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Someone recently asked me, “Why are designers such push overs?” This led to a discussion that attempted to answer that but in the end, left me pondering the very same question.

The service industry

Many different types of businesses can actually be lumped into the service industry. Any business that runs on providing a specific service to a customer or client can be included. A hair salon is a service business. An auto mechanic is a service business. A fast food restaurant is a service business. A design studio is a service business.

Each type of service business can then be divided into different categories. For instance, creative/marketing, food, technical, industrial, health/fitness, entertainment, etc. They can also be defined by whether the service offers a tangible, intangible or experiential “product”.

All of these things factor in to customer/client perception of a business. However, the more I think about it, the more I come to realize that somewhere along the line, people have gotten the wrong idea about design.

Are there misconceptions?

Most people would not take their car into a mechanic for new brakes, then once the mechanic starts on the job, tell them, “Can you also work on the transmission and put in a new battery? But I don’t want to pay for all that, I just want to still pay the $300 that you quoted me for the brake job.” The reason I believe most people would not do this is that it is well established how an auto mechanic works and that they expected to be paid for all parts and labor that they do.

I could discuss a similar scenario for almost any service industry. You don’t go in to a restaurant, order one thing on the menu, then order two additional entrees and tell the waiter and chef that you’re only going to pay for the first thing you ordered. Yet a client that hires a designer to create a website can often ask for additional work to be done than what is being paid for. This is what all of us designers call, “scope creep” – where the original scope of what you have been hired to do (create a website with certain functionality, for example) changes and a client asks you to do additional work that you did not originally agree on.

The importance of education

Building websites has not been around as long as building cars, but I think there is still a percentage of people hiring designers that truly believe what we do is not really work that takes skill. This is a sad situation where not only does the client tend to not respect that you have talent and expertise (and that is why they are hiring you) they sometimes think that all you do is press some buttons on a program, or worse yet, that they could easily “do it themselves” but they just don’t have the time.

Personally, I believe that designers do have a responsibility to clients to explain what they do, to involve the client in the process and educate them along the way that it does indeed take skill and expertise.

“The Customer is King!”

This old phrase has been used in the retail and service industry for years, especially for businesses to drive it home to their employees that the customer is always right and you should do whatever it takes to please them. In an industry such as design, a client is paying to produce something to their liking, so it would make sense then that you should give them exactly what they want, no? Well, yes and no. If a client paid an interior designer to redo their kitchen, they would rely on the experience of the designer to help them choose appropriate wall color, flooring, tile, light fixtures, etc. There are a few clients who would put all of their trust in the designer after the designer got to know them a little bit and just let them handle the whole job. But the majority of people are going to want a say in what the finished kitchen will look like.

Some are not going to like what I’m about to say next, but a whole lot of graphic and web designers have an attitude that prevents actually working with a client. They expect to be hired because they are experts and professionals, but in reality they reject client input.

A lack of understanding and the reputation of designer-as-fickle-artist could most definitely be one reason why some clients have trouble working with designers in the first place. This can also reinforce a negative view that when you hire a designer, expect to be told what to do – expect not to be “the king”.

Designer as door mat

The opposite of the designer-with-attitude is of course the one that does allow clients to walk all over them. This one I feel is more responsible for the phenomenon of clients asking for more work than what they’re actually paying for. Especially when you’re a new freelancer or even a new design firm, you’re going to want to go out of your way to make your clients happy. In so doing, you often completely lose sight of what they originally asked for. A client might want a simple, informational website, then get the great idea to add another feature – like a blog. You may already be creating their site in such a way that a blog would be something easy to add, so you say, “Sure, no problem!” Then they get another great idea, and another one. By the end, you’ve created an interactive, content managed, ecommerce enabled site and the client, while completely happy with your work is going to walk away thinking that is exactly how design works – pay a set amount and get whatever you want.

A balancing act

Between clients not understanding exactly what we do and a tendency for designers to either be too condescending or too much of a push over, what is really going to make for a great experience on both sides is balance.

A designer should have confidence in what they are doing without having an attitude. They should be experienced enough to handle each project and have the creativity and skills to accomplish it. Part of the job of the designer is to educate a client on the process, to listen closely to their needs, and to make professional recommendations and suggestions in such a way that the client does not feel like they do not have any input or are being told they don’t know what they’re doing. Finally, a designer should develop the skill of spotting requests outside of the scope of a project and handling them in such a way as to not sell themselves short, but not let the client add on a bunch of additional work without paying for it.

