Graphic design is not art. It sounds obvious but sometimes
needs saying and reiterating. Art exists for arts 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 dont
get it. They always want their logos bigger, dont
want to pay us enough money and make ridiculous suggestions
that wreck our pretty little layouts and ruin our shot at
making this years Print Design Annual AGAIN!
Get a group of graphic design clients together and theyll
complain about how too many graphic designers dont listen,
inundate them with esoteric design terminology and do whatever
they want irrespective of the clients business goals.
And I think most design clients would complain that we dont
communicate enough with them.
You know what? Its WE who dont 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 McDonalds: 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 companys 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 dont 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 youre a print designer you need
to be knowledgeable about latest trends in printing; on demand,
electronic prepress, online approval, etc. If youre
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. Thats 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 doesnt
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
clients language. Again, seems pretty obvious but many
designers drown clients in designer speak. We
shouldnt 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, its
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 youve presented.
Finally its impossible to build a better partnership
without trust. Clients need to know and feel that while were
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, its our responsibility to
voice those concerns and let them know why their suggestion
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 Youre