Yesterday, Ravi Sawhney posted “Seven Ways to Connect With Your Designer” on one of Harvard Business Review’s blogs. While the piece contains some great ideas for making strategic design processes run more smoothly, it’s also a half-and-half mixture of commonsense relationship guidelines — and things most clients simply cannot do. It strikes me that the issues he addresses might be more easily dealt with on our side.
It comes down to this: You can buy in any language but you can only sell in one — the language of the buyer, so in that spirit I offer the following seven ways to better understand your client:
1. Empathy is Good. Get to know your client’s business problems. In understanding the issues they grapple with, you will uncover the real reason they hired you, as well as many keys to a successful collaboration.
2. Realize that your clients are sometimes incapable of speaking in a unified voice. Find out as much as you can about their stakeholders and approval chain. Understand that because your client’s organization is complex, he or she is earnestly navigating an internal labyrinth to get products to market, and your job is to make your client look good. We get paid to handle complexity. If every client spoke with a unified voice, creative work would be far easier, would require much less experience, and many of us would be priced out of the profession decades before retirement.
3. To see the value in learning the language of business, no cost-benefit analysis should be needed. You’ll get more enjoyment out of working with businesspeople and they’ll enjoy you more too. Learn to talk about design in terms of its business benefits and start enjoying the ROI!
4. There will be things you don’t know. You may not even know you don’t know them. While it might be convenient to know everything about every client’s internal process, you will experience opacity from time to time. Realize that things you can’t see are beyond your control. Cultivate agility. Don’t be surprised by the surprises.
5. Communication is good. As Sawhney mentions, your client controls the budget — and “all the accountability will fall on [his or her] shoulders.” Not all of it though. For you, the accountability falls on you. Just try failing a few times in a row if you doubt me. Keep the lines of communication open. Ask the questions your client is not asking. Become an expert at drawing relevant information out of them. The more you can find out, the more value you can create.
6. Sawhney advises clients to “treat designers like tour guides, not taxi drivers.” Metaphorically speaking, that’s what you are, a tour guide — until a client tells you to shut up and drive. It happens sometimes. Realize it’s usually because your client is getting the same treatment from further up the chain.
7. Sawhney’s right. Everyone expects designers to show up in ripped jeans and a T-shirt these days. Just make sure you pay a lot for these items. You’ll sometimes find you’re dressed just like your clients.
I think the world's finally realizing it's a bad idea to throw out design with the mass-advertising bathwater. - 2 weeks ago