When clients start dictating design…

OK, most clients will hate me for this but I need to just get it out of my system. Guys, how many of you have faced this problem before? All clients, especially people in marketing team think they know design better than the agency they have hired to do it. I thought of writing my thoughts when I heard many of my colleagues and peers in the industry saying this a lot these days.

Now, I do agree that in this part of the world, quality of design is really not at its best but that doesn’t give any right to these marketing gurus to comment and dictate things on design. I don’t see these people going to the clinic and suggesting doctors on what medicines they should prescribe. I don’t see them going to a lawyer or an architect and give their suggestions. They don’t tell a mechanic how to fix the car, or lecture an electrician how to re-wire the house, so why does everyone think they can dictate agencies on how to design? Why don’t they accept or rather we all accept that design is an also a specialized skill. These people who you have hired to design your website or an app or an ad or packaging or anything else for that matter, are trained to do so. They have done their stint at a design school and/or are experienced to design these solutions for you, just like you have spent years learning marketing.

“This color doesn’t look good, replace it with red!”
“The Font is too normal, its boring, Use a funky one.”
“Move this button to the left and align it with something”
“There is so much empty space here, put my logo there and make it big”
Can we “Jazz” it up a little more? (Do they think that there is a ‘Jazz’ filter in programs that we use?)

Now, Don’t get me wrong I have no problem at all taking criticism or suggestions, especially from clients as I will never understand their markets or products as well as they do, so creative collaboration, suggestions, discussions and co-operation is fine in that respect. I also fully appreciate that design is very subjective and as humans we are all creative beings in our own right and each have an individual sense. However I can’t help but think that design as an industry is one that everyone thinks they could dip their toe into if they wished, therefore devaluing the whole industry and effectively the quality of design.

Now, as a marketing/brand manager, you have hired these people to design for you. Why do you want to undermine their design skills? Then why pick them at all? You can save time and money both if you design everything yourselves.

So where’s the problem?

I have used Photoshop and Illustrator

It is very easy for everyone now a day to open up Microsoft paint or Photoshop and play around with it to create some sort of design. Or take a camera and start clicking pretty pictures. This for me doesn’t necessarily make that person a ‘designer’, but having instant access to this kind of software and tools makes people believe that they could hold a design title if they want.

I think the problem starts where many people think that design is just a job that requires an understanding of graphics software alone instead of ideas, understanding of color, and its psychology, navigation, usability, division of space, typography, contrast theory, concepts, and techniques of delivering a message. You should at least look at the experience and background of the designer before you start dictating things and undermining his/her skills.

I am creative

All of us are told by our parents as a child (and sometimes even as an adult) that our pencil/ chalk drawings / creations are fantastic and that we are ‘ever so creative’. So if you are constantly told this by the people who mean the most to you, you are going to think you have a heightened sense of design which may be hard to shrug off even when you go on and not take any formal training or experience in this field.

What is the Solution?

For all you marketing gurus and self proclaimed design experts:

Let people do what they do best

You have hired them, so let them decide because they are the best people to take design calls in the given situation. Make it a collaborative process. Give your inputs in what you know best. You could have a brilliant marketing idea but the design idea is designer’s responsibility. Would you take their word for any marketing decision of yours? I guess no.. right? Then give them the freedom to give their best. They are not in this to please YOU. Their job is to make sure it works for your clients.

Constructive feedback

I don’t like it. It’s not working. It doesn’t look exciting. – This not a feedback. It’s your subjective view. You need to put your views in a very objective and constructive feedback to reach the ultimate result.

Its not you, its users

Most of the times, it’s very easy to become self-centered and dictate designers to follow your aesthetic considerations. You often think what you like is what will work for your users too. Designers with their education and experience are trained to be neutral to think on your user’s behalf. So, it’s better to keep your personal likes and dislikes aside and let them work for your users.

For my fellow designers

We must learn and be able to explain our design to the non-designer. Especially to the client, you must have a reason for every graphic element is affixed on each design, including color, texture, form, layout etc.. This will make your client understand that there is a method in conveying messages visually instead of randomly placed any graphic elements into the design.

Be firm. Even though ‘the client is always, right’ sometimes, you need to stand your ground.

22 Responses to When clients start dictating design…
  1. megalomaniac Reply

    >Love this post. The day a client tells me that – "I like/dislike where you're going with this. But, let's try to align it more with our core values" – that would probably make a lot more sense to me than, "We have a long way to go, design-wise". What does the latter even mean?

  2. sign Reply

    >I would like to say that this blog really convinced me, you give me best information! Thanks, very good post.
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  3. Prashant Varak Reply

    >Hats off to you Amol for putting your thoughts out here. You really spoke for all those people who get frustated/tired of getting invading comments/suggestions on their area of expertise. People should understand the thin line between constructive critisism and destructive comments. This is true in all aspects of lives. Thanks for putting together such a nice article.

  4. Red Wrappings Reply

    >This blog post is spot on, and sadly all too common.

  5. Pankaj Boricha Reply

    >Hey Amol, Well said, and nicely explained, I agree with your thoughts and views as being a creative person sometimes clients think we are just a tool and we can fix anything including their shitey ideas. They should understand the requirement of project. Keep writing something more like this kind of topics which will helps all creative peoples.

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