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Clients & The Perception of Value in Design

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Have you ever been out to dinner with a person who judges how good the restaurant is by the size of portions, and only the size of portions? It doesn’t matter whether or not they leave hungry, full or over-full; it doesn’t matter the quality of the food; it doesn’t matter how it was presented or how healthy it was for them. Nope, all that matters is the quantity.

Some clients view design like this.

clients and the perception of value in design

To these clients, the value of their design dollar is based solely on how busy a design is – “how much design” is “in the design”. It’s really unfortunate, as any good designer can attest to the fact that good design is design that engages the viewer; that elicits the proper response and/or action from the viewer.

Quite often, the more effective design is the simpler design. Over on Drawar, another great design blog, is an article titled “Don’t be a Design Packrat“.  This article talks about, amongst other subjects, the difficulty in reducing a design down to its bare elements in order to create what is needed. This belief is one I subscribe to in most facets of life, especially design. But every so often, we run into a client who might feel they aren’t getting their money’s worth because you came back to them with what they deem a “simple” design – much like a fine restaurant bringing the proper portion of food to you.

So what do you do when you encounter one of these clients who thinks bang-for-the-design-buck should equal an over-designed final piece of work when a simpler design is a more effective solution?

It all comes back to educating the client, I suppose. But before we even get there, ask yourself: does this design truly benefit from its simplicity? Or am I just being lazy? Self-awareness is huge for progress in your design career, so ask yourself hard questions like this and answer them truthfully.

If simplicity is the best solution, it’s time to explain your reasoning to the client. One, good design has to elicit the proper response, or action, from the viewer. An overly busy design is just going to act as a barrier to getting your viewer to complete the action. Two, the value of the design should not be determined by the amount of design elements in the final piece; it’s like saying a meal is good because the portion is huge, not because the final product is tasty and fulfilling. Three, just because a design is “simple” doesn’t mean the designer didn’t put a lot of time into the work. As the previously mentioned Design Packrat article talks about, usually the final piece starts out busier, and the designer spends time paring down unneeded elements. Plus, there is research time, time spent exploring other concepts, final file prep and other areas that are all part of the design process. The term “simple” design can really be a misnomer, as the process to get to that point is far from simple.

Finally, perhaps try gently reminding your client that they are hiring you for your knowledge of design. The knowledge of design – what works, what doesn’t, and why – is just as, if not more, important as the designer’s Creative Suite skills.

Hopefully by explaining these things to your client, you can avoid dissatisfaction. Remember, it’s all about having a great client-designer relationship; open communication is huge, and by practicing this you will be able to help clients understanding of value in design.

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