The instinct to butcher design

As the lights go down and it comes into view for all to see, probe, and judge you take a breath and stand back. You’ve worked on this design for days, improving it with each session.  Refining, fine tuning, strengthening it.   After applying all of your experience, formal and non-formal training, your knowledge of current trends and the client’s marketplace you’ve created something that you’re truly proud of.  Every decision has a reason; every color, every icon and typeface serves a purpose.

You’re not very nervous to let it hang out there on the projection screen.   After all, this is not some helpless sprout born in a moment of inspiration.  Your design is solid and can stand on it’s own feet.  It needs no explaining, just your eloquent presentation that highlights some of the key elements that makes it stand out and shine all the brighter.

Yet as you give your presentation and go around the room making eye contact with all the main stakeholders of the project you can begin to see what you’ve been dreading.  One by one, the clients take out their meat cleavers and place they on their note pads in front of them.  They are waiting for you to finish, fingers drumming the shiny black handles of their instrument, blades glistening in the dim light of the projector.

The presentation comes to a close.  It’s time for you to stand between your design and the sharp cleavers of the clients.  Ah, but you’ve been there before, haven’t you.  You know how the client mind works; that this tendency to affect parts of design, the desire to be in the drivers seat of design decisions is deeply ingrained into anyone who is on some level invested in your design.   You are not standing there naked in front of a room full of cleavers.  You are armed to the teeth with all kinds of blunt objects designed to deflect those sharp blades.  You have rationale, examples and anecdotes to back up every design decision.  You know how to sacrifice on the little things in order to save the design as a whole.  Bring it on boys!

Ok, so perhaps that illustration was a bit graphic.  The reality, however is that it takes a lot of experience on the client side to be able to suppress the urge to play art director and to successfully mine the creative talents of designers that work on their projects.  In many cases your client will want to reach for the cleaver, and it is our job as designers, art directors, and creative directors to help our clients get to the place where they will feel confident to leave the design decisions in our hands.

You get there by listening to your clients needs and fully understanding their business objectives and challenges.  Make sure that first and foremost your design satisfies your clients’ business objectives, and then focus on its formal qualities.  If your design decisions are driven by strategy, you will be able to talk the same language with your client.  And if the clients feel that you truly understand them they are more likely to trust you as an authority over design decisions.   That’s when the cleavers can go back in their holsters, and the client can sit back and enjoy being the client, letting you enjoy being a designer.

One Reply to The instinct to butcher design

  1. Philwebservices

    September 22, 2010 • 12:36 am

    Great article..The ideas you have shared insightful and smart!..

    Keep it up…More power~!

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