Designers are from Mars, Clients are from Venus!

KJ-Profile-PicKevin Jackson

Director Public Relations, JDA




The following is only a theory and not based on statistical evidence. The arguments often heard from designers are “If you go to the doctor, you wouldn’t ask them for medical treatment and not pay them if you weren’t satisfied. If you go to a lawyer you wouldn’t ask him to draft you a contract and not pay her if you didn’t like it. So why won’t you pay a designer for his or her work?”

The argument from the client is often “But I can buy a shirt and if I don’t like it I bring it back, or I can try software or even a car for a few days and if I don’t like them, I don’t have to pay. You are selling a product so why do I have to pay upfront without knowing what I am getting first?”

The problem is that design unlike a shoe you can return and get refunded, is not a product. The end result of design can become a product, and because the customer is focused only on the end result, they don’t appreciate the work that goes into the process.

Design unlike a traditional profession is not a service people NEED! I know right now you are screaming at me and saying “What do you mean design is not needed?” Hear me out. You go to the doctor when you are sick or virtually dying in some people’s case and you don’t want to die, so you have to go to the doctor. Believe, me, when there is an app that can diagnose and prescribe drugs for you, the doctor is going to have to start doing speculative work. By speculative work I mean treat you and only expect to get paid if the patient is satisfied with the outcome. When you are about to lose your home or custody of your kids you need a lawyer. The minute there is an app that does what the lawyer does, yeah, he will be doing speculate (Spec) attorney work too. Because they will no longer be NEEDED!

Designers are currently in a world where technology and templates have replaced or subsidized a lot of what their hard earned money sent them to school to learn. In some cases they are still paying off the loans for that education.

So where does design stand? It stands in the middle, not knowing how much of each side to be, Design is both a service and a product. But how much of each is it? It differs project to project. Design starts with a service that delivers a product. No one wants to pay during the service phase, because they are expecting a product and they want to know if you can deliver the product they have in their head before they fork out any money. Sites like Fiver have spoiled the masses, allowing them to see multiple design options before even paying a dime and they can reject them if they wish with little obligation and the client thinks this is great.

They don’t really understand how many hours or days of research have to be done during the design phase, nor do they understand why they have to pay for that. They pay the doctor for advice they could have looked up online. In fact in many cases they pay the Doctor who often researches on line anyway, so why won’t they pay you? It’s simply a matter of value, if they self prescribe medication and screw up their health they could die, the very thing they were trying to prevent in the first place. But when it comes to design, if they make their 10 year old niece design a logo and it flops, they can start over again. The risk is low. A company that pays top dollar for a logo design chances are already has a reputation or thinks highly of their potential reputation. This is something that needs to be assessed before taking on a design job. How much does the customer value their own brand at this point? If they just want a logo for the sake of having a presence then chances are they will want the cheapest or the free-“est” thing they can get.

So what if they are not paying during the product delivery stage either? You gave them what they want, so why are we still fighting? Because they aren’t satisfied, and just like the ability they have to walk into a super market and look at several companies’ products and decide which they want before they purchase, they also want to look at different people’s designs before they pay up.

But designing from scratch and buying a ready made product are two vastly different things. I have bills to pay, my electricity costs are high. I can’t do designs for free. These people can’t be that naive to look at design work like they do a tin of “bully beef” can they?

They do. This is why templates, stock photos and effects are selling online affordably. People want to see what they are buying up front. It’s hard to justify spending thousands of US dollars to end up with nothing or something you don’t like.

But it’s not fair to spend hours designing what the client had no clue he or she wanted only to be not paid for hours you could have used to do something more useful.

So how do we bridge this gap and make a living in this ready made future we live in? Well, the truth is, design is still very relevant, perhaps even more relevant than before. The landscape has just changed and we need to learn to adapt. There are still clients who value good design at any cost. You just need to determine how serious that company is about their brand. Look at their track record; look at the strength of their brand in the market. Of course clients like this don’t come along everyday and the majority of clients will be those who desire template logos you can whip up in minutes. For those I recommend you understand that their capacity to pay, make the decision whether you want them as your client or not. If you do want them, ensure a sound contract is drafted by a lawyer experienced in such matters. The cheapest clients tend to be the pickiest. Ensure that:

  1. If you are designing on the low end you still do your best work, but ensure your contract states that any designs they do not choose are yours to do what you please with. Remove their branding and put you’re own or a make-believe brand and put it in your portfolio. You never know who might see it, like it and want to hire you because of that rejected piece.
  2. Turn unused design into templates or stock designs that you can re-sell. You have already done the work. Don’t just throw it away just because one client doesn’t want it.
  3. Turn used designs into a template. Sure you did work exclusively for a client, but often our designs can be easily built on and modified to look vastly different to the untrained eye.
  4. Create payment plans to make it easier for your customers to pay, but always take enough up front to cover at least your basic costs and time so that if the customer decides not to pay you at least you already covered expenses.
  5. Don’t get your client too involved but make them a part of the process. Communicate often, show them weekly progress and receive, discuss and implement some of their suggestions. When the client feels a part of the process, they are less likely to find faults.
  6. Provide excellent customer service even if the client’s are rude. This doesn’t mean accepting every harsh word they say. This simply means, make them feel like you actually care about their business and their time. Satisfaction doesn’t only come from the end result of the design. It comes from the overall experience as well. Clients will become repeat customers if they enjoyed the overall experience.
  7. Don’t be afraid to say no. If the project is not worth it, whether the pay, the personalities of the clients or the scope of the project, do not be afraid to turn down work. It is better to turn down work you get a bad feeling about than to take on a job that gives you a bad reputation. Bad reputations can hurt you for a long time and to command top dollar your reputation is key.
  8. Do not only depend on clients for an income. Create designs for yourself. Solve your own problems. Chances are someone else has the same problem and is willing to pay for your solution.
  9. Market yourself more. Sometimes people need our services and are willing to pay but they just don’t know how to find us. In this competitive internet age where people can Google anything, you need to be able to reach people and let them know what you do. Networking is also marketing. Sometimes people hire who they know or who they’ve met. I have often met people for the first time and when the topic of “what do you do?” comes up and I share what I do, the next word out of their mouth is “Give me your contact details. I’ve been looking for someone that does what you do.”
  10. Let people know how other people feel about your designs. If you have satisfied customers, get a referral from them or testimonial and put it on your website, or in your Social media page description or next to your designs. This helps solve the problem of wanting to see what they are getting first. A lot of times when hiring someone to paint your house or take care of your kids, you ask for a referral or testimonial. If people see clients of a certain caliber giving you good reviews it’s as good as them asking someone they trust if they think you do good work.

I admit you could follow all the tips above and still end up in problems with clients or clients end up in problems with you. That will always happen, after all designers are from Mars and Clients are from Venus, but we can reduce the risk of it happening. When handling a client, always ask what value you add to your service to make the client feel more comfortable spending their money with you? Like the Doctor, make them feel they need to use you, but also understand the psyche of the client, that they don’t yet appreciate design the same way they do Medicine, Law or Engineering and it is through your reputation that they will become enlightened and gain respect.

Designers are from Mars, Clients are from Venus!
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