From reader Rafael Baquero of San Pedro Zancatenco, Mexico:
I have enjoyed reading many articles in Before & After and have noticed that several of them describe the frustration some designers feel when dealing with clients. I am also a designer, but not a graphic designer; I am a software developer. As a software designer/ developer, I have been on both sides of the problem: a client to graphic designers and a provider of software design. Perhaps my experiences in software design will be useful to the readers of Before & After.
The traditional method of software design, known as the “Waterfall Model,” goes roughly like this:
1. Meet with your client to discuss their needs.
2. Draft a requirements document where the needs are placed in writing and agreed upon.
3. Develop the software.
4. Test the software to make sure it satisfies the requirements.
5. Deliver the product to the customer.
This is similar to the rules of design:
Rule #1: Listen.
Rule #2: Embrace the client’s vision.
Rule #3: Write it down. You and the client sign it.
Rule #4: Design that. Don’t design something else.
In my (and other software developers’) experience, this development model frequently fails. Why? Because both methodologies make a basic assumption that is not necessarily true: that the client can speak and that the designer can listen. What I mean is that our ability to express ourselves, and even our ability to think, is limited by the tools and language we have to express ourselves. Clients frequently have an intuitive feeling of what they want or need, but lack the linguistic and mental tools to clearly imagine and express what that need is. Designers, on the other hand, do not have a deep knowledge of the client’s business and therefore are unable to clearly understand the ideas expressed by clients.
A solution to this problem is to use an iterative approach. This is commonly used in software development. Meet with clients early in the design process and frequently during. Talk to them about your ideas, and get feedback from them. This will help both you and the client to establish a common language that will allow you to communicate efficiently.
In “Ode to the amateur logo,” the designer paid attention to what the client said but, in my opinion, did not understand what the client wanted to express. I am guessing that the designer and the client met only twice, initially in the first stage of the design process when the client explained what he or she needed, and at the end of the process when the logo was delivered.
The business name is “Open My World,” and a horse, very likely used as a main element in the therapy, appears in the initial sketch. The designer saw these main graphical elements and used them to design a clean and flexible logo. But look at the horse’s pose in the initial sketch and in the final logo:
The horse in the initial sketch is calm and relaxed, inviting. This is a horse I would love to put my children on. The horse in the final logo is tense, dynamic, ready to leap, almost a bronco. I would certainly not want my kids on that horse!
The “Open My World” name implies expanding horizons, exploring new possibilities. I believe this was expressed by the client in the initial sketch by showing the child sitting on the horse and looking calmly towards the earth globe. But the designer focused on the globe, not the reason behind the globe, and used it as a graphic element in the logo. The result, coupled with the color choice, is a cold, impersonal, business-centered feeling. When I see that blue circle, the first thing that comes to my mind is: “to this business I am not a person, I am an account.” This is enforced by changing the description from “Therapeutic Riding Center” to “Riding Therapy.”
In contrast to the process that I believe the designer followed in “Ode to the amateur logo” is the process John and his nephew Matt followed in “A card for a one-man business.” In the business card design, John tried to incorporate Matt’s ideas early on in the design process. The result was a professional-looking business card that satisfied both designer and client. Although I believe that John did not fully understand what Matt wanted to say, I am convinced that he very accurately “felt” what Matt wanted to express. What I mean by this is that John uses phrases like “bigger, more complex, more muscular” and “clean, masculine, well balanced” to describe the card. For several years I developed software for the oil-drilling industry, and as a result spent time on land-based and off-shore oil rigs. During those projects I had to deal with many “hard-nosed, heavy-machinery” type of guys. Due to the demands of their jobs, this type of person appreciates and seeks solid, strong, practical, no-nonsense tools that can deliver and withstand hostile and rough operating conditions. The result is a “performance first, aesthetics second” attitude. That is what the resulting card tells me.
It is solid, professional, and to the point. Exactly the traits you expect from someone used to handling heavy machinery. Masculinity and muscularity can be used to describe these features, but they are not the features themselves.
Well, this turned out to be longer than I anticipated, but I would like to add one last thing. Don’t be offended if your client asks you to explain your design. If your clients don’t seem to understand your design, try explaining it to them. Tell them what thoughts and ideas went through your mind during the design process. Try explaining the reasons behind your choices. Explaining a design is part of establishing a common language. By explaining your design, you may be pleasantly surprised by a “Oh! Now I understand!” reaction, or you may get more valuable feedback by a “Oh! I see, but what I want to express is . . .” comment.
I hope you find some of this useful, and please excuse any errors; English is not my native language.