The Worst Client I Ever Had.
Throughout my career, I’ve had a lot of clients. Surprisingly none of those clients were ever the “worst” client. The worst client I ever had came as a surprise even to me.
It's a very simple system. Your clients teach you 3 things: what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and how you should improve. I’ve had a number of clients over the years and their input and ideas have shaped me into the designer and businessman that I am today. With every new client, my goal is always to learn something. They’re fine purveyors of their craft and honestly I’m humbled everytime that they’ve chosen my style, vision and craft to further their business. My goal in every client relationship is to learn as much as I can from them and exceed their expectations as a designer. My ultimate goal is simply to surround myself with those that can help me build my craft into what I work to build their craft into.
There was one client in particular however that sorta broke what I thought about clients.
As a graphic designer working for an agency, the clients you serve aren’t your clients unless they’re paying you. I have and have had a number of clients that do pay me, but it took me a while to understand just how unarmed one is having a client liaison standing between me and the client. As a graphic designer, it's my job to uncover the vision of my client and translate that into assets, visuals and a unified brand. However, most communication happens as a direct connection between two people. Second hand communication can do a lot to hamper the delivery of a great end result and create many unnecessary revision cycles.
Through all this time I was in constant communication with client after client when there was a specific problem and completely separated from clients at the discretion of my supervisor. My supervisor found the clients through simply being the sales director and then communicated to me what they wanted through the lens of their vision for the project. It took me quite a while to realize just how disenfranchised of a position I was in and as I recollected on the projects that I worked through at that time as opposed to how I work now, I’m still surprised by how fewer revision cycles I have to endure at this point; most times I don’t have any.
You see, I thought for a long time that my worst client was my supervisor. On many projects my supervisor would stand over my shoulder directing my work and how it should look and then stand back and say “I like that.” Its a lot like barging into a mechanics garage and telling them how to fix your car. The reaction of offense when I didn’t always immediately agree seemed to form a wall of distrust that haunted me in later years; it was as if I could never understand the client as they do. It's not the graphic designer’s job to impose their style upon the client, it's the GD’s job to translate that client’s vision into a visual reality. I’ve always understood this principle, however, the GD has one other major function; it's the GD’s job to assess that client’s ability to understand what their brand can be and work within the client’s ability to understand its evolution. I can’t regret that I didn’t know this before because we don’t know what we don’t know; this skill however, marks the real difference between a junior and a senior graphic designer.
“it’s the GD’s job to assess that client’s ability to understand what their brand can be and work within the client’s ability to understand its evolution.”
In my current position, I can generally complete a brand and design within the first presentation without revision although I always prepare for 3 cycles of revision and pace my work accordingly. My supervisor at the time didn’t really understand this principle of my position and I can’t really blame them for that; it wasn’t really their job. Just as the sales director finds clients with whom they spark a connection and come to an agreement, the graphic designer finds clients that respect the specific qualities of their graphic communication.
In effect, you find clients who share certain similarities with you. Your worst client, is always yourself. Once I realized who my worst client was, and more importantly the constraints of whom I could serve, it empowered me in a major way. I can assess in just a few questions just where a client relationship must start and how to evolve it forward. I no longer simply create just brands or websites. I now understand the holistic nature of design. Though my deliverable might be as simple as a branding guide or a website, I always formulate an entire growth plan for my clients both for their understanding of their brand’s evolution and for the brand itself. My clients grow that growth and my job is to use my design to take them to new levels.
Your worst client, is always yourself.
I’m thankful for my old supervisor. It was that relationship that evolved me into the businessman that I am today.