We, as creatives, love to spend a lot of time and energy blaming the client for making our work look bad. There’s thousands of memes, gifs, and blogs out there solely focused on expressing our frustrations with client feedback.
Usually the sentiment is along the lines of “I had such a great idea to begin with, and then the client came in with a bunch of stupid changes and ruined my work. Now I can’t show this on my portfolio.”
We’ve all been there, but we’re pointing the finger in the wrong direction.The real reason why creatives hate clients, is because creatives view themselves as artists, instead of professionals.
Real talk: A client will never hire you so you can make a cool piece for your portfolio. They are hiring you because they have a real problem to solve. Drop the Artist Mentality. If you’re a professional, your goal should always be to genuinely serve your clients first.
If you want to make art, great– there’s nothing wrong with that! Don’t accept someone else’s money, and do it on your own dime instead. I promise you, no one will get in your way of making beautiful work for your portfolio.
If you can get rid of this self-placed road block of serving your portfolio — and you can truly empathize with your clients and their needs– then you’ll realize that you’re not on opposing sides. Rather, you’re on the same side in a relationship, trying to solve a problem together.
So how should you work with clients to reduce friction, and stay happy with the results?
Listen & Design With Empathy
Your job as a professional creative, is to listen, clarify, and diagnose a client’s needs and problems, before you prescribe a solution.
Would you rather your doctor:
Spend time with you, asking questions, analyzing your health history, vetting out options and then prescribing a treatment? or
Give you 2 minutes of his time, write you up for pain killers, so he can move onto his next patient?
Spend the time to become a great listener, so together with your client, you can surface their pain-points and create the objectives and parameters that define what success would look like. I go in-depth about becoming a better listener and defining a solution in a previous Medium article “How To Achieve Design Clarity.”
Presenting Work & Getting Better Feedback
When it comes time to present your work, every idea you share should address the objectives that you and your client have identified upfront.
“We made these design decisions because it addresses your objectives A, B, and C” — The Creative Professional
When it comes to evaluating the work, you can talk about feedback in a very objective way, cause you and your client have already defined what a successful solution looks like. You can clearly state how your ideas address their needs, and you become a very valuable partner.
And if you ever feel the need to defend your work, you’ll have a much stronger base to discuss from, instead arguing from the position of “because it looks better that way.”
Redefine Your Relationship With Your Clients
I know this maybe a shocker to some, but at some point in your career you’ll realize that the client is NOT your enemy. It took me a while to get there myself. When I finally came around to this realization, I became more empathetic to my clients’ needs, more effective at my job, and have a much happier & productive relationship with all of my clients.
Shift your perspective. Think of yourself as a professional rather than an artist. Measure your success by clients you’ve helped versus portfolio breadth. I guarantee you’ll live a fulfilling creative life, and you’ll actually get along with your clients.
Being creative in the era of the hive mind.
The 21st century creative workplace has evolved into a total-visibility layout, open plan office spaces with easy mobility and horizontal seating structures encouraging staff collaboration, discussion and camaraderie.
This has sat alongside the evolution in communications from old-world telco to voice-over-IP, and with the birth of the cloud, collaborating remotely has become a part of how people get stuff done: Skype, Google Hangouts, DropBox; we all have our favorites. Work spaces have transcended the physical barriers of the past, opening new exciting collaborative possibilities. Creative projects can be live, non-stop, 24-hours across time zones.
This new scenario, however, poses a challenge: how to be creative in the context of hyper-connectivity? Sure, we have more access to information than ever before, making research for both creative reference and technical solutions easier. But can this hinder the individuality of creative impulse? We often see trends appear and repeat themselves ad infinitum, monotony gradually compromising creativity. Whether it is a warm-flare photo filter, the neo-bistro branding, brush lettering, or predictable stock imagery, sometimes it feels like recognizable is preferable to original, trendy better than good.
