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The Ultimate Challenge

No, no, I haven’t run a marathon, climbed Mount Kilamanjaro, or even managed to get to the other side of town in my current state, however, this Anneka-less challenge is based on article I recently read in Design Week, called ‘What Clients Really Want from a Designer’.

According to this article, this consists of 5 main areas:  Relevance, Challenge, a Sustainable Relationship, Continuous Improvement, and Nuturing Existing Relationships.  I tend to agree with these but feel that firstly, they are more common sense than ground-breaking commentary, and secondly the way in which they are described is vague and uninspiring – and with that title it all looked so promising… The main element I would like to question, is challenge.

So, designers and clients, how do you feel about this? Do you look for challenge, or does challenge scare you?  After all, if you are paying for a service, you should expect to get this service, no? The customer is always right?

Wrong.  I feel that when a client comes to a consultancy, they know absolutely everything about their product or service – they live and breathe it, and as a designer it is your job to get within this mindset and advise and mould appropriately.  The designer/client relationship is based on a mutual respect for each others expertise – the client comes to YOU because they can’t do the branding/site/leaflet – and in turn, you may have little to no idea about their industry, and they are a fountain of fabulous knowledge.  Clients can also know exactly what they would like, but it is the designers job to communicate that to the consumer and within this job description comes the element of challenge, and the element of ‘tailoring’.

Challenge should be in our nature, otherwise we are simply glorified artworkers and CAD monkeys (we do love those people by the way).  The client is relying on the fact that we have expertise with communicating to the consumer, and it is wrong to go through with a design without questioning elements that you know will not work within the outside world – you are setting your client up to fail, and that, my friend, is unforgivable.

I am not saying that a client asks for a pink apple and you produce a purple donkey claiming it is better in a self-assured manner – not at all.  But if you feel the pink apple will not work, voice your questions, and within these questions, you may even find that there is a particular element of the pink apple that refers directly to the product in question – the idea that the small pips within blossom into a tree just like the learning experience they are trying to portray – this, in turn, will allow you to communicate this element to the consumer in a more informed and therefore successful way and create completely different and more relevant design than if you had just blindly agreed and produced 6 concepts based on a pink apple.  So, challenge in this case, is in fact questioning.

The other side to challenge is advice.  Whereas questioning helps you to understand your client, explore their boundaries, and solidify (or not) a certain concept within their mind, advice is calling on your experience to suggest avenues to explore or alternative concepts the client may not have thought about.  Advice is what we do – we have the experience of the market – we communicate with the consumer on a daily basis – we are the neutral standpoint.

Often, with new brands, people may only have shown their ideas to their nearest and dearest who generally err on the positive side of life, it is difficult for them to criticise in a positive way without back-tracking.  We, however, are completely neutral.  With fresh eyes, we can explore a concept and advise on the positive and negative elements pulling on our experience and expertise, and act as the mediator to the consumer – because after all, that is what we do.  This stage needs to happen.  It would be a travesty for someone to launch to market and plough all that time and money into something only to have it fail because it is misunderstood.

Our job is to communicate all the fabulous elements of a product or service that is in the clients mind directly into the mind of the unsuspecting consumer… That sounds sinister, but we are middle men; like babel fish of the truly passionate. Constructive criticism is how designers grow, and this is in turn how we allow our clients to grow.

In conclusion, the element of challenge is essential but misleading.  Challenge = Question & Advise.  After all, what’s the point of experience if you can’t use it to help others?

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