How to handle overly opinionated clients
Design-by-committee will never go away. But there is a way to eliminate the frustration it causes...
Next time you want to engage a designer in a heated discussion, ask them how they feel about design-by-committee. I dare you… I promise you that you will wish you never asked that question. Most designers have a very strong and passionate opinion on the subject. Let’s face it, majority of designers are happiest when left alone to doodle, sketch, and create; I know I am one of them. Truth be told, the only company I like when working is my IPod.
Unfortunately, unlike artists who can stay secluded until their work is finished and ready to be viewed, designers (unless they are part of a larger creative team, i.e. large agency)) will likely have to step out of their comfort zone and present their work to their clients. And with that comes stress. Now, that is not to say that every client will cause us anxiety. Presenting your work to a single person can be very rewarding and even inspiring. But what happens when you walk into a boardroom with a group of people awaiting your presentation (with their minds full of ideas and suggestions). Facing the “design-by-committee” can be nerve racking. But there is a way to handle this situation and come out on top.
North 17 Design Group
Designers hate design-by committee. It undermines all the years of hard work and dedications they invested into perfecting their craft. Facing a group of non-designers butting heads where they don’t belong and voicing their ill informed decisions while ruining any creative effort can make any designer want to quit and get a job in retail. Most non-designers see creative work as an objective entity and treat it as art. Unfortunately art and design are two very different things. Art is emotionally driven and it is meant to express the feelings and vision of the artist. Purpose of design is to convey a message (often already existing) and therefore it is structured and has specific purpose. So when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and there isn’t one person making the important decisions, you will most likely end up with a mess. Every designer would give anything to be able to stop the design-by committee problem. The constant changing of minds, endless (and more often than not unsubstantiated) revisions and changes can often be the death of any creative vision and design project.
AUTHORITY AND BOUNDRIES
So, since I think we can all agree, that the design-by-committee problem will never really go away, how do we deal with it and be sure that project doesn’t loose its direction and we get to keep our sanity intact. Well, the one thing that we can change is whether or not we allow them to take over our job as a designer. We need to set the boundaries in the beginning. Let the client (and its committee) know that they hired you for a reason…. your professional and creative experience. By being assertive in your explanations and having the right answer for all of their crazy suggestions and opinions, will give you more credibility and earn you their trust (yes of course you should already have their trust…after all they hired you for a reason – but clients are known to doubt).
TIME IS MONEY
Most of the time, when clients get too involved in the work they hired you to do, it is because you didn’t set clear boundaries in the beginning. So what is the solution? Bring your client back to their familiar ground…money. Remind your client (gently) that they hired you for your expertise and creativity; after all you are a PROFESSIONALLY DESIGNER. By pointing out how much money they are wasting by having to contend with their bad ideas, you can turn your client from being a pain to being respectful very quickly. No client wants to see that his or her actions are costing the company money. So use this leverage to your advantage and maintain control of the projects you were hired to do in the first place. Remind the committee that “time is money”- theirs and yours, so they should go back to what they are experts in and you can get on with creating your magic.
WHEN IN DOUBT...ASK
And when in doubt ask. Don’t be afraid to ask your client why they are going against your better judgment. You are all part of the problem solving team and you have a right to know… and your client has an invested interest in your contribution. And remember, if you don’t set your boundaries and the project goes wrong because you went along with some ill-advised changes (and believe me it will be because of those changes), the blame will fall on you. And when that happens and the client is unhappy and wants to scream at you (or worst doesn’t want to pay your fees), you will have a hard time proving that you tried to warn them. Though having said all that, sometimes the client has a legitimate reason for the changes they request (as insane as they may seem to you). So be sure you really understand your client’s business and their needs so that you can produce the best design conveying the right message for your client.
North 17 Design Group
So how to avoid all this stress and frustration? Understand your client’s needs, communicate, pick your battles…. but most importantly…don’t let your client run the show. If you trust your decisions and stand by them, your clients will too.