Wednesday, February 6
To Ego or Not to Ego - Discussion #4
Ask any designer what makes the perfect client, and they'll all give you the same reply: the one who lets you do whatever you please. In a perfect world, all clients would be this way. As designers, we have the education, the training and the experience to know precisely what would work best for the target audience, and we're rarely short of innovative and creative ideas to engage that audience. The more we work on a job, the more we become excited about the designs we're creating, and the more certain we become that our designs are The Right Ones, and They Will Work. And of course they'll be beautiful, original, and almost certainly, award winning.
As students, you’ve been lucky so far to have guidelines that specify size, loose topics and other small details but the creative idea generation is largely your responsibility. You become the client, the company owner, the editor, the copywriter and the creative director all rolled into one. It’s your idea that gets pushed forward therefore you get to make the “rules”. There is no printing budget or photographers to pay. There are no government regulations to meet or bosses to please (unless you count your professor, of course). The account manager isn’t going to be looking over your shoulder begging you to get done so a press release can go out. Your ideas are what matter therefore ego becomes part of your process—it needs to be to make you a better designer.
The real world, of course, is never quite so straight forward. One of the greatest rewards about the design industry is that there will be times when you really are given full freedom, when the client is open to new ideas and is excited by your creativity, and will give you free reign to do whatever you feel is right. Sometimes, however, you'll find yourself working from pretty tight guidelines, where your client already has a good idea of what they want, and they require you to stick closely to those guidelines. Perhaps they have a particularly awful logo that they want you to use prominently, perhaps they have a color scheme as part of their branding that you're required to adhere to, or perhaps their design idea is just plain stupid, and they're not open to alternative opinions. So how do you respond to this as an artist? How do you work to meet their guidelines without losing your own creativity in the process? The easy answer is to say, “screw ‘em, I know what good design is and they don’t. I’m doing whatever I want to do.” Unfortunately, this answer is unrealistic. Oftentimes a client had good reasons for using a corporate color or specific logo or demanding only Helvetica be used— it’s their right as it’s their company. They are paying you to help make their company better and sometimes that means dealing with items that can’t be changed. 95% of companies have some sort of standards when it involves their branding. Some will provide you with entire manuals with what you’re allowed and not allowed to do. Many clients have some idea of what they need and want.
This isn't a problem exclusive to the design industry. If you're a writer, and hired to do a piece on cycling, they'll expect cycling to be the focus of the article. However, they'll expect you to give your own personality and flourish to the piece, for it to have an angle or a point of view. If you're an interior designer, your client will specify what colors they want the bathroom, or the kitchen, but you'll have the freedom to express yourself a little, to make it something wonderful. The same is true of graphic design - it's important not to lose your personality in the process, to use that training, experience and enthusiasm to give them what they want, and then give them more. It's one of the most important lessons to learn - how to give your clients what they want, and also give them what they didn't realize they wanted and love it even more.
But how far should you take this? Is there a point where you should accept defeat, go through the motions and give them what they want and move on? Or should you fight for the job, and try to give your client the best that you can and perhaps even surprise them? How far can you push that initial idea before you begin to irritate the client? Just where exactly is that happy medium, and should the client indulge you, so long as you're still keeping to the letter of their specified guidelines? How important is your ego in the creative process? Where does the role of your graphic design training fit in?