Pandering is defined as to “Gratify or indulge (an immoral or distasteful desire, need, or habit or a person with such a desire, etc.)“. As a design professional, pandering to clients is actually a disservice to them.
Sometimes you may come across a project where after a through discovery process and design sessions, you present a design solution to the client and eventually end up changing and tweaking the design as per the client’s subjective suggestions.
Other times you may come across a project where the client believes they know exactly what they want and just require some one with design software skills.
While these may not sound like big issues, this article explores this scenario from both the client’s and the designer’s perspective and the results. By pandering to the client, you actually do them and their business a disservice.
The Designer’s Perspective
As a design professional, you spend months and years learning design skills, brand processes and creative thinking that has an effect on the client’s business success. With experience, you start to understand the dynamics of how target markets react and respond to branding and design elements – both positive and negative. You start to care about the client’s business and realize that the designs you create could and would have an impact on the client’s bottom line.
You start to realize that by not creating the right kind of brand strategy or design elements, there could be serious opportunity costs to your client’s business. This is almost like the periodontal disease that you see in pet dogs due to plaque build up. The condition does not manifest instantly and you do not see the effects on the pet right away. The disease pesters and builds up and starts effecting the pets organs and over health by lowering the animal’s immune system.
Design that is not right for a company, works exactly the same way.
Yes, there are scenarios that bad branding can have immediate and catastrophic consequences on a business. Here I am referring to design that looks good and clients pass it but is not necessarily right for that business or the target market. Like water under a mat, the negative effects are barely visible but eat away at the success of the business like plaque.
So, if you care about your client’s business success and believe that the branding you create could have a huge impact, you will ensure that the designs you create are not only aesthetic but also are appropriate for the company and communicate the right message to the target market.
As a design professional you face two challenges: educating yourself and ensuring you provide the best you can and convincing the client the merits of your design solutions and how they can help their business success.
For the first challenge, your continued education in design principles, brand strategies and current design trends and tons of practice are required to over come it. The second one though, is a different matter since, it is all too common for clients to dictate the way the design solution unfolds. Personal preferences, likes and dislikes and prejudices heavily influence your client’s attitude towards the design solution they would embrace.
So after your through discovery process and brainstorming, if you believe that a design solution is right for your client, it is your job to convince the client of this fact. If the client however has other ideas or does not like the solution purely based on personal preferences, then they would invite you to pander to them. Not because they do not want a good end result or not because they do not care about their business BUT precisely because they care about their business and have a huge stake in it’s success.
The normal reaction of design professionals in such a situation to accept the invitation to pander and start taking orders from the client – mush like a waiter in a restaurant – and start tweaking the design, because they do not want to upset the client and have friction in the project. Typically if a client invites you to pander and does not trust your expertise, then it is also conceivable that they may threaten to cancel the project if their pandering demands are not met.
In situations like this, it is your job as a design professional to inspire trust in your client to accept your design recommendations. Of course this does not happen over night. You have to abide some strict rules to build a level of professionalism and reputation that translates into trust. You must also hold your nerve and be ready to lose a client if you strongly believe that your design solution is right for the client and would benefit them or if the client’s suggestions would be detrimental to their brand.
If you believe that changes the client requests do not match what your expertise and your discovery process indicates, then do not be afraid to let the client know.
The Client’s Perspective
So, you understand the importance of design and branding to the success of your business. You seek out the best design professional that you can afford and engage them to help you with your branding endeavors. You know that, at least in the beginning states of your company or startup, everything rests on the impression your brand identity gives to your audience. You want the best design solution.
When you engage a design professional, you try to provide as much information as possible. You may have been thinking about your brand identity for quite some time before you came to the agency/designer. You perhaps have some strong views and ideas on how your brand should be – right down to even colors and fonts. You share them with the designer and most design professionals invite and encourage such input.
However, when the designer comes back to you with the design solution, it is very imperative to remain objective. You must try and understand what the designer is trying to accomplish. If it is not clear or the designer does not clarify this at the outset, you must ask for such clarifications. You must understand the storyline behind the design ideas. You must have a firm grasp on the messages that are being broadcasted by the designs.
Initially, it would be highly prudent not to like or dislike colors, design elements, fonts etc. Brand identity is more than just colors and fonts. It is all about the story your brand tells and the message it communicates.
Imagine you go to a dentist with a problem. Would you not trust their expertise and let them do their job. You may not like it or can not withstand the pain but you understand that they are doing what needs to be done – for your benefit. Would you tell them what to do? I know what you are thinking at this moment: I don’t know anything about dentistry but I do know a thing or two about design and aesthetics!
Believe me when I say that the average business owner’s knowledge or view of design and it’s impact on business success is quite rudimentary and sometimes quite misguided. Your may have a very heightened sense of personal taste when it comes to design. But when you are getting a brand identity or design created for your business, it is not really about your personal tastes but more about what your business needs and works for it.
If you have engaged a design professional – and you must seek out such a professional for your brand identity needs – then you must be willing to trust the professional to come up with a design solution that would benefit your business. If you give orders to the designer to carry out, you may be harming your business. If you do not like what you see, you must seek out clarification from the designer. Of course, if the designer is not able to sufficiently explain to you why the design is the way it is or if you strongly believe, objectively, that it does not match the vision you had for your brand then it is quite understandable to let your designer know this and to either request an alternative solution or even to seek out some one else who can deliver on your vision.