I strongly believe that great design is achieved by great people collaborating towards a common goal, and great clients get great design because they are part of that great team. The point I am making is that clients should see themselves as the facilitators of great design. A great client values design and understands its role within a business, it empowers progress and inspires people along the way. A great client can really affect the process in a positive way, with the decisions they make shaping the strategy and defining the journey.
The ability of a client to provide valuable insight into their business and the market is an essential part of the briefing process. Obviously, a good design agency will endeavour to research and understand both your business and its potential market. However, they will never know it better than someone who lives and breathes the brand, so a great client will add real value to the design process.
A great client demands great design, but at the same time is also very open minded to what that design might be. They come to you with a problem to be solved, not a solution to implement. They will also give the team the freedom and time to explore possibilities and evaluate their potential impact on both the business and the consumer. They then interrogate the outputs through the eyes of the target audience, disregarding personal preferences.
A great client has to be a visionary, they need to see past barriers to the potential success and its eventual rewards. There will always be barriers to creating groundbreaking design, it is how you overcome those barriers that can define the success of a project. If you are ahead of the curve you are always going to have to knock a few walls down along the way to make structural changes, shift the perception of new technologies and systems, or change habitual or cultural behaviours.
Some of the most influential design in history is the output of one passionate visionary with an idea and a dream. For example, steve jobs launched apple out of his garage in california with a vision to create the world’s first affordable personal computer. He had no big r&d team (just woz), he didn’t have a fancy office or a big budget, just a great idea and the drive and determination needed to implement it well. Jobs later proved with the ipod, ipad and iphone that this visionary approach can be scaled up effectively with a great team of like-minded, talented people and a great captain to steer the ship.
One of the most important things in any team process is relationships and great clients understand this. Great ideas are built on trust as much as anything else. If a client doesn’t trust the team appointed to deliver, then it will cloud judgement and the relationship will ultimately breakdown. It is really important that you feel comfortable enough in the relationship to have open and honest dialogue about what does and doesn’t work. This is why getting the fit right when appointing your agency is the first step on the road to great output, and ultimately great results.
The quality of the output is a direct result of the input. But it is also the ability to identify what quality is, a great client can spot a great idea from across a room. However, not all agencies see quality output in the same way. Quality output can be defined in several ways depending on your objectives, and it depends on the brief. Some value aesthetics more, some emphasise the value of the idea, some are only concerned with results, but the great agencies blend all three perfectly.
If you have a great team, a great brief and a great insight then the output should be great, right? You would hope, but it is not always the case. Particularly when budgets and timings are thrown in to the mix too.
‘I don’t have the budget for good design so just knock me up something quick’. This all too frequent comment really sets the scene for bad output. This popular misconception that good design is born out of a big budget isn’t really true, a good idea doesn’t care how much money you have.
A good idea takes the same amount of time as a bad idea, that simple electrical impulse in the human brain is not restricted by budgets. What money does buy is more brains with bigger offices and bigger expenses. I believe a good idea can be born out of any budget if the environment is right and the insight is good. Granted, a bigger budget will buy grander executions and more exposure, but no amount of exposure will make a bad idea better. You’re just buying bad exposure.
In fact sometimes the best ideas come straight away and might be scribbled on a beer mat in a moment of inspiration, whereas you can labour for weeks trying to get a bad idea to execute well, this is often because of bad initial input.
Bad design will always cost a business more time and money in the long term, as apple discovered during their ill-fated, ill-designed rudderless years when steve jobs was exiled in the nineties from the company he founded, only to return to, well you know the rest…
Great clients plan ahead and put processes in place to facilitate good design. Finding the time for research and workshops to gain insight and test outputs. Making sure there is adequate time for designers to absorb themselves in the problem and challenge the obvious solutions. Time is always tight, but it is possible to change the company culture to accept that, great design can take great planning and great patience.
So, do clients get the design they deserve?
Sadly, not always. There are lots of great businesses out there that don’t maximise their true potential by harnessing good design. Where they are failing is hard to tell as a outside observer, but what is clear is that a lot of great clients don’t get the great design they deserve. Equally there are probably lots of great agencies that have really frustrating clients i am sure.
The truth is that clients must demand great design and inspire the team to deliver it, only then will they get the great design that they deserve.
Written by Darren Scott
Creative Partner / Founder – Truth Creative.