My Client’s Taste Was Tacky…

If you’re sticking around to see if we call out a specific client for having bad taste, go ahead and quit reading. The real answer is that many of our clients suffer from temporary, or permanent lack of taste in design.

To be more honest, most of them on that list would not argue. If they were fantastic designers, they wouldn’t need us. If they could art direct, they would attempt to do so. But, after this purposefully tacky intro, we have something uplifting to say; your taste is relevant, and it’s important even if it’s not what insiders would consider “good.”

At Entermotion, we really believe that we should listen to our clients about their preferences, and their tastes. Great design comes not from doing what the designer wants, but solving the clients’ problem within the budget, time, and parameters given. Taste is a funny thing… (Almost) nobody is right. There is literally only one rule when it comes to taste as it pertains to graphic design… The clients’ client is always right.

So if you’re our client, and you love art-deco, but you’re product is targeted at 18 year olds, we’ve probably had an uncomfortable talk with you at some point. If you love POP-art, but run a nursing home, we might have also had a rather specific, and carefully blunt conversation with you. (neither of these examples are real!)

Like on the recent episode of Mad Men when Don tells one of the potentially biggest clients he has ever met that “nobody wants to think about mice being in a hotel” when shown ad mockups with Jerry from Tom & Jerry in them -Don knows that honesty is the best policy. Regardless of feelings, regardless of how much you need to bill in a month, it’s imperative that you evolve an honest, and realistic relationship with your clients as it pertains to the success of a campaign in your clients’ customers’ minds.

But let’s look at another possibly trepidatious situation.

You, really firmly, with a decade of experience behind you think that you ought to go with a subtle calming green in the background of an ad, but your client wants blue. Blue, you think, does not express your beliefs of figure/ground as a designer in this case. Plus you think it’s too masculine. Also, you think it will probably cause you to rework a lot of art, and possibly injure a few of your teammates’ egos. Also, you’ve been on a green kick lately, because you painted your kitchen that color, and you love the Banana Republic sweater you got a month ago that looks like PMS 324c.

Not good enough. If you can’t clearly, explicitly, and as it pertains to marketing concepts express why you’re right, and your client is wrong, shut up and do your job. Blue, like any color has emotions, trends, printing issues, and branding issues tied to it- but it’s just a color! Like every color, you can imbue it with emotion, shift it gradually, or force it to print correctly. Your taste as a designer is of no consequence in this case, because you have made decisions that are founded in preference rather than fact.

But your taste does matter.

If you have done your job, or your AE has done their job, your taste does matter. The client has picked your studio to work with because they trust you. It’s the job of those dealing with clients to be persuasive, confident, and assertive. But assuming you don’t have an endemic problem of confidence in your process that causes clients to doubt you, you imperatively need to listen to their tastes, and take them as part of the challenge.

If you’re client loves paisley, and that’s part of the project specs, work it in and figure out a way to do it within the parameters defined for the project. If your client wants pink, make it sing. If Verdana is the corporate font, track it, kern it, and make it look like it didn’t come from a Microsoft web initiative.

Like the challenges on Project Runway, not every project is a chance to express our own vision. We’re not fine artists, we’re artists for hire. If Heidi tells us to make a dress out of newspaper, it’s our job to make it look couture. Imagine Tim Gunn hopping in at the twelfth hour and telling you to “make it work.” It’s your job to deal with short timelines, bad materials, poor specs, and vague goals. It’s the job of a designer to succeed against the odds at telling a visual story that sells products through type and image. It’s that simple, and there are no excuses.

Over the course of your career you might get better at controlling the situation so that you avoid pitfalls, but the essence of the job remains unchanged. You’re the hero that starts with zero…

Back to the point of all the projects you’ve done that aren’t in your portfolio…

If you’re a designer- it’s OK to be your own steward, and connoisseur in your portfolio. If you’re a client, you don’t need to have your feelings hurt because your amazing project is not in your designer’s portfolio.

A designer’s portfolio is not to show off projects where they solved problems quickly, or with disparate elements, or with tight, or exotic budgets. It quite specifically exists to show off where client work brushes against the studio’s own aesthetic to recruit the type of clients that the studio is looking to recruit more of. We’re proud of hundreds of projects that aren’t in our portfolio…

In our case, we keep a pretty large portfolio, but we’re always cycling in the projects that we think represent more succinctly the momentum of our business. If you’re a small studio, a student, or a freelancer, take some advice that probably cost us clients in the beginning of our business: don’t show more work than you have to. You might feel pressure to show quantity rather than quality to appear bigger, and broader than you are. It’s counterproductive, and costs you more than you know.

While not every client project gives you a chance for portfolio material, We think you should chase the solution to the problem rather than your own aesthetic, or your own needs. You’ll be farther ahead in the long-run if you do. The question of client taste is something we’ve run into countless times in our career, and we can’t imagine it stopping any time soon. Part of the business of pleasing clients and solving marketing problems means that you have to be firm, honest, friendly, and… tasteful in your dealings with them.


    ADRIAN 12/17/2009

    I sure wish I would have stumbled on this a little sooner!


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