I recently attended a web design conference in Austin, TX. While the topics of conversation focused on one general area—web design—the audiences ranged widely. There was a little something for everyone, from user experience designers to front-end programmers to designers and art directors to account managers. As a creative director, I actually found something of interest from all of the speakers, and found it to be a very informative and inspiring conference.
The most impactful session for me focused on client relationships, which came as quite a surprise. I was really expecting to be moved by new and exciting web trends.
The session was led by Mike Monteiro of Mule Design. His work has been described as “delightfully hostile” by the New Yorker, and I would place the same description on the delivery of his lecture. It was a “no excuses” beating aimed at creative and account people alike, demanding that we take responsibility for our “bad clients.” He spoke about the lack of education that we offer our clients and the poor management and direction that we give them. He really hammered his points over and over, and he passionately believes that we, as designers and account people, need to take responsibility for our clients’ behavior that we often classify as “bad.”
After listening to him for 90 minutes, I felt fairly exhausted and “bad” myself. But I did agree with what he was saying. What resonated most with me was the lack of education our clients receive from us when they step into our world, a world that is often very foreign to them. They step into a world of processes and expectations and schedules and titles and a vocabulary that surely is new to them. My guess is that to our clients, the terms “deliverables,” “x-height,” “design system,” “creative director” and “content delivery” mean about as much as greeking. They also often hold positions of power within their own environment, so asking a million questions to understand all of these new terms must make them uneasy.
This new realization sat heavily on me for a week or two. Did we actually create our “bad client”? Are we the reason our client is upset about paying for a “change order”? Is it possibly our fault that our client missed their content delivery deadline?
Yes, it is. Our automatic assumption is that our clients know our world of design and advertising as well as we do. Heck, they are hiring us. Don’t they know what they are getting into? The reality is that they usually don’t. Our clients’ titles and backgrounds fall all over the board. It really is our job is to educate and inform our clients so they can succeed in “our” world as well.
We need to educate and explain not only our creative ideas, but also what our process is, who the players are, how much it costs and clearly explain roles and responsibilities. Basically, make no assumptions about how our business works. Our clients need to understand “our” world as clearly as we do.
And then I decided it needed to do something about it.
I’m now in the process of creating a “new client orientation packet.” Or experience. Or presentation. I’m not exactly sure of the format, but I am sure that we, as a studio, will be taking more responsibility in educating our clients so that the experience of working with us is easy, informative, transparent, productive and positive.