As creative teams, we work with a common goal, seeking excellence when delivering a project. Scope of work is assessed, fee proposals are drafted, timelines are established and, ideally, projects are delivered in a timely fashion. In this scheme of things, the role of the creative is not above the rest of the other team members. Designers are expected to bring ideas to the table, yes, but also to think strategically, stick to a timeline, deliver updates regularly, make amends swiftly. The designer must assume a role as 1-of-many. But this structure may become stifling at times, producing creative work that feels square.
(I love this tumblr for a logo design used far too often)
To make matters more complex, the creative team is not the only one connected to the internet. Clients briefings come paired up with expectations and specific references: the dreaded ‘I want it just like this’. These examples often create more roadblocks than solutions if taken too literally.
So, how to keep a creative team motivated to produce inspired and original work?
Today’s paradox is that while we are connected like never before, we are often times still working in silos, within the studio or towards the client. Instead, designers must be able to have healthy dialogues to come up with informed solutions. Regular discussions between designers, workshops with marketeers, conversations with developers or suppliers will result in work that is both more efficient and long-lasting, relevant to a purpose rather than a trend.
Ideas are not easy to come by. You can’t bully a designer into producing great work. Instead, create an environment that fosters initiative and empowers creative people. We want designers to think with audacity, but may react negatively when they come up with concepts that seem risky. Ask designers what they would do instead of telling them what to do. That way they will enjoy taking ownership and be motivated to produce the highest quality of work possible.
Promote individuality in the studio
Knowing the team’s skill set can be a huge advantage if used effectively. When possible, briefings should be distributed to put individual talents at play, allowing exploration of new techniques and perfecting the craft. Photography, illustration, typography or 3D, you can fuel inspiration by acknowledging a designer’s personal interests and strengths.
Curate your references
The search for originality can be paralyzing and result in creative block. A good approach to overcome this issue is to broaden the spectrum of where we find ideas for design solutions. The understanding of current trends is as valuable as is the search for diversified sources of inspiration. The internet gives us access to a wealth of references. We can use the opportunity to combine elements from different disciplines, trends and movements to obtain a unique look and feel, rather than falling into predictable, trend-following temptations.
Hopefully this process will result in work that resists the test of time and passing trends.
As we move into a future of increased connectivity, augmented reality and internet of things, it is challenging to find ways to stay creative. Whether it is sifting through new techniques and materials, or looking to the past for reference, we should stay committed to producing work that is inspired, reassuring and timeless.
Want your business to survive and thrive?
Making tons of money now, being a big brand now, and having lots of customers now, is not enough.
We have seen Nokia go from being ranked as the fifth most valuable brand in the world in 2007, to a complete market collapse within 12 months in 2012. Kodak used to command 90% of film sales. We saw their share price drop from $30 in 2004 to $0.34 in 2012. Blockbuster get sold to Viacom for $8.4bn in 1994, and then valued at $20m in 2012.
We have seen on-demand services like Spotify change the music industry, and Netflix the movie industry. Bookstores closing down because of Amazon, who are challenging publishers, wholesalers and distributors as well. In 2014 we saw Airbnb surpass the InterContinental Hotels Group as the world’s largest hotel chain, with over one million rental properties worldwide. Then we have Uber, who currently has 14,088 cars operating in NYC. Compared to the 13,587 yellow cabs allowed to drive at any one time.
Scary? Yale University tells us that by 2030 more than 75% of the S&P 500 will be companies that we have not heard of yet. In a short period of time we have witnessed lots of industries get disrupted, and it doesn’t seem to stop. Is it only a matter of time before the disrupters get disrupted? Change is inevitable, the question is how to best deal with change.
The challenge businesses face today is rapid change in customer demands and behavior. Due to an increasingly digitized and fast-changing world. Having the ability to adapt and respond to the changing environment is therefore what your business need to survive and thrive.
