In art school when you’re involved in making project presentations for critique in front of your professors and peers, you are repeatedly in the position of explaining your thinking and process. It used to be an anxiety induced experience for me because I used to work off of instinct before I knew how to advocate on behalf of my ideas. I wasn’t always sure why I solved a design problem the way that I did, but when enough time had been spent trying to understand, create, iterate and wrap-up a project, then it felt “ready.”
Nowadays, I find that part of my job is to be a full time advocate for ideas. While some clients come to the table with a vision, most don’t. Not only is part of my job to curate designs in a tangible form, but sometimes I have to empower my client to advocate on behalf of a chosen direction. Mostly because in organizations, my point of contact is having to win over others, if I’m not the person presenting my own work. Therefore, it’s not just me and another person in the chain of decision making.
Recently, I had a client who surprised me with the possibility of significantly compromising the quality of a project’s outcome. My instinctual response was that they were making a huge mistake. Their choice didn’t align with how I felt they ought to be engaging their customers and yes, the budget factored into their decision—making things more complicated. At that point, I realized that in order to retain the integrity of the project, that I would have to come up with a strategy to empower my client, who’s boss was the main client. Having a vision for something that has yet to be actualized is a murky space that needs validation to get others on board. While creatives can handle murky on the way to understanding, I find others are far more risk averse than enduring a creative process. Nevertheless, when a situation like this comes up, I often go back to, “Why is what we’re creating valuable to the customer?” From that perspective, you can give voice to how that ties into the value proposition, aligning it with what you’re creating.
While I’m not a lawyer, defending ideas is very much a part of the design business. You get into a habit of doing so first with yourself, and then with the client because good design is intentional, not a haphazard free-for-all. Learning to articulate the benefits of a particular choice/direction is valuable to the client and is key in establishing trust. At the same time, clients don’t always use the same language that you do, so as Stephen Covey of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People so eloquently put it, “Seek to understand before you are understood.”
- Try asking questions in different ways so that you and the client have clarity around what you are trying to accomplish.
- Continuously empower them to share their ideas and be sure to do the same. For some people (especially non-creatives), sharing of ideas can be a very vulnerable space.
- Be patient with clients, they don’t always have a clear idea of what they’re needing and might need the designer to help them bridge the gap of understanding.
- Remind clients that design is a process—that it’s ok if the first ideas don’t result as final solutions.
Ultimately, the intention behind what’s being done on behalf of and with the client in mind is what needs to be in alignment. As long as that’s in place, then chances are good that you’re headed in the right direction.
Do you find it challenging to advocate on behalf of your ideas? If so, what do you find to be the main barriers?