Design is Not About You or Me, It’s About Them
Design is more than a client’s personal likes and dislikes. It is more than a favorite color or how someone just painted their new kitchen. Design is also more than something to showoff in a portfolio.
These scenarios are all too common, and all too wrong. Design should always be about the end-user: the customers, the market, the audience.
So a certain degree of objectivity is necessary if one is to utilize and practice design successfully. Throughout all the design disciplines: marketing, branding, and communications — web design, product design, exhibit design… design serves a purpose. Yes, good design usually looks nice too, but its primary reason for being is to service a need:
- Design makes things more easily understood, providing the value of clarity.
- Design gets a business noticed, providing the value of its very existence.
- Design tells a story, providing the value of familiarity and trust.
- Design makes content accessible, providing the value of relevancy.
- Design makes things feel and work better, providing the value of comfort and functionality.
- Design provokes an action, providing the value of a desired response.
Good design keeps the end in mind
Let’s face it, most people really don’t know what they want when it comes to design. On the other hand, there are some who “know” exactly what they want. But trouble can lurk there too.
It would be easy for a designer to just give a client “what they want.” No muss, no fuss, and it makes the client happy. But that’s not what good designers of integrity do — and good clients know that effective design is bigger than themselves.
Design is a process
Good designers work hard to ensure a process that arrives at the best, most effective solution for the particular problem at hand. Sometimes preconceived notions can get in the way, and those need to be bridged — or occasionally, “fighting the good fight.” But keep in mind that a good designer always wants what’s best for the project and not for their portfolio (or ego).
Good design either communicates an idea, influences an emotion, makes something function better, or inspires a particular action. But design does not just “happen” and it is certainly not done in a vacuum. It requires the engagement of an involved client who partners with the designer for a successful outcome — each bringing their unique strengths, talents, and roles to the table. Assuming a designer will just disappear after the first meeting only to magically reappear with a fully-realized design that perfectly solves the problem at hand is the stuff of pipe dreams. A certain amount of back and forth collaboration is required to enable the path to discovery and arrive at a design that most effectively accomplishes its objectives.
It’s a process — and that means working with a seasoned design professional who has the knowledge and expertise to get it done right. Even so, it can get messy. An experienced designer knows when to correct course and right the ship. This could mean taking a step back and requesting more information, or even an impassioned plea to reconsider a viewpoint or decision that would have serious implications on the final outcome.
In those instances when the designer finds their attempts falling on deaf ears, they have four basic options:
- Throwing up their hands and just giving the client what they want, compromising their own integrity and professional reputation.
- Going the extra mile, making yet another effort at convincing the client to do the right thing. Pushing and pulling and hoping that the give-and-take still leads to a suitable compromise that makes everybody happy — and the client gets what they need for the betterment of the project, not just what they asked for.
- Attempting to ram their work through, sacrificing all hope of an amicable relationship and future business.
- Walking away
Number two is clearly the best option, and hopefully the compromises aren’t such that they destroy the integrity of the design and the project. Yet many a designer has gone this route only to end up at options one, three or four — none of which are desirable.
Too many clients, however, would sadly be satisfied with option one. I’ve found that compromising the work for the sake of the client’s “wishes” might make them happy initially — after all, they got what they asked for — but it most likely won’t give them what they need. A well-considered design solution that makes real business impact over the long haul is what truly makes a client happy, even if it wasn’t what they first expected.
The key is developing the client/designer relationship to everybody’s satisfaction, so the process can be allowed to proceed fruitfully. It can take time, but with time, comes trust. And when that happens, design for both client and designer can be a mutually rewarding process indeed.
There’s always the chance of a few bumps in the road along the way, but I encourage everyone to work through the process together and get on with it — utilizing design to towards the common goal of achieving amazing things for your business.
Photo illustration work: Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN