Hey, Give Em’ What They Want

I start every project hoping that I can create something smart, beautiful and unexpected. I want to do the best possible work for each of my clients. I want people to say, “Wow, I never thought of doing that, but it totally works!”

But clients don’t always want to push the envelope. Sometimes, they want familiar and safe. They want something that looks like what everyone else is doing. They prefer direct and a little “boring” over something unconventional and more nuanced.

These are times when I have to let go of what I want and just Give Em’ What They Want.

This is frustrating, but I can’t blame clients. They’re not trying to build a design portfolio like I am, so why should they care about breaking conventions? I’d like to think that more interesting design solutions get more attention and result in better associations with the brand, but is that really true? Taste is such a subjective thing. What might strike me as contrived or conservative might pull on the heart strings of a non-designer in my client’s audience. I can’t assume that my recommendations will appeal to everyone.

This is the greatest conundrum of being a designer, or more accurately in this case, a commercial artist. People hire me because of my visual sensibilities, but their business goals and personal taste always have the final say. Even though I understand the idiosyncrasies of preference, it can feel like a disservice to my clients when I enable less-than-stellar work. Shouldn’t I push both of us to do better?

Yes and no. It’s important to present work that I’m happy with. For example, if the brief is to create a book cover using a specific set of images that don’t resonate with me, then I’ll show a few options with those images and another option with imagery that I like better. The client may still choose the version that he or she asked for, but at least I’ve tried presenting something stronger.

If, after that first presentation, the client is still making a beeline towards their gut instinct, then I let go. It’s not worth trying to force my sensibilities on someone who doesn’t want them. Cue “Give Em What They Want” at top volume. There’s no guilt about not doing my best if the client doesn’t think my best is what’s best.

In design, art and commerce are in constant push and pull. My favorite projects make you forget what you’re selling because they just make you feel. But this harmony of beauty and function doesn’t work in every case. Sometimes a good project is doing a simple, predictable thing well and then moving on. Hopefully it’s done quickly and painlessly.