Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Compromise is King?

Clients… Don’t we all just love them?!

Without clients, the role of a designer would be very limited. They are our lifeblood – the ones that pay our bills. But don’t they just make things so difficult sometimes!

One particular client experience gave me a huge insight into my profession and, as tough and uncomfortable experience it was, the lessons learnt are plain to see – for myself and anyone else in my position. As designers we like to think we know best. We think we’re untouchable: that our ideas are all solid gold and that anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong. If the client doesn’t like our ideas they are automatically classified as short sighted or accused of ignoring our ‘expertise’. We tend to sulk.

Ultimately I’m afraid that if we’re so desperate for complete creative control we should become fine artists rather than commercial graphic designers. The client will only pay you if you produce what they want (note: not necessarily ‘what they ask for’ – there’s a difference). There are a great number of fantastic clients out there – genuinely open-minded people who respect the professional guidance of their designer.

Believe me, these are not the norm – savour them when you get them.

If a client doesn’t go with my suggestion despite all my clear explanations as to why they should, that is up to them and my job is to do what they say. That might sound defeatist but it’s true – there really isn’t any point fighting it. I should make it clear however that in no way do I condone giving up on a job. Do what they want, just don’t drop your standards – do it well. Your only other choice is to politely and respectfully decline or cancel the project, offering to return any deposit already paid.

A client recently told me that my proposed ideas for their branding were off on tangents they didn’t want and that they didn’t understand why I didn’t just draw a picture exactly like they wanted. I felt like I’d been shot down in flames. I’d put in hours of research and produced (and shared) mood-boards that showed my thought process from the start. I had pages and pages of sketches that I’d condensed into three proposed creative logo designs and here was a client telling me I should have just “drawn a picture”! Needless to say, I was furious at the prospect of sacrificing concepts and ideas to simple aesthetics.

But once I had calmed down I knew I had done my part. I’d followed my process to the letter, used my experience and skills to effectively solve the brief. After a few more struggles, eventually I drew what they’d asked for but ensured that I did it to the best of my ability. I agonized over the detail and produced what I believe was a very good illustration! It wasn’t what I would have suggested, I expressed concerns and doubts over whether it was the most appropriate or suitable solution, but I knew that I’d not sacrificed my integrity. Looking back, would I have done the same amount of work in the first instance had I known what the response would be? I’d like to think that I would.

I still don’t fully subscribe to the well-known phrase “the customer is always right” but I do appreciate they will always have the final say. A motto I’m starting to have to get used to, however, is that “compromise is king”.

This guest post was written by Owen Jones, a fellow designer and friend from the UK. You can find out more about Owen and his work at

Do you relate to this experience? Do you disagree and think if clients hire a professional they should allow them to do their job? Do you have a third view? Share with us in the comments section and make sure to like, tweet and google+ this post.