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  About the author/editor  

Christopher A. Gee is a team member of Creative Latitude, sitting in the hot seat with the position of 'Licensed to Design' editor.

Christopher is a designer with over 14 years of experience in both print and interactive design. As principal and creative director of Cube Interactive LLC, Christopher oversees the disciplines of information architecture, interactive design, multimedia design and interface development. Christopher creates design solutions that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional and effective.

Prior to co-founding Cube Interactive, Christopher worked for a variety of NYC-based companies where he created successful design solutions for leading corporations. Christopher holds a B.F.A. in graphic design from the University of the Arts.



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Getting Clients to View Design as Investment by Christopher Gee

Graphic design is not art. It sounds obvious but sometimes needs saying and reiterating. Art exists for art’s sake; graphic design is a business tool and exists to enhance communication of ideas, messages and thoughts. Yet there is an age old disconnect between those who do graphic design and those who pay for graphic design services.

Get a group of graphic designers together and inevitably someone will start complaining about clients and how they just don’t “get it”. They always want their logos bigger, don’t want to pay us enough money and make ridiculous suggestions that wreck our pretty little layouts and ruin our shot at making this year’s Print Design Annual – AGAIN!

Get a group of graphic design clients together and they’ll complain about how too many graphic designers don’t listen, inundate them with esoteric design terminology and do whatever they want irrespective of the client’s business goals. And I think most design clients would complain that we don’t communicate enough with them.

You know what? It’s WE who don’t get it, not our clients. If we graphic designers wish to be successful, we need to learn how to turn out clients into partners in the process and show them how to see design as an investment to their business goals.

Doing this involves a bit more long-term thinking on our part. We have to think more like consultants and less like cashiers at McDonald’s: “So that will be a logo, an ad layout and a 3-color brochure to go? Would you like a varnish with that? Tabloid size or regular?”

When a client comes to us for a brochure, ask yourself, and perhaps the client, what business goal the brochure is meant to achieve? Increase knowledge for a new product? Gain entry into a new, key market? Enhance the company’s branding to attract more upscale clients?

Perhaps in finding the answers to these questions it will be revealed that a media kit is a better solution for the client. A DVD presentation? Perhaps a website? Maybe a combination of all of the above? Now some reading this article will undoubtedly object “But I don’t do media kits/DVDs/websites”. That is not the point. The issue is transforming the service we provide from simply filling orders to solving problems.

But taking a more consultative approach also puts the pressure on us, as designers, to gain a more comprehensive knowledge of our own business. If you’re a print designer you need to be knowledgeable about latest trends in printing; on demand, electronic prepress, online approval, etc. If you’re a web designer, you need to understand how to maximize communications by taking advantage of dynamic data delivery, interactive media, streaming video and of course Flash.

Taking a more consultative approach means we need to listen more and perhaps learn more about our clients’ business and perhaps business in general. That’s right, maybe you read the Wall Street Journal every once in a while instead of just HOW and Print. Tuning-in to CNBC or Bloomberg Television every once in a while may give you valuable insight as to what the concerns are in the business community at large.

Building better partnerships with our clients also means we have to communicate better with our clients. This doesn’t simply mean we should dash them an email every few days and chat them up about the weather, it means involving them into the PROCESS of design. The easiest way to do that is to tell them what the process is from the very beginning. Let them know what will happen from the moment they sign the contract to final delivery of the project. The reasoning for this is simple, design clients, like any paying consumer, HATE surprises. The more we involve them in the process and let them know what to expect from us, the more we are able to manage their expectations and avoid any miscommunication and letdown.

Of course, better communication also involves speaking the client’s language. Again, seems pretty obvious but many designers drown clients in “designer speak”. We shouldn’t take for granted that clients already know what a comp is or for that matter a pica, leading or gutters. In general, it might be helpful to provide them with a sort of “quick reference guide” that gives insight to terms that they will hear throughout a project. However, it’s probably better to speak their language. When discussing series of ideas, talk about the merits of the design as it relates to their business. Discuss the logic of the color scheme in the context of their branding goals. Structure your comments around what is important to THEM as opposed to what YOU like about the ideas you’ve presented.

Finally it’s impossible to build a better partnership without trust. Clients need to know and feel that while we’re involved with their projects, we have their best interests at heart. This does not mean that we should give in to every demand or suggestion they make. On the contrary, if the client makes a suggestion that we know or believe to be counter to the overall project goals, it’s our responsibility to voice those concerns and let them know why their suggestion is impractical.

Having said that, we should resist seeing new projects simply as our opportunity to bone-up on our new copy of Flash MX or to use that cool new font we just purchased. A client once told me about a designer he worked with in the past who INSISTED that the client cut copy on a brochure they were designing. When my client inquired why it was so important to cut the copy, the designer informed him that his layout already worked perfectly with the Greek text that had been in there previously during the comps phase. The real text that the client had submitted was too long and would require an extensive re-work of his layout! My clients’ only response to the request was one that would make Donald Trump proud – “You’re FIRED!”

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