from the author which is a good thing for theoretical learning material.
But design is not a mathematical trade and there isn’t an answer sheet you can refer to. As such personal views matter. Here is my personal view on clients. It works for me, it may work for you.
A history in arrogant web design
Back in the golden age of web design (pre-dot-com crash) agencies had an arrogant attitude towards the customers and the rest of the digital-dumb world.
The one company that immediately springs to my mind is The Designers Republic who were notorious in the way they told clients to give them the money and leave them alone until the day The Designers Republic gave the client what they deemed right.
The Designers Republic were digital heroes and produced one great product after another, but it didn’t change the fact that their attitude flourished because most people didn’t understand what what digital designers did and even fewer could do what we did.
But as the digital industry suffered some knock-backs and learned some lessons it got wiser.
The clients got wiser as well. After many of them initially burned their fingers on hugely expensive web projects, they become more cautious and started looking at business benefits of their online endeavours.
Secret designer tip no. 11: Listening to the client
Some of us took a step back and reviewed the rock’n’roll attitude of early web designers. My conclusion is that the best way to get the best results is to listen to the clients.
Yes, as a digital professional I know much more about the Internet than the client. And so I should; It is my job.
But that doesn’t change the fact that:
- I will never know as much about the client’s company as the client
- I will never know as much about the client’s product as the client
- I will never know the full long-term strategy of the company
- I will never understand the full impact of the projects I make for the client
- I will never understand the full scope of company politics within the client’s organisation
Often arguments with clients have their root in the digital designers looking short-term at the project while the client looks much further ahead and can foresee issues that don’t immediately seem connected to the project.
A good example of such an argument starts like this:
- Designer: …and then we should listen to what customers say on Twitter. And respond to them fast especially if they are unhappy.
- Client: …Well… I don’t know… Our post room only have old mr. Jackson operating it so…
- Designer: … uhhmmm… ok, but on Twitter we need to assure customers we are listening to the problems they have with the products.
- Client: … Look, we are planning to invest in the post room but not until next year so I think we’ll stay off twitter.
- Designer: … but…
Can you see the clients point of view?
While the designer wants to communicate and help customers in need, the client sees the full impact to the company associated with the proposal.
If the company, via the Twitter account, response that fast to unhappy customers, the rest of the company needs to honour what is promised within a short time frame as well to uphold the customer’s perception of a swift response.
With an already understaffed post room the company would struggle to send out replies or even new products to replace faulty products. If the company cannot honour this the customer will go from unhappy to outright angry which could cause even bigger damage.
The logical response from the designer will be that the company need to invest in the post room.
But the client is also all too familiar with the politics of the company and knows he would be stepping on somebody’s toes if he try and push for upgrading the post room as future investment in the post room has already been approved. He also know that this existing post room project has some personal support from an important senior member of the company, a member who has a say in his future career within the company.
The client won’t voluntarily disclose all this and even if he did his reasoning may not seem logical in isolation so would bring any clarity anyway.
As designers it is vital for a projects survival that we can see the project from the client’s point-of-view. Not only from what they say but also from what they don’t say and their body language.
In my experience this does not produce lesser digital products. It creates not only better digital deliveries it also sustain long-term relationships with clients.