Seth wrote this article on his blog and with his permission, I’ve added my comments and anecdotes and posted it here.

Here are the things your design team wishes you would know:

1. If you want average (mediocre) work, ask for it. Be really clear up front that you want something beyond reproach, that’s in the middle of the road, that will cause no controversy and will echo your competition. It’ll save everyone a lot of time.

I’m amazed how many times clients actually want mediocre work but just don’t say it. It would save a lot of trouble not only for the designer but for the client as well – they’ll be much clearer about their goals and the chances of bungling along the way will be minimal. But I think it’s next to impossible for ‘anyone’ to proclaim loudly that they are ok with mediocre work – whatever the reason – a small budget, less time or the notion that design is not really important.

2. On the other hand, if you want great work, you’ll need to embrace some simple facts:
a. It’s going to offend someone. If it doesn’t offend them, then it will make them nervous. The Vietnam Vets memorial offended a lot of people. The design of Google made plenty of people nervous. Great work from a design time means new work, refreshing and remarkable and bit scary.
b. It’s not going to be easy to sell to your boss. That’s your job, by the way, not mine. If you want me to do something great, you’ve got to be prepared to protect it and defend it. Come back too many times for one little compromise, and you’ll make it clear that #1 was what you wanted all along.

I don’t know whether great work offends anyone – but it sure does make people nervous. And because some people get nervous, they might criticize the work and then the client needs to be sure whether they are being influenced or not.

As far as selling to the boss is concerned, in India – when clients work with design studios – it’s usually the boss who gets in touch with the design studio / ad agency – so selling to the boss is the designer’s job – and it’s the selling that really makes or breaks the design.

Your design might be excellent but if you don’t sell it properly, it’s doomed.

3. You can’t tell me you’ll know it when you see it. First, you won’t. Second, it wastes too much time. Instead, you’ll need to have the patience to invest twenty minutes in accurately describing the strategy. That means you need to be abstract (what is this work trying to accomplish) resistant to pleasing everyone (it needs to do this, this and that) and willing, if the work meets your strategic goal, to embrace it even if it’s not to your taste.

Manna from heaven – those words.
That’s the job of the designer – to help the client meet their strategic goals. While, I personally, sometimes get clients willing to allow me to help them, some clients clearly want something that “looks” good according to their tastes.

How well does the design convey the message, how effective is that message and how does it raise curiosity and interest among viewers? Of course it matters how it looks – but not everyone’s design sensibilities are… let me say… quite ‘developed’.

4. Help me out by pointing out the work you’d like this to be on a peer with. If you want a website to be like three others (in tone, not in execution) then point it out. In advance.

I ask all my clients for references to work they like – in style / tone / execution. I do have to assure them that I will not be copying those references. And there are clients who DO NOT KNOW how to give the damn references. It’s irritating – I’ve told them that it needs to be a website or a logo that they like – aesthetically, in styling, in execution – the way it’s laid out, the font, the colors – it doesn’t have to be a logo or design from the same industry as the client’s!

5. Be clear about dates and costs. Not what you hope for, but what you can live with!

Peanuts will get you monkey.
If you want your brand / website / logo / brochure to look like a million bucks, don’t request peanuts acceptance.

6. You don’t know a lot about accounting so you don’t backseat drive your accountant. You hired a great designer, please don’t backseat drive here, either.

Common sense no? No. Not really. Not for all clients. I’ve refused my share of projects because within the first couple of interactions [ initial feelers ] I have recognized that the client just wants to tell me how to do the job. It’s quite easy to turn down such projects once you’ve worked with a back-seat driver.

7. If you want to be part of the process, please go to school. Read design magazines or take a course from Milton Glaser or get a subscription to Before & After. By the way, that one link is the single best part of this post.

Oooh yes! Perfect – if a client knows design, I’m all for a great design engagement if the client is aware of what I’ll be doing and how I will be doing it. I give a brief account of how I usually work to all my clients before starting the engagement. While it isn’t easy to take “advice” from someone else – I am open to constructive creative criticism that will allow me to do my job better.

8. This one may surprise you: don’t change your existing design so often Not when your kids or your colleagues tell you it’s time. Do it when your accountant says so.

Use design to help you make more money – re-designing often is not only going to make you spend more money on the re-design engagement, it is also going to confuse your customers and that will ensure that your business makes ‘less’ money. If absolutely necessary to create something new, stick to similar look and feel – that means that the original design itself should meet your strategic goals.

9. Don’t get stressed about your logo.

I’m not sure what Seth means by that.
I have, in the past, said that it is not the logo that makes the business – it’s a two-way street. If the product or business is not in a good place, getting a good logo designed is not going to put the business or product in a great place. You might get a great looking logo, but it will not help your product.

Whereas if you have a great business going and then you get a great logo – that’s a fantastic combination. So before worrying about your logo, worry about your business!

10. Get very stressed about user interface and product design. And your packaging.

11. Say thank you.

Just be “nice” – I don’t even want a “Thank You”.


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