I am often approached by potential clients having just had a frustrating experiences with a different designer. Somethings they can tell my why and sometimes not. Often, they are not able to decern whether their frustration is with the designer, the designs or both.
I do know that if I am to work with this prospect and turn them into a client I will need to unravel their frustration. This includes figuring out their communication style and where they are in their understanding of design esthetic. I also may need to a bit of educating on the latest in both design and, in the case of web design, the latest in web design and web interface design (which includes user interface – UI and UX design).
When this type of client comes to me they have either seen my work or they were referred to my by someone I have worked with. Typically, in a referral there is mention of how they like working with you. Agency work as a graphic designer isn’t just what people see it includes the working relationship. Even if the end results of the project was liked, if the process of working together was stressed, the client may think twice about additional projects with you.
Why do I mention this? Because there are many ways to 1) understand where a clients design esthetic is when you meet, 2) bring a client up-to-speed on current design trends, and 3) gain the creative room you need to design for your client without the frustration even if there are differences of opinion.
Having said that, however, the client may not always be right, but they do hold the purse strings. As an agency owner I never wanted to spend my time chasing down unpaid invoices or squabbling over bills. Under promise and over deliver always want a long way in avoiding these types of conflict. Also, not getting too attached to any one design or project was another hard learned lesson. I do not always have to be right and I do not always need to get the design I think is best out there. Now, I know this goes against the grain of many creatives. Growing up I read many stories of top New York design firms that only put out work they believed in or they thought were the best. My approach isn’t as authoritarian. I work with a client to educate them. The more educated they are the better client they become. They usually appreciate the extra time and effort it takes to walk them thought this process. I come at the educational process from a perspective of helping them reach their goals. If we disagree on a an aspect of the design, I’m always prepared with the reason for my approach and choices. This is key. If a client understands the reason, they can make better decisions on how we get to their goal. I lay out these choices and the decisions behind them in the presentation. Yes, the work can stand alone, but quite often, the more a client understands what is behind the design the stronger the design becomes to them and the more ownership they gain of the design and the stronger their decision. Two instances come to mind. The Amazon logo contains what at first glance looks like a smile, but additionally the smile is an arrow pointing from A to Z. As in the company sells everything from A to Z. A second example is the FedEx logo. The space between Fed and Ex creates an arrow as in motion, as in moving forward, as in delivery. Only the client and agency know what the other designs may have been in the creative process, but these won the day. There may have been discussion of typeface, color, or simplicity (as in most cases), but these won the day… and… it is important to note that the Amazon smile also being an arrow of the FedEx logo containing an arrow are not something that needs to be immediately apparent for the logos to work. It ok to have a logo “grow on you” or different elements come one as your brand develops. Not everything needs to hit you in the face.
Funny story: when growing up, I worked at a gas station. Back when they used to pump the gas for you (ya, can you believe it?). I worked with a gentleman who was in his late 70’s. He used to say, in a prideful manner, my grandson works for ups. It took me a while and many stories later to understand he was referring to the delivery company U.P.S. or the United Parcel Service. If you look at their logo it clearly has the letters ups in lower case in it. I’m guessing that depending upon how you are introduced to UPS you either know that is an acronym and what it stands for or you won’t. I had never heard it referred to as “ups.” There are no periods used in the design to indicate it is an acronym or abbreviation. The understanding comes from your interaction with the brand. This is an example of the difference between a design of an identity and the brand experience. If you were a fly on the wall when this was being discussed, I wonder how the conversation went regarding the design. I’m guessing the designer went with the lower case to soften the image. The letters already appear on a shield, which could be conceived as aggressive. The shield probably stands for the fact the company will protect your package as they go through the delivery process. What about the color choices? Is the yellow/gold color to indicate quality, richness, preciousness of cargo? Is the brown serve as a basic background color to accentuate the gold color?
According to the interwebs, the founder of UPS modeled the brown after the Pullman railroad cars, which were seen as the height of style and grace in 1916. The brown also hid dirt well. The original logo had an eagle carrying a package on a shield background. Get this, it is also reported that the founder, James Casey, wanted the trucks to be yellow and only agreed to brown after someone (a designer perhaps) convinced him it would be too flashy. Read more here on UPS.
There are many points to be taken from these stories, but understand in all of them there was a graphic design involved and esthetics played a major part in the designs. Client interaction, client respect, designer respect, knowledge of design and the industry you are designer for, and the ability to communicate your design esthetic all play major roles in the process. The more knowledge you have as a designer of the above and the better honed your skills are to communicate your process is… the better the process flows and the better the outcome.
I will write more on this in future blogs. I haven’t yet touched on the value of ears in the graphic design process. Yes, ears. The ability to listen and learn. The ability to listen and learn from everyone around you including those you feel who have more skill than you and those you fell have less… everyone.