One of my favorite comics, The Oatmeal, satires the designer/client relationship in ways that never fail to make me laugh. Pictured above is the intro to their comic, How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell. (Which is hysterical, and everyone should read it regardless of your profession, feelings about comics, designers, websites, or eagles.) I think it also opens up is the discussion of this 'DESIGNER versus CLIENT' dynamic that we've been hardwired to expect, hate, and frequently mock. Granted, sometimes it's entertaining (and true), but sometimes we create a self-fulfilling prophecy for a painful working relationship. How do we do that?
Google Search: "Graphic Designer"
Above is a sample from a quick Google image search for "graphic designer". As you can see, graphic designers love a good chambray shirt, dark glasses, and being surrounded by as many color swatches as humanly possible. They also clearly prefer to work alone sketching images on their tablets in high-noon natural light.
Google Search: "Business Person"
Another Google image search for "business person" gives us a look into the daily lives of the client side of this equation. The modern business person spends a lot of time looking into the distance while holding their face and thinking. If they aren't doing that – they're on the verge of tears over their ongoing battle with technology, or tickling other business peoples' hands with their money.
Do we even want to know what Google says happens if you bring these worlds together?
It's actually pretty damaging for both designers and clients.
Designers are repetitively told that clients are demanding, bumbling idiots pushing unrealistic timeframes while barking artistic direction. Clients are told that designers are flighty, head-in-the-clouds idiots who care more about making something pretty than practical.
While granted, the above description might apply to some clients and designers, believing that about the majority is far from the truth. People, we need each other! Clients need designers to take their ideas and bring them to life in a tangible way. Designers need clients to bring ideas to the table that inspire us to create. (Especially if we want to pay the bills. Hypothetical business logos only get one so far.)
DESIGNERS, this is for you:
I go to the annual AIGA Y-Conference every year. One year, a speaker said something that made a huge impression on me. He talked about clients who want to be involved in the design process; how they want to talk about colors and layout. You could hear groans emerge throughout the room as people recalled these trouble clients. Then he showed a picture similar to below and said, "that client was once this kid".
Wow. Lightbulb moment.
He went on to say that once your client was a kid full of creativity (probably just like you as a kid). They grew into their current profession, and just because it's not a creative field doesn't mean that kid isn't alive in them today wanting to help create something. When you look at it that way, their color suggestions aren't orders, but a desire to be involved.
CLIENTS, this is for you:
It took me 6 years to graduate from college. And not because my head is in the clouds. Budget cuts at my university didn't help, but also because I changed majors. I started as a Marketing major with a minor in Art. Two semesters from graduation I came to the realization the rest of my life would be a disaster if I didn't switch my major to Graphic Design immediately. I stuck it out for some additional semesters until I graduated with a Graphic Design major and Marketing minor.
Getting a degree in design takes work, a lot of work. Once we get though all the undergrad classes for math, business, science... we spend countless hours in computer labs learning programs, studying art & design history, writing design briefs, and working and re-working projects. In fact, my design classes took more hours to get through than any marketing class I'd ever attended. A designer with a degree spends countless hours in labs like this one (Murray State University) practicing their craft.
Graphic design isn't a hobby (for most). It's a career. Countless hours and tuition dollars provided designers the means to have a business that supports your business.
And looping back to the idea of how we need each other...
Businesses only have a few seconds to make a first impression through their branding and identity. As a designer, that's so exciting! I love the challenge of taking a client's ideas and distilling them into something that will speak to others. I truly enjoy presenting designs to my clients and seeing them light up with the realization their business ideas aren't just ideas anymore... they're logos, business cards, signage, printed pages, etc. Their concepts are materializing.
I've always viewed my relationship with my clients as a partnership. I don't want a client who barks orders at me, and I also don't want a client to accept designs that look pretty but don't solve problems. I think it's time that we embrace each other in this creation process.
The sooner we do, the sooner we can bring the focus back to creating some incredible things together. And who knows, maybe some of those things will even "Soar like an eagle in outer space".