Beyond just good looking design, beyond design which functions perfectly, you need a client and a team that believes in the design. A client that’ll carry out the brand or your design work to its fullest extent and do it justice. No matter how perfect your solution is for their customers, no matter how great it looks, if your client doesn’t believe in the design, doesn’t buy into its concept, doesn’t stand behind it, then your design is rendered useless.
It’s easy to succumb to the falsified notion that all you need is full creative control. You might believe that by nature of designing without interruption or input from “non-designers” that you will produce the best results. This inherent belief that clients ruin design or lessen its potential is extremely toxic. I’d argue that your clients are one of the most integral parts of the design—even more integral than simply creating good design.
This desire for full creative control (design which goes unhindered) stems from having a designer’s eye—from a desire to create what you want, what you think looks good, what you perceive to be the best option. The reality check is, believe it or not, that the work you create for a client isn’t for you. In opposition of this, many designers suggest that full creative control enables them to develop the best solution for their client’s customers, however, I’m here to tell you that’s still not enough.
Your designs don’t work on their own, they can’t implement themselves. Just because you can create something that looks and functions perfectly, doesn’t mean they’ll transition into the real world as you intend them to.
Full creative control is deceiving. By involving your client in the process, sharing your decisions, asking questions, using their input, you’re not only creating an enjoyable experience but you’re also training and educating your clients. The following example about a Betty Crocker cake mix demonstrates the importance of this involvement.
In the 1950s, Betty Crocker introduced a quick and simple cake mix where all the consumer had to do was add water, mix, and bake. Three easy steps and they’d have a delicious cake. Despite the positive taste tests and the easy-to-follow process, the product failed.
“The cake mix was just too simple. The consumer felt no sense of accomplishment, no involvement with the product. It made her feel useless, especially if somewhere her aproned mom was still whipping up cakes from scratch.”
—Market researchers Bonnie Goebert and Herma Rosenthal
There was a missing experience between the consumer and the product. When Betty Crocker revisited the cake mix, they made one crucial change that significantly altered the product’s success. Rather than just adding water, the new cake mix required the consumer to also mix in the egg. The change wasn’t drastic but it was just enough to make the consumer feel more involved in the actual product because they felt they had become a part of the process. This subtle change made the product a hit and significantly increased sales.
In design, the just-add-water cake mix is similar to designers wanting full creative control. “Give me money, and I’ll make something” is the same as “Add water, mix, and bake.” Even though the cake tastes great, and even though it was easy to make, the product failed. The same goes for great looking and functioning design.
The integral part to successful design is letting your client add the egg. But what exactly is the egg? Every project differs, so that’s for you to figure out. The egg can be the project’s background information, their goals, content, market insight, feedback, answers to question etc. More importantly, it’s what the process of adding the egg means. Adding the egg means developing a sense of trust, understanding, and belief in the work you’re creating for them.
It’s not that you want full creative control from your clients, it’s that you want their trust, confidence, and belief in you and what you create. You want clients that can carry out your work to its intended, fullest extent. These things are rarely inherent traits, even once you establish yourself they’re the product of an involved process. Good design can’t implement itself—if you aren’t educating your clients then you’re not solving problems—you’re selfishly building your own portfolio.