I recently finished Chip Kidd’s The Learners, a beautiful novel set in a 1960’s ad agency. Kidd – the Brad Pitt of book designers – provides tons of graphic design gems in this book, inspiring nuggets like:
Kiddies, what makes good design is good clients. It’s as simple as that. Look at CBS–the eye. Genuis. But Frank Stanton, the head of the network, deserves as much credit as Bill Golden, who actually designed it. If the sumvabitch paying the bills isn’t on your bus, you ain’t going anywhere. But if he really lets you drive, you can gun it to the moon.
We definitely agree with the sentiment that credit for a great design can be mutually shared between the designer and the client (who has provided the designer with enough license to craft genius.) Unfortunately, unsuccessful designs are also created by both the designer and client. Articles dealing with designers vs. clients and the design process with clients place the success of a project in the hands of a healthy client-designer relationship.
Make the logo bigger? There are other possibilities.
Because the relationship between client and designer is so critical to the success of a project, we’re continually trying to come up with better ways for these key players to interact. We need to be mindful of the time, investment and even prior experience that a client is putting into the project, while at the same time pushing that client to try and step back and let us do our thing.
It’s important for us to hear the business objectives and business problems directly from clients so we can understand the reason why they are seeking something new. At the same time, we can also look to read between the lines, and dig to find solutions that the client might not realize exist.
It is far more useful for us to hear a client’s perspective such as “most of the customers who arrive on our home page don’t yet know us, and our brand is being lost on a page that is overwhelming them with content” instead of “make the logo bigger“. By stating their concern, we can provide solutions that may or may not include making the logo bigger (for example, brand presence can be increased through colour and pattern, typographic treatments, minimizing other distracting elements etc… not just making the logo bigger.) Sometimes these alternatives are better than the client’s self-diagnosed and self-prescribed treatment.
How does a designer build this kind of trust in the client to step back and not rush to solutions?
Confidence has to be one of the key motivators. Once a client feels secure that their design issues are going to be addressed in a thoughtful and intelligent way, they’re far more willing to let the process unfold. How do you inspire that kind of confidence? That’s the million dollar answer, and I don’t have it, yet. Proven experience, self-confidence, the ability to listen and give thoughtful feedback, a dazzling portfolio of staggering genius – maybe all of the above..?
We’ll keep working on it, and continue to tell our story. Communication is the key ingredient in arriving at a final product that everyone is proud of – something that fulfills business communication goals, has a rich user experience, and is visually stunning. So let’s get back to the drawing board.