Clients are strange creatures. Personally lacking any kind of secret psychic brain implant, working with them can be a challenge. Similarly, their projects often take on a life of their own. Transmogrifying into mutant projectomorphs, hell-bent on not meeting deadlines and shredding budgets like wet tissue paper…
The designer safari: hunting down wild designs
You see, clients don’t always know what they want, but they always seem to know what they don’t want. And inside that logical conundrum is a route to success, albeit a circuitous and potentially expensive one.
Having spent two weeks drifting from one design to another, I finally hit the jackpot: “Yes, you’ve got it! Excellent stuff! Let’s go with that, shall we?”
But then there’s the small matter of an invoice for the aforementioned two weeks of designer safari: “How much?! But, it’s only a couple of designs!”
Well not quite. That’s the end product, yes. But the exploratory work is work none the less. And entirely billable work, too.
“My wife likes beige, you know.”
You’ve spent hours pawing over a design. You’ve invested endless extra hours ensuring the colour scheme fits their meticulous and extensive corporate guidelines.
It’s the day of the meeting. In your head, you run through the list of things you need to discuss, how you’re going to wow them with the new designs and up-sell them on some ideas of your own.
The lights go down, the projector fires up and the wall at the far end of the conference room is filled with your design. A hush covers the room, broken only by the tinkle of cups on saucers and the shuffle of paper; the thrumming of fans emanating from various laptop computers atop the table.
The door to the conference room bursts open. Everyone turns to see the managing director breeze in with a cup of coffee in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, pushed to the side of his head: “Yes darling, that’s fine. I’ll make sure Prunella is taken to and from the stables and Guy goes to rugby practice before 6pm. Yes, love you, darling.”
He drifts into his seat, without a word of apology. For a moment he squints at the end of the room. Neck extended, nose wrinkled, he reaches for his glasses and places them on his face.
He sits back in his seat, idly taking a biscuit from the plate held out to him by an eager employee and sighs wistfully: “The wife has this thing for beige. No idea where that comes from. Buggered if I care, really. But it’s her pet project, so get rid of the blue thing…” – yes, their corporate blue – “…and drop in some beige.”
And there you are, a broken man. A shadow of what you were only moments earlier. An entirely emotional decision slices through your deft planning like a scythe.
You look on in horror as he nonchalantly flicks away crumbs from his shirt, without a care in the world.
Design by committee
“It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.”
~ John Wooden
Too many cooks don’t spoil the broth, largely because none of the ingredients are ever fully decided upon. So the actual process of cooking is still some way off. Often, what’s needed is a better business recipe for success.
Of course, this extends quite neatly into the world of business. And more often than not, as a designer and business owner, you can be your own worst enemy.
Take for example the effort made to invite various department heads into some kind of oversight committee, to ensure all interests are being taken into account.
The IT department will usually attempt to usurp control of the actual web design & development process from you. Ensuring they get first dibs in the “sexy stuff”, but showing little interest in the real bread & butter stuff that really matters.
Someone from a rather obscure department, who was only really invited for completeness, will form an immovable object to your unstoppable force.
If this is an academic client, typically, this person will be head of fine art. Their decisions are almost entirely cemented in the emotive, tethered like a lead balloon in high orbit. Beyond either the reach or comprehension of the layman: “But why blue? What does blue really say? It’s speaking to me, but .. I don’t feel its need.”
Of course, you’re drawing stick men on your note pad. And the IT guy stands in the corner, facing the wall like a naughty child, speaking to a colleague on his mobile phone. Everyone else is wondering if hell is an oversight committee like this.
Key decisions get bogged down in minutia, politics, dogma, petty interdepartmental squabbling rivalry. Meanwhile, the hours gently waft by. Time no one will want to pay for.
And in conclusion? The project has “the arse end of a donkey and the front end of a bloody giraffe!” We’re still undecided about the middle portion of this particular mutant projectomorph.
And the moral of this lamentable collection of nightmare business scenarios is?
Have faith. Suck it up. Swallow it down. Get used to the heat and keep your cool.
This is business. This is how things go sometimes.
How you deal with these situations and situations like them is essential. Sometimes, there’s no clear right & wrong. Sometimes, no matter what you say or do, you’re the bad guy.
So of those things you do have control over, exercise your control well, do those things to the best of your abilities and demonstrate what makes you different to the other guy…