“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.”
Albeit cliche to begin with such a quote, this is a defining characteristic of mine in fashion and, more importantly, in my design work. For beginner designers and those jaded by the years of client demands, we can begin with rearranging this idea to be more directly applicable to graphic design:
Less is more.
Now, I have had my fair share of clients wanting a mountain to fit within the kitchen sink. That is to say, a million design elements without intent or direction. Of course, I have fallen to complying wholly with the client and therefore falling short of myself. This leaves a graphic designer with a portfolio item they don't feel comfortable with, and ultimately doesn't build something worthy of a career archive.
I mean, this is a sentiment that I completely relate to: I am the product of the American way of thinking of client needs being golden. (My first job was at McDonald's in high school--you know how customer service goes and pervasive it is in most American industries.) I have talked with colleagues, freelancers, and designers within my network who feel that they have fallen short of themselves in a client's design, favoring a checklist of trendy elements instead of intent. It's a burden of the type of work we do.
There are ways to deal with this. Everyone can offer up advice, and this is my personal way of dealing with a client who has a plethora of ideas they want to incorporate into the design. It is in no way the only correct methodology, and there are other ways that might be much better; a designer ultimately knows to adapt and change their system to fit a client's needs.
1. Smile! You have a client who wants to work with you, and probably for a good reason: you're awesome at what you do. Keep reminding yourself of that through the design process.
2. Communicate and Record Everything. I try to log all the details of our conversations, whether if it's on my computer, phone, or on paper. I then transcribe it all so I have a document full of notes to fall back on, and through the design process a client starts to subconsciously reveal the priorities in their design with the recurrence of themes or elements. I pay attention to words or themes that consistently come up, and start crossing out the initial themes they stopped mentioning. All of a sudden, that city skyline they were so insistent on in the logo is forgotten in favor of damn good typography that makes them proud of their company's name--which is ultimately more important than a disconnected trendy, graphic.
3. Show options. Let's say that a client has 5 opposing elements they want incorporated into a business card. They want:
- Their face on the business card
- Their favorite colors are red, black, teal, and orange.
- They want the design to be clean and unfussy.
- Their budget is small, so therefore all the text and design will be on one side.
- The inspiration examples they sent are pricey designs. Letterpress, laser cut--the works, and none bear resemblance to their notes.
I personally would not do all of the above together, especially with the space a business card allots; it wastes time because as a designer, you're a problem solver and starting with all those elements won't necessarily move you forward if you already know that the end result won't include all 5 elements. This is a hard equation to solve, so as with algebra, break it down into segments. I would create three distinct designs that incorporate 2-3 elements from the 5 listed above. When compared side by side, the client will start seeing which they prioritize, and by having 3 mockups available, it makes it easier for the process to move forward on at least one of them.
I almost never let them "see something else." It's a good way to create more work for yourself and indecision on the client's behalf (as well as mistrust of your capabilities as a confident designer). Value your work and say, "This is a starting point; we can make adjustments as we go."
Whether you're a freelancer or work for an agency, these are time and sanity saving ways to not only solve the conundrum of a client's needs, but also being able to edit a design to fit your viewpoint as a designer.