Eric Karjaluoto recently posted a great entry about requests to do spec work that got me thinking about how designers are regarded/treated by clients once you have them. Eric’s blog entry is about having enough respect for yourself and your profession not to do speculative work because it only hurts you in the end. So, what happens we have the client? Does the need for respect end when the SOW is signed?
The clear answer is no. Of course the client should still respect us once we begin working for them. The question then becomes, “What are we doing to ensure that respect?” Just creating kick-ass work won’t cut it, I’m afraid. What happens when they come to you with a big project and a short timeline? Or a project that really isn’t within your core competency? Or they request change after change, putting the project at risk? Does that make them a bad client?
The real question here is what have you done to educate your clients and maintain a respectful relationship. Clients want what they want, and it’s our job to do what they ask. But that doesn’t mean we should let clients walk all over us in the process. We need to educate them about what it takes to create high-quality work, how that work comes about, and the value we provide.
These days, there’s a lot of pressure to do things more quickly for less money. But you can’t squeeze blood from a rock, and sometimes you really can’t cut your budgets and timelines any further. Respect is based on honesty and trust, and you don’t have those two things when clients think they can make demands and you work to prove them right every time. That’s not just bad business, it’s bad for the design profession. I propose we try to be honest with our clients about our capabilities, needs, and the realities of our work.
We’re not miracle workers. There isn’t a keyboard shortcut for Design (though you might try command+D and see what happens), and the work of design takes time, effort, and consideration for even small projects. To borrow from Eric’s analogy, you wouldn’t seek out rock-bottom contractors to build your home, or ask a heart surgeon to just cut a few corners and hurry up. If you do, well, you get what you paid/asked for.
Inevitably you’ll be on Craig’s List and looking through the job postings and see something where a potential client/employer wants a designer with experience who can use all the basic applications AND code AND manage a project AND present to clients… for $15/hr. Now, you might be hard-up for work, or new to the profession, but you owe it to yourself to pass on these jobs. Why? Because someone who is paying that little clearly doesn’t respect the time, energy, and effort you put in to learning and honing your skills. When you take jobs like that, you send the message that this is all you’re worth. I don’t know about you, but I like to think my experience and skills are worth more than that.
Design, and especially interactive design, is a maturing profession. There are more designers today than than ever before, and more are on the way. Shouldn’t today’s professionals provide a model for how to work? The more we can educate clients and potential clients, the better our working lives will be down the road. Just imagine a day when nobody questions a bill for five hours of design time on a small web-based ad, or requests a “small business discount” on their project (True story, happened to me once. My response was that I am also a small business, and can’t afford to give everyone a discount, especially not on small projects.), or says “It’ll cost how much? Oh, then I’ll just do it in Powerpoint myself.”
Great, now I’m getting all wound up about this, and the last thing I wanted to do was create a manifesto. Let’s just end by saying that you have to have integrity, honesty, and the ability to look out for yourself if you want to be successful with clients. That doesn’t mean saying no all the time and being a prima donna, it’s about fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Or, as Aretha put it, “R E S P E C T, find out what it means to me.”