Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Working Smarter Not Harder

In every area of our lives this adage rings true: "Learn to work smarter, not harder." Along those same lines, there is the story about Abraham Lincoln, who allegedly said that a good lumberjack spends more of his time sharpening his ax, than cutting down trees. The point in these words of wisdom is that planning is better than aimlessly trying harder.

This is true with the process of design. A common mistake some designers make is to hear what a client is saying, then to jump on the computer to produce the design, wait for feedback from the client, attempt to make corrections the client demands, and get the project produced when the client is finally happy. This methodology produces a "hit-or-miss" approach to design. Sometimes the clients are not satisfied. Sometimes the designer is not satisfied (or embarrassed).

What's my solution? Planning.

Plan what?! Plan how I will work with a client. Plan to listen to the client's unspoken needs. Plan to solve those needs, as well as communicate them. Plan to defend how I do business. This is my approach.

  1. Plan how I will work with a client. I include in my business plan how I will work with various clients — whether non-profits, friends, family, or business associates. And I prepare my contract to include some items that I will or will not do or allow.

  2. Plan to listen to the client's unspoken needs. Instead of listening to the client's words, I try to listen for clues about what they really want to accomplish, and how that makes them feel. They may say they want a brochure, but they may really want to reach a market of prospects they have never considered before. I actively listen using good questions. It's not just a project, it's their business on the line.

  3. Plan to solve those needs, as well as communicate them. I seek to understand the client at a deeper level than just following their requests. I will verbalize what they may not be saying, and notice their reactions. I then offer solutions based on what they really need, as well as want. I will do some decent research, so that I can understand their issues and challenges. And I will let them know that I understand those challenges.

  4. Lastly, prepare myself to defend how I do business. The easiest defense is understanding that I am designing to help the client succeed and I am prepared to clearly communicate it. So, I plan ways to communicate the benefits to the client of my business approach. Most of the time they will understand, and even appreciate my approach. In rare cases the client has refused to work with me in a way that is mutually beneficial. But, it is up to me what I will decide to do in those circumstances. I just determine to plan for it, so I won't be surprised when they ask for an explanation!

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