Monday, January 16, 2012

The Decision Factor: How it Makes or Breaks the Design Process

Photo courtesy Benjamin Miller

Sometimes a designer's toughest job is enduring client decision making. I don't mean that it's tough because it is annoying — most clients aren't trying to be difficult. I am talking about the designer's ability to interpret a client's choices and desires and translating them into workable design solutions.

First of all, there are times when a client or boss wants something that goes directly against the agreed-upon creative brief. Sometimes a client feels that it is necessary to go beyond the scope of the brief, or scrap the brief all together. What is a designer to do?

Second, there are times when the client or boss can't make up their mind or wants to combine different design approaches. Sometimes this makes a lot of sense, but not when the approaches are opposed to each other. And combining them would create a contradiction. How does the designer deal with this?

Third, there are times when the client agrees with the brief, chooses a design approach, and is pleased with the progress, but decides to add something not discussed before. Often this situation can't be solved unless the designer starts over again from square one. And if the designer adds the item anyway, the client becomes unhappy with the whole process. Should the designer start over, quit, or do something else?

There are several reasons these problems come up. The client realizes something after she sees design options for the first time. The client and designer weren't clear enough on the initial brief. The designer and client are not in agreement on what the creative brief is and what it says. (I've seen clients sign a brief without really reading it!)

In these situations the creative brief is still a great friend. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it's time to redo the creative brief. The designer needs clarity. The client needs clarity. Before moving forward, understanding must take precedent. It's best for the designer to put the designs aside — even in a time crunch — to hammer out an understanding. If this doesn't happen it will add unnecessary time, money, and anguish to the project. However, coming to a clear understanding will create a smoother approval process, and quicker turnaround.


  1. Those are all tough situations, but it's definitely worth the time to re-do your brief. It's a major way to CYA (Cover Your Butt) and get a good, clear line of communication between designer and client. With this clear communication, even though it may seem redundant at times, you can build more trust and make sure you're on the same page.

  2. You're spot on. Unfortunately, these situations are more common than I would want. However, hashing out the brief is a good way to establish good lines of communication. Sometimes it's even a good idea to detail in the brief how we plan to communicate with each other and approve items.


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