One of the hardest things to do as a designer is working with clients who think they know how to design.
I am not referring necessarily to someone who actually knows how to design.
Or someone who use to be a designer.
Or someone who can't design but understands the design process.
I am talking about someone who thinks they know about design because they do not respect it.
You know what I mean. It's that person who dabbles at it, or took a class, or knows someone else who does it — like a family member or friend. They really don't appreciate the skill or experience that it takes to work in the design field. They don't have a clue what design is suppose to accomplish. They don't even see it as hard work.
They see design as "fun" or a decorative add-on to whatever is the more important issue. Because of this, it is very hard to work with this type of person. They want to dabble, see some ideas, and waste your time, so that they can make something "pretty." The goal for the design is lost in their happiness.
What is a designer to do?
Well, here are six suggestions:
- Ask a lot of questions. Get to the root of the design problem to be solved. Talk only in objective terms. It isn't about what everybody likes. It is about the problem. It is almost always good to put it in writing and have them sign it. This is what a creative brief is for.
- Show them your process. Reveal your design thought process in some way. Show them the steps that need to happen from concept to completion. Talk about it as if it is separate from you — which it is.
- Refuse to discuss aesthetics until design solutions are presented. Keep the discussion on objective problems and solutions. Then be sure you and your client evaluate design solutions against these criteria.
- Keep the objectives in view. When the client strays from objective criteria, and wants to art-direct, gently move the conversation back to the objectives and demonstrate how certain decisions affect those objectives. If they refuse to listen, do what they want. But make it clear that they are acting against your professional judgment.
- Protect yourself. Sometimes these types of clients are dishonest or unprofessional. With every client, it is a good idea to get partially paid up front and put each decision, that goes against your professional judgment, down on paper. This can prove invaluable if a solution doesn't pan out well due to a decision on the client's behalf — whether they are dishonest or not.
- Last, just stay honest and professional yourself. Don't get into arguments. Be courteous and gentle. But be firm and direct in your communication. And acknowledge when you are wrong. And who knows, maybe your client will become your best customer.