“It is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself” — Leon C. Megginson
I believe this quote, very often rewritten and misattributed to Charles Darwin, is fitting when it comes to the topic of survival in the world of business. History has shown us this over and over again. But how do you become a responsive company? Understanding the following is a start.
It’s all about people
Change is societal. We often talk of change in terms of digital, but this only gives opportunity for change. It’s people who create change. It’s important to know about and understand coming technology and new digital tools. However, not as important as understanding people.
“Forget ‘branding’ and ‘positioning.’ Once you understand customer behavior, everything else falls into place” — Thomas G. Stemberg
Understanding your customers has always been important, but a digitized world makes their behavior more accessible trough data. The increasing connectedness of the world also gives great opportunities for involving customers and getting their feedback. Take advantage of this.
In short: Get to know the people you call customers. They are the most valuable assets you have. Without them – there is no company.
Your product has to do with how you satisfy a need, your purpose should be centered around why. Organizations that focus beyond profits and instill a culture of purpose are more likely to find long-term success says Deloitte. Ask yourself: what’s the purpose of my business? If the answer has more to do with your needs than the customers, you might be in trouble.
“If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right” — Jeff Bezos
The simplified version of a complex issue is this; because people exist needs exist. And because needs exist, people who satisfy those needs exist. Your company is not about you. Customers are the reason you exist, and should therefore be at the center of your purpose. Salesforce for example has had great success after putting customers at the centre. Awarded the most Innovative Company by Forbes in 2014 for the fourth consecutive year.
In short: Knowing why you do something is more important than how you do it. And the why always has to do with the people you call customers.
Never ending story
Try thinking of your product as the temporary solution to a need. This focus will enable you to constantly look better for ways. If you don’t do this someone else will. And they might put you out of business by doing it. Therefore you need to make room for you and your employees fail.
“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be” — John Wooden
This is not only unavoidable, it’s necessary if you want to make progress. In a fast-changing world products and services should be built to evolve. Not to last. Change is the only constant. The question is who’s creating the change, you or your competitors?
In short: It’s a never ending process. Don’t be defined by your current product. Products are solutions, and solutions change. Try and fail.
Mindset before strategy
How you look at the possibility of change might be an indicator of your ability to adapt to it. Do you look at it as an opportunity or a threat? As an expense or an investment? Kodak actually invented the first digital camera in the 1970’s, but didn’t take advantage of it. Why? Because they were making all their money on film sales. The digital camera was a threat.
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” — George Bernard Shaw
A new strategy won’t help your business, if you don’t have the right mindset. Changing is not easy. You fight to hold on, and to let go. You might fail and it might expensive. But in the long run not doing something will probably be even more expensive. Are you willing to make changes?
In short: Your mind might be a bigger enemy than change itself. Change your mind before you change your strategy.
In order to become responsive you must first have a clear understanding of why you exist. What’s your purpose? Create a purpose that allows you to constantly focus on the customer in all areas of your business. Get to know your customers. Talk to them and listen to their feedback.
Don’t focus on your product, but on what your product deliver. There is a major difference. Build your organization around the goal of creating an amazing customer experience. Give your employees theresponsibility and opportunity to do so.
Sam Walton once said; “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else”. Remind yourself, and them, that ultimately it’s not you that are paying their wages. It’s the customer.
Always look for new and better ways and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s good for you. Think opportunities not threats, and have your eyes and ears open to what is happening out there. This will enable you to identify relevant change in customer dynamics and take advantage of it. Being a responsive company is hard work. But, it’s the only way to survive and thrive.
About The Author
Matthew Encina Creative Director of Interactive Experiences & Video Content @BlindLA. @TEDx Speaker.
Matthew Encina is an award-winning Creative Director & Designer at Blind. He spoke at TEDx in 2016. His focus is creating compelling interactive experiences and video content for brands, music artists, and video games. Follow him everywhere @matthewencina
Lucia Aranguren Design Director at Make it Clear, a design agency dedicated to improve the interactions between organisations and their audiences.