Your client is horribly, hurtfully, terribly, catastrophically wrong.
Allow me to tell you a story, a parable of sorts:
There I was in a meeting, minding my own business. What I mean is, I was attempting to do business with my client, who happened to be sitting across the table from me. I was also perhaps on my own, as my attempts to convey my advice on a given design aspect were obviously falling on deaf ears. Here again, my dear client* was saying something.
“Make it look like this,” he said, thrusting a brochure in my hands. My heart sank as I beheld this printed blasphemy. At least two dozen grammar and spelling atrocities stared out at me from the pages. The color scheme in no way matched the look of his logo, which itself was a graphic whose legal origin was certainly spurious.
Oh, and there was Comic Sans. Lots of it. That and Times New Roman. In short, this thing was as desirable as a wet, diseased, incontinent muskrat.
Of course, he wanted me to build a webpage from it.
Now, I know we’ve all been there. Any one of us could relay a similar story filled with grimaces and tears, about how horribly awful clients are when they try to ‘help’ us do (or worse, dictate how they want us to do) our job. However, here’s the harsh truth: when clients are like this, it’s probably our fault.
...I’ll say that again: when clients are making unreasonable demands that completely ignore our experience and expertise, it’s probably our fault.
Before you get even slightly indignant, let’s examine the type of person our typical client is. Most clients you encounter are entrepreneurs and businesspeople. With only rare exceptions, these people all share similar traits: they are energetic, excitable, single-minded, arrogant, pushy, and passionate. Overall, these are the hallmarks of the people who make business their profession. An interesting thought: virtually none of this wonderful modern life we enjoy would exist without them.
Perhaps the single most frustrating thing about designing or developing for businesspeople is that their typical character and attitude, being essential for doing their jobs, are what also often make our own jobs a nightmare.
I hold some sympathy for them: in order to survive in the marketplace, our clients have to know exactly what they’re talking about, or at least pretend that they do. They have to be completely focused on their goals to succeed, and anything standing in their way needs to be dealt with in order to continue to succeed.
The struggle we face is the same as it’s been for thousands of years: that of performance vs. preference.
Designers and developers have their own methods for achieving success. We optimize, streamline, apply guidelines and rules of thumb, we consume, digest, innovate, and execute on our designs in the most efficient way possible.
Unfortunately, most clients have neither the time nor inclination to understand how we do what we do. They just want their next piece of business-enhancing material up and available as quickly as possible. In such circumstances, they will often rely on their own inexperienced and ill-informed aesthetic sense to determine whether our work passes muster.
In short, they will often think that they are right when they say “Here’s my brochure, just do it like this.” But they aren’t. They are horribly, horribly wrong.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We as designers and developers have two choices when dealing with such difficult clients: educate them, or cut them loose.
Educating a client can be a difficult and painful task. Often you will have to repeat yourself ad nauseum, reminding your client what they agreed to do, and the reasons for doing it. This is, however, the most rewarding thing you can do in the long run. Eventually, if you work hard at it, your client will realize the value of your expert opinion.
It’s up to you to communicate in terms that will make your client stop and pay attention. It’s a very delicate task, telling the person paying you that they don’t know what they’re talking about. You won’t always get it right, but if you’re persistent and consistent in your communication, eventually your client will treat you with the proper regard.
Of course, there are some clients who simply will not listen. For them, it might be that they feel (wrongly) their input is invalidated unless they can dictate every part of the process. For such clients, there’s nothing to do except tactfully fire them. Explain your position, thank them for their patronage, and send them on their way.
More grief can be spared from your career by simply knowing when to cut losses than nearly anything else.
The most important point of all this interaction comes when you go to sit down for that uncomfortable meeting. The fact is, your client’s success depends on you being able to do your job to your best ability. Your work has to be a mutually respectful collaboration between those who know the business goals and those who know how to translate goals into expertly crafted paper and pixels. Anything less will ruin them, and you.
So remember: when your clients are horribly wrong, it’s up to you to make sure that in the end, they get it perfectly right.
*Events have been altered to protect the sensitive.
Posted by Joshua Kulpa on 01/21 at 03:16 AM
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