Blog Archive Feb 16, 2012

On designers being picky with clients

It is one of those things designers and advertisers like to talk about and sometimes try to enforce (and advise others to do) – pick you clients and say “no”, if you should. There is no other profession I know where this kind of client handling is beng discussed so regularly and is being seen as some kind of advantage. Designers like to compare themselves to doctors – but do doctors really pick their patients and are able to say “no” to them? I don’t think so. How come this question then comes up in the industry of design and advertising?

My take on this is simple, but first let’s take a case with a dentist. He might be very expensive or not, however all the decisions are made on the spot – a patient opens his mouth, the doctor takes a look, makes his scans and analysis, offers a treatment (maybe even with two options), which the patient either accepts or denies. What happens next? The next customer comes in, the next mouth is opened and the procedure starts anew.

How does this process look at a design bureau? A client comes in with a problem, the designer helps his client to work out a briefing, then makes his analysis and research and offers a solution, possibly with two or three options, which the client either accepts or denies. Looks pretty similar to a doctor, doesn’t it? Apart from the fact, that the doctor went through the whole cycle in 40 minutes whereas a design consultancy works out a possible solution within days if not weeks. And what’s more, this job is not being done from 9 to 5 – the process is incepted from the first meeting and lives in the head for as long as the client relationship exists. It is basically a 24-hour job which is being constantly interrupted with other activities. The solution may come up in the shower or in sleep or while playing with a child – how far can one control the mind solving a problem which doesn’t have a standard guided step-by-step correct answer?

To make it clear again: while doctors serve their clients within a definite (and mostly tight) timeframe and prescribed guidelines, a designer seeds a client’s problem into his own mind trying to find a definite solution within days or weeks (or even months) without any guidelines or cribs with correct answers.

Should someone let a stranger with his problems into his own mind just because a stranger asked to do so?

I guess not. And this is why I support the idea of being picky with clients.

This seed theory can actually help find answers to some other questions, like the willingness to compromise or the concepts of business model (billing per hour anyone?). However, we have to come up with some solutions today, so talk to you later then.