Though this balancing act, I believe that designers have the ability to change client perception of the industry, to gain respect, and to do their best work possible.

S. Holub (jvmediadesign.com)
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:iconrox-studio-designs:
Rox-Studio-Designs Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2011
Interesting read,

I am going to put in my two cents, trying my best not to make this seems so drawn out. The "Customer is king" rule should only apply if they are willing to pay your rates. More importantly, it is okay to not accept any offers from the client that are lower then what your rates are. The reason why most designers are push overs are because most of them feel as though they are competing with people who charge $5.00 a website or they are afraid to lose the client so they drop their rates.

Lastly, it was this quote right here that forced me to comment on this journal :

" Some are not going to like what I’m about to say next, but a whole lot of graphic and web designers have an attitude that prevents actually working with a client. They expect to be hired because they are experts and professionals, but in reality they reject client input. "

You're right. You're so right in fact that there are some people who are even apart of this group who help run it that have a really big chip on their shoulder and refuse to see themselves any other way. The number one thing people in this industry lack is the fact that they don't understand compassion and they become consumed by their ego. There is a fine-line between self confidence and coming off as a complete jerk ( I would use other words, but I feel as though it's not necessary in this post. )

My design work may not be the absolute best and be featured on hundreds of sites, but the one thing I can say at the least is I have a lot of paying work. Why? Mainly because I listen to the client and actually seek out their best interest, instead of my best interest. Although my best interest should already be taken care of because they have agreed to work with my rates. I think it truly takes more than just self confidence.

I'm normally very quiet and I normally don't associate with a lot of designers here on Deviant Art because it's very dog eat dog and lacks a lot of community. People would rather see each other sink. I'm not trying to come off as rude, I am just stating what I have seen over these passed few years since the day I originally signed up for an account here on Deviant Art.

From a professional standpoint, we are only killing ourselves by not sticking to our guns and stepping on each others heads.
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:iconused2bthesane1:
Used2bthesane1 Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2011
As an occasional freelancer that just started my own design firm I am starting to come in contact with clients that cover all parts of the spectrum. One thing I have noticed in about 90% of my clients is that they all try to introduce new additions to the project for free, and that it isn't a big deal.

I think the main reason in this thinking is in all of the other service industries that you mentioned, most of them have materials and/or overhead to pay for. The customer realizes this and is normally ok with paying full price for their services. Since a lot of freelancers and small design firms work from home, our clients think that since we reuse the same software and hardware and have little to no overhead that it won't be a big deal to ask for free services. Most of the clients don't realize the amount of research, design work, and testing that go into making a website. This is why it is important to keep the clients updated as the project moves along so they can see and, at least try to, understand all the work involved.

Another thing I've noticed is a lot of web-designers, including myself, are naturally shy and like to avoid conflict. While it is important to be able to know how to avoid conflict by making the client happy, we also need to know how to stick up for ourselves so the process is enjoyable for everyone involved (at least as much as possible). It's a giant balancing act that takes time and practice to develop.

Anyway, I loved the article and thought it was right on the money.
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:iconjvmediadesign:
jvmediadesign Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2011  Professional Artist
Thanks! And yeah I totally believe that - they feel there isn't something "tangible" and just throwing in some extra thing is no big deal.

I'm working on other articles to educate clients as to what actually goes on. I think many of them have no idea there's a research phase at all!
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:iconso-dae:
So-Dae Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
I like this, very useful for a beginner~
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:iconahillesus:
ahillesus Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2011   Interface Designer
Yay, the great article - that what it is! I agree 99% with all you`ve stated.
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:icongrazigner:
Grazigner Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Great post. Thank you for this!
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:iconkaicastle:
kaicastle Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2011  Professional General Artist
I think you should post your journals to news so I could fave them hehe.. :)
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:iconjvmediadesign:
jvmediadesign Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2011  Professional Artist
I totally did! [link] ;)
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:iconkaicastle:
kaicastle Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2011  Professional General Artist
Yeah!
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:iconjoanniegoulet:
joanniegoulet Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you so much for posting this!
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:iconjvmediadesign:
jvmediadesign Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2011  Professional Artist
You're welcome :)
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:iconjvmediadesign:
jvmediadesign Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2011  Professional Artist
Thanks! I've been trying to really spread it around the interwebz just for that reason :)
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:iconscarlettarcher:
ScarlettArcher Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2011  Professional Interface Designer
Thankyou. This rings so true. Hopefully a lot of people read this and get a new understand of the design profession.
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