Screw the client

The two most common ways for designers to deal with clients are to either do whatever they say, or attempt to form a collaboration. But I say, “screw the client.” This is rarely practiced, but I think in the end this method is best for all parties involved.

When you do whatever they say…

You’d be surprised how many designers and design agencies do this. In fact, it might even be the most commonly practiced client interaction technique. Designers using this method allow the client to micromanage projects and make every little change requested without question, even though it’s unlikely that a client knows what they are talking about in matters of design.

“Designers may want to believe they are being collaborative by allowing the the client to make design decisions, but it is most definitely not, and can often lead to disaster.”

So, for example, I know of a company that had a client demand their site be made at a width of exactly 1024px. However, the client wasn’t taking into consideration the screen sizes of the potential visitors of their site, nor the idea that the site does not necessarily have to be exactly 1024px wide to look good on a screen of that resolution. And since the client is paying for it, who is the designer to suggest a better size right?

Designers may want to believe they are being collaborative by allowing the the client to make design decisions, but it is most definitely not, and can often lead to disaster. The client may be happy, but the designer will not be, and the design will suffer. Just because the client is paying for the design doesn’t mean they have earned the right to make design decisions and that the designer must obey all orders.

Having seen what client interference can do to a web site, I’ve learned not do the same when requesting the service of others. For example, if I were to hire an architect to design my house, I would not demand or expect the architect make every change I request. I would hate, due to my ignorance the field, to make a decision that would render the house ugly or difficult to live in.

When you form a collaboration…

Collaboration is a much better technique. The goal here is to make the design process as smooth as possible for both the client and the designer. This is accomplished by the designer educating the client on what makes great design while at the same time allowing the client to educate the designer on their business. The client is involved in the design process, but since the client’s been educated their input may be more useful.

“The main issue with collaborating is that even if the client is educated, they still may not understand what makes good design and may still prove to be difficult.”

So if a client says, “I want my site to be exactly 1024px wide,” the designer could respond by asking the client what they think may be the average income or age of the potential core audience of the site, and through dialogue, the client may come to understand that 1024px may not be the best width for the site.

Designs turn out better since the designer benefits from the knowledge of the client of their particular business, and clients walk away happy since they feel they’re involved.

But, while this method is great, I believe is more aggressive approach is required to allow for great design. The main issue with collaborating is that even if the client is educated, they still may not understand what makes good design and may still prove to be difficult. So, taking the example mentioned earlier, even after explaining and encouraging a client that 1024px make not be ideal, they still may want to make the site that width anyway. Later they might realize their mistake, and sure, the designer could charge them more to change the width, but that doesn’t make the whole ordeal any less frustrating.

Let’s say when talking to an architect, I demand all doors be made a short height because I am short (I’m not by any means though). The architect may “educate” me, telling me all the reasons why it should be made taller, but that doesn’t mean I will listen. It may not be until I try to get large furniture or appliances in the house, or invite my taller family and friends over before I realize my mistake.

When you say “screw the client…”

In an ideal world, there would be no micromanaging, no unhappy clients, no unhappy designers. Designers would design to the best of their ability, and after paying, the client would try their best to stay out of their way. In this ideal world, collaboration may occur, but it is not the rule here.

This “screw the client” technique is not practiced often now-a-days because instead of the client hiring the designer (or design agency) they feel is best fit for the job based on their style, they tend to choose based on either popularity or cost.

In practice, here’s how it works. Every designer would design as they wish, ideally creating a unique style of their own. Some designers may design by following whatever they think is trendy, while others may focus on the end-user and cater to them. Judging from their portfolio, a client would choose the designer they feel best fit for the job—whoever has the style he likes most.

This client then explains the requirements of the project with this entrusted designer, and gets out of the way. The client is entitled to voice there opinion, and the designer may take their input into consideration, but the client should not make any design decisions. And ideally, they should not feel as if they need to since they’ve hired the designer they feel best for the job.

This “screw the client” technique is not practiced often now-a-days because instead of the client hiring the designer (or design agency) they feel is best fit for the job based on their style, they tend to choose based on either popularity or cost. So they end up having to essentially bend the designer into the shape they want them. They hire a circle and try to push them into a square. And most designers will shape shift because they want the money, so they take any job that comes there way. Money, however, should become secondary to things such as happiness and integrity.

In the end…

For the “screw the client” technique to work, it requires designers to make it clear before a project begins that they won’t shape shift, and it requires clients that are willing to pick designers because of their qualities above all else. Beyond everyone being happy, the biggest benefit is that the web will be more diverse. And where there is diversity, there is bound to be more innovation.

In the web industry, there are lots of followers and too few leaders. Every time a new style pops up, designers quickly herd around it and copy instead of questioning it and finding ways to make it better.

Trends can be useful, but they are often pointless. There is a reason they change so often.

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This entry was posted on Friday, June 19th, 2009 at 3:14 pm and is filed under Advice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Screw the client”

  1. Be frank with clients | Advice | Lucian Tucker’s Blog Says:

    July 2nd, 2009 at 10:09 am

    […] with the clients absurd demand and with some luck, the client may give in. But if you’ve read my previous posts, you’d know I don’t condone this method. “The designer is hoping the client is […]

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