Stop dissing your clients

Since I first read Don Norman’s classic The Design of Everyday Things, one particular takeaway has stuck with me ever since: if people fail to understand my design, the fault is mine, and mine alone. As the designer, I am responsible for conveying the meaning and intended use of the interfaces I put into the world.

Similarly, as a professional, I must assume full responsibility and take control of the process, in which I engage my clients, colleagues and stakeholders. Deferring responsibility, avoiding tough decisions, failing to take preemptive measures, and other acts of unprofessional conduct, all point to the signs of an amateur at play.

Perhaps you can understand why, then, I cannot come to terms with the fact, that we, as an industry, seem to accept the phenomenon of ridiculing our clients in public, albeit anonymously.

I saw a tweet from Frank Chimero, which completely sums up how I feel about this practice:

Please. We are design professionals. Imagine hiring someone to carry out a job, which you did not feel equipped to take on by yourself, only to find out later that your questions, requests and enquiries had been posted online, with the sole purpose of making fun of your apparent ignorance (completely ignoring the fact that said ignorance is what created the job in the first place). Wouldn’t sit right with me, even if there was no mention of my name, or anything else that could otherwise identify me or my company. So why should my clients feel any different?

Yes, I’ve had my share of professional relations gone south, and I can certainly relate to most of the scenarios described in many of these “silly client” stories.

Yes, I’ve been talking shit about a client or two, behind their back, to a coworker. I stress that last part — to a coworker. Everyone needs to ventilate frustrations every now and again, and it might very well be legitimate woes, but you should never take it to the streets, so to speak.

And yes, some people really aren’t very good at comprehending what it is that we do, or at least they don’t want to. But perhaps this shouldn’t define how we think about all of our clients? Perhaps it is simply because some (a few) people just don’t act like professionals at all?

Then, perhaps, the real issue is: Don’t work with amateurs. Don’t work with anyone who doesn’t respect you, your craft or your position as an equal partner in a professional relationship. Learn to gauge your client’s initial level of engagement, and if it doesn’t meet the standards you hold yourself to, disengage. It’s that simple.

I’m not saying you should just fire customers willy-nilly (bad idea if you’re in it for the long haul), and I’m definitely not advocating an elitist approach to how you conduct your business. However, No is such a powerful word, and I’m beginning to see how, when employed with good sense and respect, it can be truly liberating.

Don’t do work you can’t put your name behind; go hard or go home. Always seek to better yourself and the people you work with. Listen. Learn. Educate. Work to become a trusted ally, not a commodity, to your client’s business, and you will be rewarded with less hassle, fewer hiccups and more good work to ship. After all, isn’t that we all set out to do?

I absolutely love what I do. And I want the people I work for to feel the same way. That’s my responsibility, not theirs. Similarly, I love working within this industry of ours. We are at the very forefront of the times we live in, and people trust us to lead them into new ways of doing business. Coming off as a bunch of snotty hipsters will only stifle our collective progress, instead of moving us forward. We can do better. That is a common responsibility we all share as professionals.

Comments are open, ditto twitter.

Related reading
Stupid Is As Stupid Does — Andy Rutledge
Your Clients Are Not Stupid — Nathan Ford

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