How to convince your clients that design takes time

Formed in 1992, johnson banks has been running for 24 years, the past 15 years of which it has concentrated almost exclusively on branding, specialising in cultural, education and not-for-profit clients.

With a haul of awards under his belt, including a prestigious D&AD Black Pencil, Johnson is a firm believer in taking time to get design right, and in placing as much value on strong content writing as on design. Here he explains, along with account director Katherine Heaton, why great design is worth the wait.

It's not an approach that suits all clients; you're always going to run up against companies that want the job done yesterday. But johnson banks won't rush things, and the studio's found that once clients understand the reasons why the process will take months rather than weeks, they're happy to embrace it.

So, how do you get clients to realise that design isn't something you can knock out in a few days? Here Michael Johnson shares four great tips for any creative director, explaining how to turn your clients on to a more considered design process.

01. Be upfront about it

"Many clients are new to a branding process as deep as ours," Johnson admits. "We're open about the way we work. If someone goes: 'Oh no, we can't handle that,' they simply won't give us the job. And if they just want a paint job, we won't get it either.

"We tend to get projects where it's not clear what the issue is," he adds. "There are all sorts of strategic problems. The first half is more akin to management consultancy than traditional graphic design."

02. Explain why it pays to get it right

"Doing a great bit of work that started in the wrong place is an awful place to be," reflects Johnson. "The reason we spend between four months and a year – a year and a half recently! – on the first half of a project is because it's so important. Without that bedrock, you go forwards in the wrong way. Everything gets messy."

03. Get your design time blocked in

"Some places try to do stuff in three days, where we'd insist on four weeks," says Johnson. "You might have a brilliant idea in three days, but you can't then edit it, change it, come back a week later and go: 'Actually, that wasn't very good – we could do better.'

"Most of our clients are more akin to project managers than creatives. They just want to know the key stages," he continues. "As long as we protect those – two months for this, two months for that – generally speaking things are fine."

04. Work with the right people

"People who want something in eight weeks, not eight months, generally don't come to johnson banks. You can't have insight, strategy, verbal, naming, design and implementation in eight weeks," says Johnson. "If we explain our process, and give examples – our impact stats are pretty significant – and they think, 'Eight months? No way!' then fair enough. But often people appreciate you taking the time to explain it, and think they'll get something great."

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 258; buy it here!

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Nick Carson

Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.