We hear a lot of horror stories from clients who have partnered with agencies and had a bad experience. Misaligned expectations are often at the root of the problem. One partner will speak in language that he or she thinks is crystal-clear, but it lands more like a rain-soaked windshield for the person on the other end.
Think of it this way: Words like “corporate,” “clean,” or even “sexy” each have wildly different meanings to different people. Whoever hears those terms has a unique perspective, frame of reference, relationship to the speaker, and background that influences his or her perceptions.
Because of this, every relationship and project requires serious context and clarity. Everyone involved needs to know exactly what’s happening, what is expected, and what will be delivered. Getting on the same page with respect to the visual language we use is key to starting a project off on the right foot.
As a digital agency that keeps this truth in mind every step of the way, we know it’s not the client’s job to “speak design” — it’s ours.
We have to make this clear as immediately as we can. At Filament, we like to do this by using a 20-second gut test to start the creative discussion with clients. We show them 20 websites for 20 seconds each and ask them to score each from zero to five. Afterward, we pull the top five picks and the bottom five picks and discuss why they ranked the way they did.
This exercise gives clients visual examples to illustrate their opinions on site style in their own words. Even better, it’s a great way to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of deliverables so we can all move forward with confidence that we can craft amazing work.
Communication mitigates the risk of what some fondly refer to as a “lunch bag letdown.” There’s nothing worse than expecting a pretty solid meal in your lunchbox only to find a soggy tuna sandwich. We never want to be the reason you have an experience like that.
For this reason, we don’t talk at you. In fact, we did away with giving lecture-style presentations altogether. Instead, we open up a two-way discussion with clients that focuses on understanding the context of what they want. Clients are encouraged to provide feedback throughout the entire process to ensure their core goals for the design are met.
To do this, we use style tiles that let clients note their opinions on specific stylistic aspects without derailing the entire process. Good design is a combination of how the product looks, feels, and works, so this open feedback loop on a single aspect of what we define as design gets us closer to the bull’s-eye while minimizing the risk. This keeps everyone laser-focused on creating a great experience.
Unfortunately, not every agency follows practices that encourage early-and-often discussions and isolation of personal preferences, hence clients’ horror stories and their wariness to dive into another creative partnership.
Messy breakups make some people wary of getting back into relationships. Similarly, a rocky experience with a digital agency can make starting a new one seem like the last thing you want to do. But it can be worth it if you find an agency that understands why things go awry and has a process to mitigate those downturns to make sure they don’t happen.
Make sure your agency doesn’t lean too heavily on a rigid process. Too many aren’t willing to be flexible in order to accommodate what clients bring to the table. For instance, some clients are great at intense daylong meetings on a semi-monthly basis — a rigid process won’t accommodate that, but a fluid process can. Other clients don’t want to show the top brass anything until they feel like everything is perfect — a fluid process allows for flexibility in the event that the top brass has feedback on the deliverables that conflicts with what the working group has already agreed upon.
Instead, we diligently work to merge our creative talents with your wants and needs, ensuring we co-create the best possible end product a client could hope for. It’s central to our mission to bridge your opinions with our talents and deliver exactly what you want, making you part of it all the while.
Translating between business and creative isn’t easy, and miscommunication between the two areas is the biggest cause of bad design. We understand both worlds and keep everyone on the same page to avoid this downfall.
It’s important for clients to feel like they’re being heard. You only need to tell us something once before you’ll see it documented in the meeting minutes and implemented into the project blueprint.
We also operate with the knowledge that we are not the experts in your industry — you are. It’s our job to pull out what’s in your head and translate that into a compelling digital experience. In fact, we have a workshop called the Graphic Game Plan for exactly that purpose — it lets clients talk and subsequently lets us put what they say into action.
Business leaders don’t have time to constantly monitor employees as they do their jobs. They’re busy and likely have just a few hours a week to dedicate to any given project. The same principle applies to their digital agencies and makes it even more crucial for those agencies to deliver on projects without being watched at every step.
Long story short: There should never be a point in our process during which you feel like we’re going to disappear and create some magic behind the curtain — that opens up too much opportunity for misalignment between partners. It’s not our job to tell you what to do; it’s our job work with you at every stage to create the most brilliant work possible.
Best of all, we won’t require any babysitting while doing it.
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