The client and creative relationship can be exciting, productive, fulfilling and produce amazing work that pleases everyone involved and, most importantly, makes a real difference to the business. However sometimes it can fall short of that. But never fear we’re here to show you how both sides can work together as an effective team.
Teamwork makes the dream work but how do we make sure that our client – creative team is working at it’s best?
Step one: Be realistic about the talents that each party brings to the table. As a client you know your business inside out, you know what makes your product or service amazing, you understand your market and what drives your customers. This is your area of expertise. Designers and creatives bring knowledge of how to craft your messages and communicate them to your customers. They understand colour, layout, typography, tone of voice. They can imagine things that you may not be able to. They know how print, web, video, photography and/or illustration work and what you can and can’t do with them. Both areas of expertise are incredibly important to the success of a project, but ensure you use the the right people for the right job. A creative trying to decipher your product offering without any help from you, the expert, is as daft as a client trying to lay out a brochure page. Stick to what you know, do that really, really well and support the other party in what they do best.
Step two: Work out which side of the table you are on. It’s important to to recognise that there is a third element in this relationship – the problem that you, the client, needs solving. Whether that is a new brochure, a creative way to launch a product or a new brand, you have a design and communication problem that you need a solution to. A solution that requires the help of a designer. This love triangle can resolve itself in a number of ways depending on how the designer and client treat each other in relation to that problem. Imagine all three of you are sat in a boardroom ready for a meeting, where each party sits determines how the team will work together. Here is our guide to the most common client/designer/problem situations:
1. The ‘it’s your problem’ situation.
The problem sits with the other party on the other side of the table. So the designer sees the problem as the client’s issue and the client sees the problem as the designer’s issue. The designer has probably been appointed late in the project and the client has a fixed idea in their head about how the problem should be solved. They often have a small budget and short timeframe.
Designers in this situation get frustrated because there is little in the way of a brief to refer to, they often have very little creative freedom and haven’t asked enough information about the project to be able to make good suggestions for how to move it forward. This situation can be especially fraught if the client tries to weigh in on the details of the design too much – make my logo bigger syndrome (see How To Give Feedback to Your Designer).
Clients get frustrated because they don’t receive what they have in their head, the project goes on too long and the designers either seem to lose interest or keep coming back with questions and suggestions that are beyond the tight scope of this project.
Imagining that the problem is someone else’s responsibility and that you can just swoop in and add your bit is a recipe for disaster. Because you are not on the same team you are aiming for very different things and pulling in different directions. Neither side believe in or understand the project and process and this will result in low quality design work that doesn’t solve the problem as well as it could.
2. The ‘problem in the middle’ situation.
The problem sits between client and designer. This is a bit better than situation one because there is joint ownership of the problem, however each party can only see the problem from their side. The client can’t see what the designer is trying to do with their suggestions and the designer doesn’t fully understand the context of the project. The problem can get passed between the parties involved which can turn into a situation where blame is put on one or the other. This will often be a battle of the designer trying to push the client and the client pushing back – this can result in good work as the project is shaped and sculpted by this back and forth process. Like the sea erodes a beach. However, more often than not it results in a solution that is compromised and half cooked. Neither one thing or the other.
Clients who review design work as a committee often end up behaving like this. There are too many people trying to have their say so ideas get muddled and the strategy gets lost. A clear project lead and spokesperson is important to help build the relationship with the designer and keep the project on track.
3. The ‘we’re on the same side’ situation.
The best possible situation, client and designer are on the same team. They are working as one unit using the skills of each in the right way at the right time. The client brings all their understanding of their business, their market and their customers and the designer is able, and encouraged, to use their full skill set to solve the problem. The designer has been in the loop since the very beginning of this project, fully understands the context and objectives and has helped shape the delivery method (is it a brochure, an email campaign, a viral video etc). A full and in-depth brief has been developed and agreed on by both parties (see How To Brief Your Agency). There is trust between client and designer which results in high quality design work that delivers the right message to the right people, in the right way, at the right time.
Trust takes time to develop but there are good ways to shortcut that, so before you commission a big, important piece of work:
• Ask to be shown samples of previous work, not just a web link but in person with real samples. Good agencies will have a strong portfolio of work that they will be able talk you through to highlight their involvement with various projects and how they relate to your project.
• Ask for testimonials. Word of mouth is very powerful and testimonials can tell you a lot. Better still ask if you can actually talk to other clients then you’ll really find out what the creatives are like to work with!
• Meet the design team in person. See if you like them, are they warm, human and confident? Do they understand what you are trying to achieve? Can you share a joke with them? Do you have things in common?
• Commission a smaller job first. If you are still wary of risking a large budget then ask the team to work on a smaller project to gauge how well you all work together. Book in a catch up meeting afterwards so you can discuss what worked and what didn’t.
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