Clients & Creatives: Developing an Understanding

Categories: Web Design

As someone who has sat on both sides of the table it is brutally apparent that the relationship between creatives and their clients is stressful for both parties.  Perhaps you're familiar with some of the pains that can arise from either camp, or worse, you've been burned through a bad experience already.  This is unfortunate since all it usually takes to avoid calamity is better communication and a little education.

If you're the client:

It's important to understand the single most obvious quality that is unique to all creative fields: there is an innate ambiguity in the final product. That is the very nature of creativity.  When you first engage, you are paying (at least in part) for something that doesn't exist yet, in the hope that when it does, it will be pleasing.  This may feel like a bit of a gamble, but it's unavoidable. 

Creating a logo or website is not as straightforward as replacing the brakes on your car.  You take on the risk that your choice of graphic designer is able to come through with something that will satisfy you.  Every designer in the industry wishes they could make this a guarantee, but there are far too many personalities, variables and possible outcomes to realistically make that claim.  

There are ways that you can choose your future designer(s) wisely to reduce the chances of disappointment.  Their portfolio is the first place you should look. In this case the proof is in the pudding.  If you see what their work looks like then you should understand the level of their capabilities and whether or not they can meet your demands.  If their design looks sub-par or out dated, no amount of money or yelling or communication is ever going to make you happy.

If this sounds scary, don't be surprised if you're a bit tense throughout the entire process.  Try not to take it out on your designer.  Keep your communication open, honest and cordial, ask questions when you're not confident and be specific.  The process should be quite fun!

If you're the designer:

If you're the designer the impetus is on you to get the answers you need to make your client happy with whatever you create by gathering the right info and pitching the right vision.  Depending on the client's experience it might also be necessary to put more emphasis on your hand-holding throughout the process to make sure they are properly educated.

Indisputably the easiest thing you can do to maintain the health of your relationship is proactive communication.  Whether you're going to be a day late, a week late or month late, give your customers a heads up in advance.  The worst thing to do is leave them in the dark.  If something is going to go out of scope, bring it up immediately and explain why.  If one of their suggestions is not ideal, take a minute or two to elaborate or propose a better solution.

Remember, a clients bad experience with you perpetuates to future encounters with other designers.  It's your industry and you shape it based on how you relate to your customers. 

Designers also have the tendency to get snarky about certain things (re: make my logo bigger cream and universal hatred for comic sans).  This is fine when it's all in good fun, but if it starts to dehumanize your clientele you might want to curb the attitude and remember that they are coming to you because of your expertise in this area.

To Be Continued

If this sounds familiar to you, stay tuned for part 2, where we'll cover some mutual guidelines to help both designers and clients build a productive working relationship.