grab bag blog

This is where I talk about my work, my discoveries, my creative process, and the ins and outs of marketing in the arts.

Why Clients Want To Do Your Job For You

July 20, 2017

Filed under:

freelance life, wisdom

We can all agree: overly controlling clients are the worst. How many bosses or clients have we collectively had who tried to design something for us by giving us overly prescriptive briefs or feedback? Who told us where to place elements, how large to make them, what colors and fonts to use? Or as a marketer (who is a designer of communication), how many times has a boss dictated a message or a visual element to you and told you to just implement it as-is? Sooner or later, we all run into these bosses.

Cartoon: Controlling bossesDesign is a deceptive profession. It takes a lot of training and practice and insight to know how to do it well. It involves knowing how not just to be aesthetically pleasing, but how to communicate information in the most effective way possible. We aren’t assembly line workers. We aren’t mindless pixel-pushers. We are designers and marketers. The skills for which we are hired call for good judgment. Real design is a hard skill learned from training and experience.

But before we just blame our employers for being stupid and controlling, let’s look at our roll in this problem. We do a lot of our work alone, at our computers, in our heads, in silence. All of the research and experimentation and iteration work happens below the surface, and the only thing others see are the final drafts or finished pieces. We don’t communicate how we do the work to others.

When all the machinery stays under under the hood, so to speak, the misconception arises that all we do is make things pretty. We just “work our magic” and a finished piece happens. And if that’s all people see, then our clients will believe they need to step in and do the hard work for us. If we don’t disabuse people of that notion that we are marketing wizards and design ninjas and mystic warriors, how do they know that we don’t just burp up golden nuggets and then play Xbox for the rest of the afternoon?

If you want to be known for your judgement and research skills, then don’t just show people the widgets you produce– show them the entire process, ugly bits and all.

The next time a client hands you a sketched out brochure layout or your boss gives you a pre-made graphic, be willing to stop them and say no. Be willing to say “this is my area of expertise” and explain to them how and why. Whether you design graphics or websites or engagement plans or curriculum, we’ve all been hired to create success. If our employers don’t understand that, then we need to be more vocal about what a designer is. The more we explain our jobs to the world, the more people will recognize us as experts and get out of our way when it’s time to get the job done. And that will make everyone a little less stressed out.


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