June 7, 2007

Opinions are like assholes: every client has one, but it's the designer's that smells like rose petals

I'm finding myself agreeing less and less with this blog, but on this I agree: the designer's job is to create a visual display for the content and the brand. It sounds obvious enough, but a conversation about the needs of the content with the type of client that thinks designers are just Photoshop monkeys—that the client is the one with the vision of how it should look, and the "designer" is the person who has the technical skills to make that happen—can easily be steered into the realm of typeface choices and color palettes, and our role as visual designer has been undermined.

Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way. In my defense, I'll say that I never asked the client for his design vision, he offered it to me right off the bat, but I certainly didn't avoid it. He told me that he knew exactly how he wanted the site to look: he wanted it to look just like the site of a popular home furnishings retailer. I did as much as I could to follow the client's design guidelines while also adding my own flair so that the site was not a total knock off.

Revision after revision, I followed the client's suggestions: bringing the color palette closer to that of the retailer's site (and away from that of the company's recently redesigned logo), changing the type faces, changing my underlying grid, and sometimes putting it back to the way it was in previous versions. What we came up with was hideous. It was a mix of styles with a willy nilly color palette and typography. It definitely didn't reflect my own aesthetic, but what I didn't realize until it was too late was that it failed to satisfy the client's hope to make it feel like the retailer's site. I should have realized that he was dissatisfied early on (although, he kept telling me that we were getting close) and redesigned it myself instead of following his instructions that I knew weren't working. In the end, the client decided to fire me and hire another designer. I can't help but think that had I fully taken the design reigns from the start, I would have at least convinced the client that I could accomplish the job.

I know that it's not easy getting started, but even as young designers, we need to understand that our job is to solve design problems, and we stop doing our job when we start following every whim of the client. Of course, we need to produce something that the client is happy with, but the best way to do that is to trust our own instincts and design what we know is right.

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A web designer/developer by trade, Brian lived in Japan for 5 years and likes to think he knows something about that. He's most recently into talking about design, culture, typography, and web technology.