Your Client Isn’t Simple, Stupid
Talented builders though we may be, much of what we’re constructing can be outsourced. The programming skills of overseas workers may rival or surpass your own, and at a significantly lower cost. So why should someone choose to hire you? Perhaps more influential than the need to find programming skills is the innate desire people have to feel like they’re making good decisions. Even the most stubborn clients are often seeking guidance and validation. The less a person knows about a subject, the more inclined he or she will be to seek experts who can bring clarity to the complexities of the project. Being able to articulate your recommendations and patiently explain your reasoning will help you earn the trust and loyalty of your clients. You don’t have to become a teacher, but you certainly don’t want to make them feel like a fool.
The Condescending Designer
I think everyone’s encountered the stereotypical condescending designer at some point. This is the designer who grunts under his breath and moans in exasperation anytime he’s questioned. She’s the gal who can’t be bothered to explain the thought process behind her latest brilliant creation—not that dumb clients would understand anyway. What I despise most about this character is the arrogant supposition that creativity is a rare and intangible trait possessed only by a privileged few.
Creativity Exists Within All of Us
Although good ideas may originate in a creative silo, the best ideas blossom outside those walls. They bloom in the spaces where designers, programmers, content experts, project managers, clients and users collide. The challenge of a good designer should not be to mystically pluck brilliant concepts out of thin air. Rather, it should be to recognize patterns in problems and solutions, to draw connection between the ideas induced from those around you.
Be the Dummy
Repeating web design proverbs over and over to clients can be tedious, but it can also shortchange the design process. Showing up to a client meeting with all the answers in stow can stymie innovation. Allow people space to introduce their perspectives to the problem at hand. There’s a good chance they’ll expose new insights about their business, their industry, or their customers. Empty your mind and play dumb. Pretend you’re a five year old. Keep asking why? Make the client feel like the teacher, while you play the part of the dunce. Ask them to sketch out, sculpt or act out their ideas. By the time you’ve exhausted them, it should feel like you’ve wrung out a wet washcloth, squeezing every last drop of information out of them. If you do this sincerely, it’s a humbling and helpful experience.
After you’ve absorbed all the ideas and information, start dissecting and rebuilding ideas. Introduce your expert perspective, and share your thinking. The project will thank you, and so will your clients who will feel heard and respected.
Remember, your clients are your partners. Always nurture them, but don’t get them wet, and never, ever feed them after midnight.