Who’s in charge!

Should clients have 100% veto power over designers and creative’s art direction and design?

Firstly they are paying for it, and secondly their product and brand is at the mercy of it. But the result is all to often that expert craftsmanship and brilliant work is being destroyed and turned into mediocre craft and ineffective communication at the hands of unskilled clients. Affecting all parties negatively.

Is only one party to blame here? Or is the problem more nuanced? With both creatives and companies having to be more aware of their weaknesses and strengths?

In my presentation Designing Identities I mention that:

    “We need to include our clients in the articulation of design, if not products will become unsophisticated and conservative (research proves that the will of unarticulated people creates products that people themselves find uninteresting and boring).”

Aaron Winters requested the references to this, and I thought the feedback would be interesting for several readers:

    1. The first reference is from the book Emotional Design by Donald Norman, where he mentions an art project where two artists ask people their preferences in regards to visualization and art. Collecting a range of answers these are then used as instructions for a series of paintings, which garnered terrible feedback. Directly externalizing people’s preferences turned ideas of beauty into something expected and boring.

    You can find a larger reference to this statement on slide 17 in the slideshow below, or here.

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    2. The second and third reference are both from Malcolm Gladwell’s, talk at PopTech!

    First Gladwell talks about a research project where a group of students were asked to choose their favorite of two posters; one impressionistic and one of a cat. The first group could just take their favorite poster and leave. But the second group had to explain what they liked about the image and then take it. The group that could just take the poster (without explanation) tended to take the impressionistic one, the group that had to explain their preference tended to take the one of the cat. Even more interesting was the fact that when the researchers called these people back after a while to ask them if they still had/liked the posters, the group who chose the impressionistic one tended to still like their posters while the people who picked the cat did not.

    3. Secondly Gladwell mentions that some TV stations in the US turned down what would later prove to be some of America’s most popular TV shows after asking everyday people their opinion on the pilots. The interesting thing about this though is that what the focus groups would criticize and dislike was the things that eventually would make these shows a great success – the quirkiness, the odd things out, the exaggerated personality, the unexpected.

    Gladwell points to several things:

      Having to explain our preferences changes them, because we start favoring the stuff we can explain.
      Having to explain ourselves changes our preferences to the least sophisticated, traditional and expected.
      – Having to explain ourselves changes our preference from something we really would like, to something we don’t.

    At the same time as these three references favor the work and craft of the designer or art director there are arguments favoring the clients perspective:

      While clients are not skilled in the creative crafts most designers and art directors are not skilled business experts. And almost no one has as good an understanding of the clients business as the business themselves – shooting out brilliant ideas is one thing, solving business challenges and generating value inside a foreign context a completely different one.

      Donald Norman in his article “Design thinking: A useful Myth” suggests that designers, in the context of design thinking, do not possess “some mystical, creative thought process that places them above all others in their skills at creative, groundbreaking thought”, but they do offer an outside perspective.

      And I would ad; have a greater propensity to push one self out of the excepted and into the unexpected.

    People skilled in the creative crafts are indispensible in the role of solving big communication challenges for companies who need disruptive and innovative solutions. But it is not because they, as Norman says, possess some unnatural ability to have all the solutions in the universe – it is because they help clients remove blinders, and push them to explore opportunities in what will initially be perceived as uncomfortable spaces.

    And this is the problem; it is not that the creative work is to good or to bad. The root of the challenge is that creative professionals need to understand that their work is as much related to removing blinders and luring clients into the uncomfortable. If they are not able to do that from a business perspective and on a layman’s level in regards to the design craft, then the product or solution they provide will seem natural to them but be without explanation and relevant context to the client.

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