Matt Judge is a graphic designer and creative director with experience spanning product, print, branding and exhibition design. He is currently principal at Eight Inc, an innovative organisation that links eight studios from London to Honolulu, Singapore to San Francisco. This unusual international approach has seen them work with clients such as Apple, Nike and Citibank.
Why client management should be an active concern…
When big budgets are on the line, so are reputations – even jobs – so if you can prove yourself to be as reliable as you are imaginative then that goes a long, long way.
The easiest way to lose trust, and create a bad lasting impression, is to over-promise and under-deliver, so managing expectations is key. Being honest, and ignoring the pressure to say what you think your client wants to hear, helps to do this. This works both ways, but it's the designers responsibility to manage the relationship, not the clients.
When working internationally it gets even trickier, as other business cultures and customs need to be considered.
On three steps to a harmonious client relationship…
I’ve been very fortunate at Eight Inc. to work with not only great designers, but great clients, so few issues tend to arise. Three distinct processes play their role. Firstly, by vetting each client carefully prior to beginning the engagement, making sure that your ambitions and values are aligned. Secondly, by understanding the project context, and its strategic vision and objectives. And finally, by working hand-in-glove with the client throughout the creative process. The sum of all this makes critical success (or failure) less likely to be decided on bias or opinion and more objective, focussing on how well the design accomplishes all that is being asked of it.
Why bad briefs don’t really exist…
Someone once told me that there was: “No such thing as a bad brief, only a bad designer.” The point being that often the objectives and the scope are misaligned, and it's up to a designer to interrogate the brief, and often help write the question, not just discover the answer. We were once asked to design a POS display stand, and instead (successfully) presented a brand.
This doesn't always work, of course, but the role of a designer is to differentiate, which requires more disruption than conformity. A good client – the kind you really want to work for – will appreciate and nurture this.
On the joys of good middle men…
I believe it’s a consultant's responsibility to manage their client relationship because… drumroll… the client is paying for the relationship to be managed! Some clients expect roles such as project management, account direction, et al to be a "cost of business" and therefore negotiable, or even excluded from fee proposals. It is up to us to remind the client that the contribution of creative account and client management can be every bit as valuable as the designers who craft the end product.
Take an account director, for example. It is their job to know the brief, and be a constant and consistent point of contact for the client throughout the process. The reassurance that you are being heard is something we can all relate to. Through this connection they become the “client in the room,”offering valuable insight and an objective opinion to the creative team.
In exchange, this position also offers valuable support and protection to designers in the form of a buffer, helping to decipher often cryptic feedback and distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable demands. Without this role neither client nor designer gets the service they need.
These roles don’t exist to exclude designers from conversations — perhaps excuse them at times from those that may not be helpful — but we designers are sensitive folk, and when you feel passionately about your work it’s hard to let go. I would imagine this is where much of the tension exists.
On creative design thinking…
One of my favourite quotes about collaborative design came from Tom Hulme, Design Director at Ideo, who said that the most creative decision Apple made was to sell a song for 10p. It completely changed the way that we consume music, and was design thinking, imagined by a “non-designer.” Worth remembering.