What do you do when a client insists on deviating from your creative process? How much lattitude do you give a client in this area, and when do you push back?

11.30.2010 / Question submitted by: Hexanine

5 replies. Share yours.

Creative Process Discussion

Bruce Stanley:

I try to allow client collaboration within my process. This hopefully removes the “deviation” and they feel they are part of the process, taking ownership in the results. Most clients desire to shortcut things due to time constraints. A process can still be achieved even if it shortened—abandoning the process is never a good idea. However, setting expectations on the front end of a project is always the best solution. Agreeing on the process allows for intervention at a later point and a gentle reminder of the necessary steps to success. Developing a project using these methods removes the subjectivity within the creative process and ensures the professional environment between the client and the designer. Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world and at times we can choose to educate our clients and hope for growth, or realize an unhealthy relationship and walk away. Freedom of choice is an awesome thing.

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  1. 12.07.2010

    Joe Realist

    The difference between an artist and a designer is one gets a paycheck.

    If the client has their own “creative vision”, that’s what they are paying me to make a reality. What I think the design should be is my own opinion and not ego hubris that kills the project.

  2. Steve Zelle

    It would depend on what form the deviation took. I am open to exploring new ways of working as long as they have a positive effect on the final deliverables. There are always better ways of working, and sometimes these methods come from a client. BUT, if the request to deviate is really an attempt to cut corners (that matter), It is my responsibility to explain why a certain approach provides more benefit than what the client is proposing.

    Going over your process at the start of every project allows both the designer and the client an opportunity to make sure they are comfortable with how the project will proceed and helps to avoid sudden deviations.

    I believe a process should be flexible enough to improve upon past experience and defined enough to guarantee you have your clients best long term interests covered.

    If like Joe, a designer is willing to do whatever a client wants, they are by definition involved in a production exercise, not design.

  3. Jason Adam

    I think we’re talking about two distinct meanings of the term “process”.

    There’s “creative process” and there’s “workflow process”, and it’s important not to confuse the two. We all know what creative process refers to, but less often discussed is the workflow process — the procedures and steps used to take a project from beginning to end. At Hexanine, our creative process, while vitally important to every project, is only one part of an overall framework that we stick to in order to complete any given job in scope, and within a specific timeline.

    Everyone’s creative process is different, sometimes startlingly so, and it’s often difficult to predict what works and what doesn’t. The degree that we as designers choose to engage the client in this process depends on the specifics of the designer/project/client, but will often yield wonderful and surprising results.

    But we look at the workflow process as more down-to-earth and quantifiable — tried, tested, and proven — and we’ve found that allowing a client to dictate that process rarely results in a positive experience — for any involved.

  4. Tim Lapetino

    I think this comes down to your goals as a designer and how you view the kind of work we do. There is a sort of Venn diagram of service and deliverables that happens in design, and where you fall on the spectrum speaks to what kind of designer you are.

    There are people who solely execute someone else’s creative vision (“tell me what to do and I’ll do it”) — and they’re production designers. But for those of us who aspire to be brand identity designers who clients pay (well) not only for our rendering skills, but also for our expertise, vision and experience, then it’s a different story. To live squarely in that last camp, I think we need to take charge of the creative process with the client — of course, making them central players and equal partners — but leading them through the creative thicket in a way that we know has produced strong results in the past. That is a significant part of what clients are getting when they hire us.

    And as Jason mentioned, when we’ve allowed clients’ voices to overwhelm the creative process, it hasn’t led to great results for either party.

What do you do when a client insists on deviating from your creative process? How much lattitude do you give a client in this area, and when do you push back?