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The client-designer relationship

A client-designer relationship can be trying at best. Learn how both sides of this team can work towards the same goal without compromising their expertise or values.
Latest posts by Alexey Golev & Paul Attard (see all)

Client and Designer Relationship: Clearing up any misunderstanding

Working with a designer should be a somewhat simple process but there seems to be a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to what design is and what designers do. To clarify a few misunderstood aspects of design; proper branding is more than just a logo, proper advertising is more than just an image and a slogan, and proper website design is more than just separating information into different sections under the same domain name. Even though this may seem obvious, many fail to understand the differences between proper design and improper design.

What is a designer and what is it that designers do? They use their experiences, skills and whatever tools or materials needed to create an illustrative message. If done correctly, the design process should yield the best possible solution for the client’s problem.

So, why is there so much confusion when it comes to working with a designer? I would like to say that it’s because many clients have not been educated on how to deal with designers, but, that would be a very unfair statement. This is mainly because it would put all the blame onto people whose jobs have nothing, or close to nothing, to do with truly understanding the work of a designer. The responsibility should fall on the designer to educate their clients on how to handle a design project. The sad reality is that us designers can sometimes be a pretentious bunch, who don’t have the time or patience to thoroughly explain the sacred inner workings of what it is that we do.

Without proper explanation, the client cannot be expected to have any idea of what the designer needs before a project can be started. Thinking that they are being helpful, a client will likely share their favourite colours, websites of their competitors, websites that they like, or even throw in the typical buzz words like “fresh” and “clean”. This doesn’t help. What would help is explaining the structure of the business, the audience, the values of the company, why the client approached the designer and what really needs to be achieved with this piece of design work.

Every designer is different, so how they approach a project may vary. The same designer might even approach separate projects in different ways. Any designer worth his salt should guide the client through the project, explain what is needed from the client, when it is needed and what the client should, in turn, expect and when they should expect it.

This is not meant to deter anyone from working with a designer. These relationships can sometimes be the most beneficial for a company, as they allow for the production of ideas that would not have been conceived without clear collaboration between the client and the designer.

Each party has their own role in this relationship. The client (hopefully) knows their business best, they know how the business runs, who the customers are, what the business’ goals are and which direction they want to move towards. The designer (hopefully) understands design theory best, they have the experience to determine what might and might not work, they can properly estimate how much time the project will take and how much work is actually needed.

It is important to remember that the designer is an expert who is being paid for their knowledge. If you require a custom-made suit it is unlikely that you would sit at a sewing table and start stitching together pieces of fabric. The result, although admittedly inexpensive, would most likely tarnish your image and leave you looking like a fool. For similar reasons, you should not take to designing your own visual communication materials using the pirated version of Photoshop on your computer.

At the end of the day there needs to be an open dialogue between the client and the designer. Both parties need to keep in mind that they are on the same team, working towards the same goal. This goal is a piece of work that fulfills the needs (not the wants) of the client. Finally, the most important bit of advice to remember is just please, don’t be a dick, a mentality that should be adopted throughout all aspects of life.

“Please, don’t be a dick” is a book written by the London-based branding agency wearegoat. It explains the different processes behind design projects, what a client should expect from a designer and, most importantly, it shows how designers and their clients can work together to create a beautiful piece of work that solves the client’s problem as effectively as possible. More on how to work with a designer in the coming months.

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