Monday, 13 February 2012

Is your designer smiling at you through gritted teeth?

Let's face it ... no matter what your profession, there are times when a client can rub you the wrong way.

They don't mean to, of course. Well ... maybe some do, but for the most part it's due to a lack of understanding rather than a lack of respect.  Nevertheless, every now and then, something may be said or done by your client that brings home to you the fact that the effort and skill that goes into providing your particular service has not been fully appreciated.

We grin and bear it, because to do otherwise would be less than professional, but it's forgivable to air such frustrations in the presence of work colleagues who can empathise and potentially diffuse the tension with a joke or a round of drinks.

"Designing stuff is easy!"
When it comes to being under-appreciated, creative professionals experience their fair share of frustrations.  Just a few days ago, I came across this request for a quote on the following brief (paraphrased, of course, to protect the unwitting offender):

"Corporate logo graphic required for new business, no branding visuals in place as yet, so it's up to you to submit ideas for our consideration.  Please quote for a couple of hours' work."

Now, if you're a seasoned designer or a business person who has developed a mutually respectful relationship with a creative professional, then you'll appreciate the inward reaction that this kind of brief tends to evoke among the design community.

A few years ago, my teeth would be grinding at such a request, since the key ingredient to any responsible and effective design is the proper development of the initial concepts, which requires not only productive input from the client, but a good deal of thoughtful time and energy on the part of the designer. A couple of hours' work based on a brief that contains little or no information from the client will not result in effective design.  In fact, it will most likely delay the sign-off date of an approved design, and end up costing much more that either the client or creative professional has estimated.

Creative work is head work.
Much of the effort that goes into design happens between those erratic spurts of activity, or while the hand is sketching random lines, swishes and swirls with the stylus. The sign of a good designer is not the speed with which initial concepts are whipped up and posted to the client, but in the designer's ability to consult properly with the client and glean as much information as possible before any work is done, to ensure that the initial concepts are as close as possible to resembling the design for which the client will be willing to sign off.

Breaking down a design project to its various stages of development, here's an estimate of time spent on each stage:
• Initial concepts = 50%
• Refinement of approved concept = 30%
• Creation and supply of final work = 20%

Of course, these percentages will vary depending on the designer, but in all cases, where a seasoned professional is hired and allowed to properly develop a design, the greatest amount of time will be necessarily spent in the creation and development of initial concepts.  The concept is the foundation of a functional design.

You can't build a house from the top down.
Just as the foundation of a building needs to be sized, levelled and reinforced with all due consideration to the ground on which it rests and the load to be supported, design can't be rushed. Once the house is up, it's very difficult to repair a shonky foundation. In fact, a total rebuild is a more feasible and cost-effective option.

The same applies for shonky design.

So when I read the brief quoted above, I reacted accordingly. I didn't grind my teeth, however. I'm a little more placid these day and tend to just shrug and smile to myself.

So what do creative professionals do to vent their frustrations?
Well, in the case of UK based designer Anneke Short,  a series of posters was created for circulation within the design community as a somewhat symbolic way for fellow creatives to give an empathetic nod and "share the pain".

Each poster reflects how a designer reacts internally to a common misconception. For a well-heeled designer, the posters are funny on one level, and oh so true on many others!

So, for the more sympathetic readers out there who are about to hire the services of a creative professional for the first time, may I suggest that you take a moment to contemplate these works, and allow their simple lessons to enrich your new relationship with your nominated designer.

Thank you for your attention. And have a nice day!

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