I didn’t go to design school, neither had any formal training on project management. I went to International Affairs school and it could sound weird but I took a lot of stuff I learned there and applied it to my job as a designer and project manager. Above all, I learned that beyond hearing or reading the needs a client has, we have to understand what are the motivations behind them. Contextualizing the needs of our clients, not according to our needs or what we want to hear, but to their business, their clients or end-users, their context. There are pre-existing conditions, circumstances we don’t know and must get an understanding of.
Arrogance is common in our line of work. We put ourselves on a pedestal, believing that because of our skills we are in some way superior to our clients. Everyone has been there. I’ve been there. It’s easy to point the finger at the client when something goes wrong, even before it, when someone comes to us with a request and we think it’s a dumb thing. Say hello to Clients from Hell and a bunch of client mockery which I must admit in part is pretty much fun, but take us nowhere.
Clients are not stupid. They come to us with a problem hoping for a solution, not an asshole. Every day I read tweets of colleagues complaining about clients in ways sometimes so disrespectful that I wonder if they’re just like that in “real life”, do they handle clients that way? I’ve decided a long time ago to stop tweeting negative stuff about clients or projects. Clients don’t deserve it, I don’t deserve it, I don’t need to waste time, and I’m 100% sure that those who follow me don’t give a crap about me tweeting a shit storm about a client.
Another point on this matter that freaks me out is when people start talking about the need to “educate” clients. When I started working on design I believed this was true. I was a strong advocate of the idea that clients need to learn how to work with us. Then I realized that I was wrong. I came to the conclusion that I was having a hard time when dealing with my clients and got to a point of almost no return. I believed I was superior to my clients. I figured that the only solution was to start to listen and properly analyze who our clients were and why did they need us.
Why in the hell I have to educate, let’s say, the owner of a car dealership business, on web design or whatever project we are working on with him? I’m the one who has to learn about their business, clients, their whole context, so I can give them the best solution according to their business needs. I am no teacher, my client is no kid who needs tutoring. My client’s work is to manage their business, not to learn about typefaces, colors, or frameworks. Today, whenever I get to meet a potential client, we spend 99,9% of the time talking about their business. And that’s the way it should be.
So take a break and stop trying to “educate” your clients. Embrace the context and build from it.