There is this song by Joni Mitchell titled “Both Sides Now” where she sings, “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now; from up and down and still somehow it’s cloud illusions I recall-I really don’t know clouds at all.” Well, this lyric can be applied to the relationship between the creative and the client as well.
How many times have you taken on an assignment or job where after a few communications with the client you’ve sat back, scratched your head and just wondered to yourself, “What the f*!@ is this person thinking?” You’ve communicated your ideas to them; you have X amount of years of proven experience but they want you to do something that a first year college freshman in an intro course would do; they want you to toss out all the rules you hold near and dear and do something crazy that you don’t even want to attach your name to; they ask you to do something, you spend hours working on it and deliver it on time only for them in one careless swoop to say, “Nah, I don’t like that. Why don’t you do this instead?” If you’re a creative, whether it be the artistic sort or writer, you’ve been there. It happens to everyone. Have you ever considered the client and what their experience is?
I ask this after an interesting role reversal a few months ago. I have a blog that I work on that’s totally unrelated to design. Long story short, it went from being a way to pass time to something that really interests me and takes up a lot of my time. In order to put more time and effort into it, I knew what I needed that was missing from it: a logo! Problem is, logos are not my thing. Yes, I’m a designer and logos seem to be the corner stone of our careers but honestly, I don’t do logos. I can wing it sometimes but it’s my equivalent of getting a root canal. You know, something you have to suffer through and at the end you’re glad you got it done but if you could avoid it, you’d definitely prefer to. So, in an interesting change of pace … I hired a designer. Yes, a designer hired a designer!
I went on Elance.com, posted my job, reviewed the proposal, looked at portfolios and found a company whose work stood and seemed very fresh and edgy. This was going to be good! Or so I thought. Having been the designer dealing with a client before, I got all my ducks in a row. I knew what colors I wanted, I had an idea of the basic elements I wanted the logo to have, I had examples. Examples, people! When I started the job with the designer I handed everything over, wiped my hands and smiled, thinking they were going to deliver something so creative I’d pinch myself. Well. First revision came in and I sat in front of my computer simply staring at it. I was about to be that client. The one that looks at the first revision and politely slides it back across the table and says, “This is not what I want.” The thought, “Did you … did you not listen to me? Did you not look at the samples I sent you? Why doesn’t this look like all these other pieces in your portfolio? WHY. WHY WHY WHY?!”
It took a little going back and forth but the logo got done. I used it for the blog. For about 2 weeks, then I designed one myself and have been using it ever since. Was the money I spent on having someone else design the logo a total waste? No, because as I started out this post with, it gave me new perspective. The further along in your career you get, the less of the “client” perspective you usually have. When you’re first starting out in your creative field, you are not a designer, writer or experienced professional. You’re a newbie, you’re a freshman, you are a client, meaning you’re not set in your ways just yet. You may be open to hearing opinions, to trying something different, to collaborating. The more seasoned you get, you view yourself less as a client and more as a professional—you have the experience so you know what’s best, you know what works and what doesn’t, you don’t want to have some client coming and telling you what to do, even if they’re the ones paying and thus calling the shots.
We all need to start looking at “clouds” from both sides. Clients need to trust in the creative type to be creative and deliver something worth the money and effort; creatives need to understand that the client usually just wants the best product possible so that they will benefit from it in some way, shape or form. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to identify something in your own field that you aren’t as skilled at and hire a freelancer to help you with it. Whether it be writing a press release or making a vector illustration, get a freelancer and work with them to get the finished product you’d like. You’ll quickly find out what many of your clients go through and should, in turn, pick up a few new skills in communicating and working with seemingly difficult clients and projects.