The question of who ought to care more about a commercial design project is a surprisingly divisive one. Many designers stress that it’s the client’s needs and desires which should come first, no matter what. Other designers insist that the time and energy that goes into creating a design should never be wasted on a project that one only feels lukewarm about.
Today, we’re going to find out who’s right, who’s wrong, and whether it should even be a question at all.
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There’s no question that design is a very personal, individualistic profession. Ever since the Renaissance, the world has firmly embraced the idea of the individual artist, as opposed to the collective nature of art and design found in earlier cultures.
People hire designers as much for their personal flair and aesthetic sense as they do for their problem-solving skills.
As the designer, your name is attached to everything you produce, and your reputation as a competent professional is tested each time one of your designs goes public. Some designers’ aesthetic sense is more highly valued than others’ of course, and there is a hierarchy within the design world that largely determines who gets the choicest work.
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In my own work, every design that leaves my hard drive is like a precious jewel, special and unique. I trust my clients to cherish them all as much as I do. Does that make me a self-important egomaniac? No (well, I don’t think so, anyway). It means I only accept projects that will allow me to invest that level of pride into.
If a project is outside my niche, or is uninteresting to me, or the client engages in business practices I don’t agree with, I will turn it down. This has the effect of creating a self-fulfilling cycle: the choosier I am with my projects, the more often I get offered projects I absolutely love.
How? The work I end up producing and putting in my portfolio is a more accurate reflection of my style and values, which sends a very clear message to potential clients. In other words, my body of work filters out most of the project offers that are not the best fit for it.
Ultimately, it is the client who has the final say over whether your original design vision gets to see the light of day. This is only fair; after all, it’s their business and livelihood which your design is going to be representing. There are ways to negotiate with clients and get them to “see reason” when they ask for changes you don’t agree with.
If you and your client are on the same page from the beginning, and she respects you and your contribution to her business, any changes she requests shouldn’t come as a shock to you. It’s only the clients whom you haven’t built up a proper relationship with whose changes enrage you and leave you feeling homicidal toward them. It’s okay; we’ve all been there.
Your enthusiasm about what you do will attract the attention of clients who will be just as enthusiastic. They’ll take one look at your work and something will “click” in their heads that you are the perfect person to solve their problem. Your commitment to serving people just like them, to providing personalized solutions to the problems unique to their niche, will be obvious.
The ideal designer-client relationship is always win-win. You win by getting to add to your portfolio another piece of work you’re proud of, and your client wins by getting the perfect solution that allows them to increase their revenue, traffic, sales, or any other metric you and your client have concentrated on.
It’s been said that, when a customer achieves true satisfaction, price is almost irrelevant. If someone has a real problem, they will go to any lengths to solve it, and the solution will be so valuable to them that they won’t even stop to consider how much it costs.
Value is always more important than money. If you were marooned on a deserted island and you were starving, having a pile of cash isn’t going to do you any good. Even if it’s thousands of dollars, you’d happily trade it all for a sandwich or a plate of curry.
This isn’t a license to fleece your clients, but a call to provide as much value as possible to each person you do business with. The increase in pay will happen naturally.
So, to wrap up, let’s go back to our original question. Who should care more about your design: you or your client? I think it’s clear from what we’ve covered here that the answer is: both. Finding people you’re happy to serve and provide solutions for will inevitably create raving fan clients who will be just as happy to spread the word about your awesomeness.
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