Designers: Creators or Executors?

Designers can recreate what you have asked them to do, but then you cannot expect to get that wow effect, as it’s something that’s already seen and that’s not a designer being creative, that’s a designer executing your wish and doing what they are told to do.

Working on a project with a client is always a joint venture. It’s never us versus them or our team vs their team. This is not a competition, it’s teamwork. There are no sides to choose, you are striving for the same goal - producing something all of you will be proud of. But it’s not always that easy.

Designers and clients do not often understand each other. I have witnessed multiple situations in which designers and clients agreed on something first, only to realise, days later, that they did not see eye to eye on the project’s requirements.

First off, this gap usually arises because both parties are making certain assumptions, most of the time that the other party shares the same level of understanding concerning certain things. However, they don’t realise that what’s usual or normal for them is completely unusual and out of the ordinary for someone else.

Secondly, it’s not easy for a client to let go of control and hand it over to a designer. And we don’t want them to do so, but it would be great if the client understood what they need to do as part of the “bargain” and when the designers should step in with their own creative ideas.

Thirdly, aesthetics is a very subjective thing and we all have the gift of recognizing beautiful things; however, people think that what’s beautiful also works beautifully. This is where all the conflict arises. Designers are the ones who know the design principles that need to be applied so that everything could work properly. Whereas the clients just put a bunch of stuff that looks good to them — or looks good on its own — and once everything is put together it doesn’t create the “wow” effect they expect to achieve.

The question is “why”? The reasons are numerous: the site they were looking at does not have the same content at all, the UI elements are not applicable to their site as their visual identity is different, they do not sell the same products, the message they want to convey is different, etc. So, what looks great for someone does not necessarily mean it would do the work for you. It’s like buying a sports car because you like it, even if you have a family that needs a family car. Don’t you think it’s not that functional?

Bottom line, what I’ve learned from working with both clients and designers is that nothing, literally nothing, goes without saying. Communication is the key to a successful project and the project onboarding phase is as important as the design phase. If we explain properly what we can do for a client and they explain what they expect, I’m not saying that the process will be perfect and all projects will have happy endings (because they probably won’t, as that’s life), but at least we will have fewer misunderstandings.

At the very beginning you as a designer need to explain your process briefly and clarify what the designer’s role is. When I say this, I mean designers can be flexible (up to a point, that is) and they can either do what they are told to do or they can be as creative as you let them be - there’s no middle way - controlled creativity does not exist, at least not that I know of.

Since we’ve encountered these two types of clients most often, we set up our process and projects in these two ways: creative and executive.

If you trust a designer and want them to “do their magic” in an uncontrolled environment, you are in for a creative process. In this case, the designer is allowed to explore different solutions to produce something you can relate to or something that will surpass your competition, you’ve got to let them do so.

To avoid confusion, each side should state clearly what they want - open communication is the best policy. When a client says they want creativity, but give you the wire frames and the examples of the sites they really like, you need to explain it to them that there’s no room for creativity there - they want you to be someone who will replicate their competitors’ websites with enough changes to make it different yet similar enough to be the same. How silly does this sound to you? It reminds me of children’s conversation when they discuss toys they really like with other children, and the often heard statement is this: I have the same thing, but it’s slightly different! - now that I’m in a situation to hear adults having a similar conversation, I ask myself if they really understand what they are asking for, as it is impossible to create the same yet different thing. Anyway, as crazy as it may sound, designers can recreate what you have asked them to do, but then you cannot expect to get that wow effect, as it’s something that’s already seen and that’s not a designer being creative, that’s a designer executing your wish and doing what they are told to do.

So, if you already have an idea for the creative direction yourselves, dear clients, you leave us no choice and limit our creativity as a design team. On the other hand, if you really want expert advice, you need to control a little less and trust a little more; have faith that we will do what’s in your interest without any hidden agenda. You are the ones who decide whether designers will be creatives or executors of your wishes.

As for our team is concerned, it’s great when you get the money for the project you worked on, but it’s much better when you enjoy working on that project yourself and gain a satisfied customer who will recommend you to other potential clients. Just like you, we also like to work in a stress-free environment. So next time you book a project, make sure you communicate well what your wishes are. As for designers, they should also understand that they have clients who do not know design lingo themselves, so they need to explain even things which are obvious to them. Verbalize all the details and I’m convinced the problems will diminish. Just try it out next time, it won’t hurt, right? 🙂

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