Our sixth podcast is below, where we delve into the relationships For The People has with it's clients and the way that overcommittment and overpromising starts to crowd the capacity to get work done. It also details the various ways in which the cofounders are trying to experiement with the traditional model of client managers, and being a product oriented business, rather than a service business.
Click here to watch Damian Borchok's talk from Vivid Festival 2015.
In The Driver's Seat
Words by Mat Groom and Liv King
––– We do a lot different here at For the People – but two things seem to surprise people the most.
The first: we’re fundamentally, fiercely opposed to doing timesheets. It’s the kind of aversion that can only come borne of having to account for your actions in 15 minute increments over several years. The second? We don’t have client managers.
You’re shocked, of course. Probably because of that common misconception that designers aren’t always articulate or personable beings.
But contrary to popular belief… we actually are! In fact, we happen to have a an amazing team of very smart creative people (see Google Bible) who are more than happy to converse with those other humans called clients.
So for us, having client managers seems a bit counter-intuitive. We all speak the same language, after all.
Let us show you what we mean, with a fun game of spot the difference for those playing at home:
Client manager to client: “Here are the PDFs of the revisions. We’ve added a drop shadow to the unicorns and added extra glitter effect to the lettering."
Designer to client. “Here are the PDFs with the revisions. We’ve added a drop shadow to the unicorns and added a glitter effect to the lettering. Yasssss."
Yes, you win. There’s no (meaningful) difference.
"But the reality is,
we have to be fair on ourselves..."
It can be tough for clients to wrap their heads around sometimes. When I have to email a client to say “Jason won’t be able to make the voice call because he is drowning in emails and missed this one”, I’ll often get assumed to be a client manager. So much so that when I send them through my work, they’ll respond with “Oh, you're the designer as well?”
But once they realise thats the dynamic, it actually works quite well.
The hardest negotiation is when clients become friends, ask for favours, and you still need to say no.
It happens more than you’d think. Because we have very few formal processes, everyone starts off very relaxed and friendly – but when hard deadlines arise on their ends, and push comes to shove, it can start to feel like they’re asking for favours rather than commissioning work.
Client managers know how to say ‘no’, but designers are often a little too generous with what they do, and sometimes undervalue their work. This means it can be very easy to just say, "Yeah, we can try and fit that in, I can do an extra hour."
The reality is, though, we have to be fair on ourselves, and know when to say ‘no’… even though it’s hard.
So, it’s not always easy. I would be lying if I didn’t say I’m guilty of dreading awkward phone calls where I accidentally drop an unprofessional ’sweet az’ mid-conversation, or (even worse!) a generically Gen-Y ‘awesome’.
But thankfully I’ve also learned that a phone call is actually the quickest way to hear honest, real-time feedback. It’s also surprising how a quick chat between designer and client can help to clarify direction and any potential problems – 1,000 times faster than having to go through separate channels.
It’s not that we have anything against client managers themselves… we just like talking to clients. And from what we’ve experienced so far… they like talking to us.