Increasingly, designers are finding themselves at the frontline of a company's business. But is there a need for more collaboration between designer and client to get the right commercial message across?
As the world becomes ever more design-conscious, so corporate outfits and publishing companies grow ever more reliant on external talent to produce art and design for websites, magazines, packaging and other printed matter. It's good news for the design industry, but as designers increasingly find themselves in the frontline, so the potential for conflict also opens up.
Though happy to pay for access to a designer's creative talents, the client's ultimate aim remains to communicate a clear message. Packaging that message in as visually pleasing a way as possible is often simply viewed as a means to pull in the audience and sweeten the pill.
Potential clashes are also easily compounded by lack of communication. With designers working remotely, it's common for client and designer to have a different perception of the aims of a project - the former only possessing a limited understanding of the creative process and the latter left to work with limited information about their role within a wider marketing campaign or design strategy. Mistrust can even creep in.
It's not unheard of for some artists, anticipating that a client is likely to ask for a commissioned design to be tweaked purely for the sake of it, to carefully place an easy-to-spot 'loose end' in their draft design, thus lessening the chances of any meddling in the areas that actually matter.
Which all begs the question: should design actually be left to the designers?
Let designers design
"All projects are collaborations to a certain extent and each must play their role, but yes, designers should do all the designing," says Dana Robertson at Tango Design. Robertson believes that most designers these days are acutely aware of a client's target audience, deadlines, budgets and so on, and that clashes of interest are pretty rare as a result. "There are some occasions where those commissioning the work set the commercial challenge in a very narrow context, and the designer uncovers many more questions than the original brief encompasses," admits Robertson. "But designers are intuitive and lateral thinkers who thrive best when allowed to explore. I believe that curtailing their natural instincts ultimately leads to poorer creative solutions in the long run."
Kerry Thomas runs Fused, a magazine widely acclaimed for its high artistic value. Despite relying heavily on external design talent, Thomas says that clashes simply aren't a common problem for the magazine. "Choosing designers carefully in the initial planning stages rules out any unnecessary aggravation," she says. In fact this involves actively seeking out designers and illustrators whose styles will fit right in with the magazine and its readership. "It's important for us that designers are given freedom to produce the kind of work that they are recognised and known for," says Thomas. "Regular designers such as Newtasty, Jeremyville and Paulo Arraiano are chosen for their unique, outstanding styles and we wouldn't change a thing."
Ed Templeton, creative director at Red Design, also believes that the most successful projects are those where the right people are commissioned for the job and then trusted to get on with it. "The other crucial role of the commissioner is in providing the designer/art director with a well-considered brief outlining the practical, commercial and creative requirements of the project," he says. "It can sometimes seem like a battle between commissioner and designer to get a job done, but with a comprehensive brief, the right creative team, and some mutual trust a positive outcome is almost guaranteed."
"I think essentially yes, designers should do all the designing," says Franki Goodwin, creative director at Franki&Jonny, a studio with an impressive portfolio of print and web-based campaign designs for clients in the film industry. "That's not to say client feedback and direction isn't useful, and more often than not enhances the end result," Goodwin continues. "But this can only happen if the client offers abstract feedback as opposed to saying 'move that there, make that bigger, and can we try that in green?', which is essentially unhelpful."
Goodwin agrees that a client's distance sometimes means they are better equipped to highlight a problem with a piece of design, but points out that it's ultimately the designer's job to come up with the solution.
"There is a common misconception among some of our clients that we fight design battles for ourselves, out of vanity or ego, not for the good of the project. But creativity or good design does not compromise the commercial appeal of a project. It enhances it."
Goodwin admits that the studio has some experience of conflict with clients but stresses that most are respectful and allow the studio to do its work. The key is for designers to be just as selective when choosing clients as the clients are when selecting designers: "As Milton Glazer said in his 'Ten Things I Have Learned' D&AD lecture a few years ago," says Goodwin, "'don't work with poisonous people'. It's great advice."