The Problem with Designing "Whatever you Want" | Porchlight

The Problem with Designing “Whatever you Want”

A few years back, we had an opportunity to hear Chip Kidd speak at the Portfolio Center here in Atlanta. One of the notes that we took away was his frustration with clients who told him to do whatever he wanted. For Kidd and for most designers we know, direction is part of the inspiration. What he called “blue sky” and what some call a “blank canvas” was just a pathway to inertia.

On the other side of the fence, some clients have a tendency to over-direct, making it difficult to be creative as they dictate your every move. Graphic designers need just enough direction to understand what the client is looking for. We need to know what success looks like. Beyond that point, graphic designers must have the freedom – a.k.a. trust – to move a bit to the left, a bit to the right, or even further away from center to solve the branding or design problem.

We believe one of our goals is to make a client look closely at their brand and consider new options that they may not have. We help to navigate the conversation, but the ultimate decision is up to the client. We find that most clients want change and will say they want change. They even love the changes that we present. But, when it comes time to making those changes, the actual decision is very difficult. In some cases, it’s so difficult they avoid pulling the trigger until some external circumstance intervenes, and we all know what happens when we make decisions under pressure.

“To do great work, you need a great client,” is a quote that most graphic designers have heard before. We find this very true. There are several things that can help make a great client, but one of the most important is building trust before, during and after the project. Without trust, your client may hesitate or not act at all.

Over the years, we’ve learned that when a client says, “Do whatever you want,” it simply means that they have no idea what they’re looking for. At the same time, we’ve learned that “Do whatever you want” can lead to a lot of wasted time and negative energy as we enter the design-by-elimination process, presenting idea after idea only to learn what the client doesn’t like. More slowly we suppose, we’re coming to realize that the tough conversations have to be had and indecision resolved upfront. After all, if we don’t begin a project on the same page as the client, how will we ever end up in a place where we’re all satisfied?

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