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Yes. But why?

03 May 2016 by Brian Slade

Yes, but why?

Clients ostensibly hire creative agencies to produce creative solutions.

You think?

We prefer to believe that they hire us for effective creative solutions. And effectiveness is what gets us going. It powers up our brains, focuses our minds and provides purpose for our cerebral wanderings.

However, both in our internal project progress reviews and when clients give us feedback, inevitably a strong element of subjectivity sneaks in.

With any project, once we’ve gone through our internal creative process and filters, powered through those stretch creative visuals and presented sketched ideas or well-honed creative concepts, most clients come back with some version of . . .  ‘can you move this?’, ‘change that’ and (obviously) ‘make the logo bigger’.

Faced with this, I’ve learnt that both creativity – and effectiveness - can be really enhanced with a simple question: after a slight pause I’ve found. “Yes… but why?” really helpful.

I like to say “Yes” because it’s simply a client-focused view. It acknowledges their role and reinforces our service ethic. I’ve always appreciated that we are commercial artists, not bohemian artisans living on the beach with delusions of grandeur. Our salaries, after all, come from clients asking for these changes, right? “Yes” helps build empathy and understanding, allowing us to remain both informed and professional.

“Yes”, is also an exercise in remaining open minded. And when we’re open minded we’re more likely to see opportunities. After all, just because we’ve done it that way doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly stupid for some reason that we’re not fully equipped to see. The client is a key part of the team. They know their environment, product or service infinitely better than we can ever do.

Passion and belief in our work is great, but sometimes we can all be guilty of a touch of pride, so I try to apply a little perspective here and respect each individual’s view and consider its merit. The client’s request can often be implemented easily enough. It’s not too hard to move something, change a colour or even make the logo bigger . . .

So “Yes, but why?”   

What’s behind the “why?” Fundamental to being an effective designer is ownership and understanding. If it’s not obvious and I don’t ask, I’ll never be in a position to understand what the client is thinking.  It’s simply part of being clear about what we’re all doing. If we’ve done our job well internally we will have explained the solution and how it directly solves the client’s problems as understood and expressed in the brief. Staying calm, taking ownership and being positive usually helps here – as does not taking it personally!

Leading the creative is our job. If, as designers, we abdicate decision-making and responsibility, we’re never going to get the best creative outcome for our client. Designing is, in part, being inquisitive, actively engaged and problem solving. It’s impossible to solve problems if you don’t have enough input or knowledge. So by asking “why?”, we leverage views and thoughts that we can then work with to make informed decisions and lead effectively.

Finally, there are efficiencies and budgets we all need to consider. By asking “but why?” we can collectively make a call on any scope change or debate whether the change enhances or dilutes the effectiveness or the integrity of the creative.  

Clients and agencies enjoy a relationship that, in the best circumstances, creates a positive and focused tension that can result in awesome and effective results. Designer, Sabo Tercero, put it like this, “We are all designers, the difference is that only a few of us do it full time.”  

Making the tension healthy and constructive relies on understanding where people are coming from so we can work together, always looking for that win/win to get the most effective creative outcome for everyone.


Brian Slade
Creative Director

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