The Client Gods Must Be Crazy

For all of you who deal with clients or contractors, here is a brief synopsis of a conversation an art director friend of mine had with a typical client of his.

CLIENT: Can I get three completely different things to be exactly the same size?


CLT: Can I get three completely different things to be the same width and the same height?

ART: No.

CLT: Can I get three completely different things to be the same height and the same width?

ART: No.

CLT: Okay then, can I get the final measurements of a logo before it is created?

ART: No.

CLT: Can you create a rough logo and give me the dimensions of the final logo?

ART: No.

CLT: Okay then, can we go ahead and get that by tomorrow?

ART: No.

CLT: Okay then, I'll expect to see all of that by tomorrow then.

ART: No. We said Monday.

CLT: Alright, tomorrow it is. Thanks for your hard work.

So, why is it so hard to communicate across the contractual divide?

One thing that we tend to forget is that design (illustration, architecture, information, strategy, etc.) is really about telling stories.

Unfortunately, as designers and business people, we need to be virtual polyglots. We need to speak the language of philosophy, psychology, finance, culture, strategy, logistics, tactics and to-do lists. This requires looking at the problem (or annoying request) from various vantage points.

Realistically, most of us get stuck in our own language. And thus, we take the stance that the other party is a complete and utter moron. This is why most new account managers talk to designers like an American tourist talk to a street vendor in a foreign land: slowly, loudly and with an air of condescension and restrained frustration.

Hey! But, designers handle things no better! When they hear the click-clack of a pair of zip-up-the-back supple calfskin stiletto-heeled, Stuart Weitzman ankle booties coming down the hall. They tend to wince, brace themselves, and hiss to there nearest comrade in a conspiratorial tone, "Look out. Here it comes."

The designer's body language speaks of intolerable pain, as if the squealing metal-on-metal sound of a freight train were playing directly from their iPod, which it may, especially if they are fond of the Scandinavian death metal genre of music.

The account manager, already inoculated against such not-so-subtle biofeedback, prosecutes their campaign using the well-known psy-ops technique of State Departments the world over: vocal volume and sunny optimism.

"Hey gang! How's it going?! Listen, I was wondering, would it be too much to ask if [fill in impossibly annoying request here]? Whelp. I know you're very busy, but see what you can do!"

Terry Marks describes this need to understand our roles as storytellers in an article at titled Design As Storytelling.

Marks sums up the strategy as:

  • Know where you're going.

  • Every element needs to be clear.

  • Use color to give meaning, not to be pleasing.

  • Distill.

  • Contrast.

  • Scott Benish discusses The International Herald Tribune Web Site by emphasizing that all of us��crusty editors, funky designers, pragmatic accountants, beleaguered HR types��are all ultimately shooting for the same thing: making it work.

    "From the start, we think about how end-users are going to interact with a piece and construct projects for them. It�s a given in every project. But the part that is truly exciting is the design: graphic design, motion design, audio design. Creating a beautiful and awe-inspiring experience is what really keeps us going."

    If you are interested in turning theory to practice, AIGA and Harvard Business School are offering a workshop in Business Perspectives for Design Leaders July 24-29, 2005 in bookish yet beautiful, Cambridge, Mass.