As the Tom Fishburne cartoon depicts so well, designers and their clients seem to come from very different perspectives - sometimes more like adversaries than partners. Whether it’s for a pitch meeting, trying to negotiate a brief, or the on-going management of a project, the relationship is a dance. It involves conveying the value of design and the creative process, whilst also meeting the budget and delivery expectations of the client. It’s a transaction that can change pace or direction at different stages, and as is often the case with any relationship, each side has good reasons to believe it is right.

I have two activities looking at these issues this month. Firstly, for the West of England Design Forum (WEDF), I’ve written a short series for designers on pitching – the first of which covers ‘the practicalities’ and is on the WEDF website already (link below). As I say in the introduction, the points in this first piece are basic, but I cannot stress how many times I’ve seen designers lose out on a project, not because of the quality of their work, but because they a) did not stick within the given time of a meeting, b) overwhelmed the client with a flurry of examples or c) could not articulate what difference their work had made to previous clients.

My second piece is a training workshop for the DBA on ‘Working with Clients on Better Briefs’ (link below). Pitching is about making an impression. But once the client is interested, or before a pitch is delivered, designers need to decide if they will accept a brief as it stands or whether they are going to make a case to challenge it. This also suggests that a brief exists, when in some situations the client can be so unsure (or unaware) of what they need, a designer’s initial role is to develop a brief and present it back to the client. To do that well, designers need to be able to more deeply assess the client’s needs and how they might like to dance.

There is frustration experienced by many designers that clients don’t appreciate design and what it involves. And they are right, most don’t. But there are two options in the face of this reality. 1) Wait for a client to come along that already dances on your terms - one who has a decent budget and will give you the time and freedom to put your creative talents to work without compromise. 2) Learn how clients dance and join them on their dance floor – demonstrate how you work and evaluate their situation. Then decide how much support or negotiation might be needed for them to become the client you want.

The second option isn’t easy, but it is proactive. It doesn’t guarantee perfect partnerships every time, but learning more about the client perspective (which does not mean always accepting it) improves the chances of better relationships. And that will improve understanding on both sides.

Pitching: A checklist in three parts:

25 June 2015, DBA Training: Working with Clients on Better Briefs 

Cartoon source:

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