Clients Aren’t Stupid

Project 52, Rants | February 1st, 2010

The first time I came across the Clients From Hell website I laughed and sympathised with the poor designers that had sent those quotes in. I’m not laughing now though.

Just an example

The website mentioned above is just an example of something we tend to do frequently: make the client sound stupid, like he or she will never understand the complexity of our work.

Oh, aren’t we clever?

No. We are not brighter than our clients. We are not more intelligent, like sometimes I’m led to believe if I listen to some conversations and to the constant moaning.

I was recently in a meeting with a client — a clever, intelligent person; he was asking us questions that we, as “people of the Web”, would have never considered. His questions reminded me of how much we take as common knowledge when talking to and designing to the general public.

This made me realise how sometimes we probably sound like obnoxious snobs, and how I should probably be even more careful than I already am when talking to someone that doesn’t work on the Web.

Lots of intelligent people just don’t understand the terms we use and are probably completely lost in some conversations and meetings. That won’t help us pass our points across.

Making an effort

But am I accusing the wrong side? Should clients simply make more of an effort to learn the jargon? After all, there is a learning curve for when someone starts working with a website. We all know too well that one of the biggest problems with the client/designer (I’m using this term very loosely here) relationship happens when the client has faulty expectations about the input that will be required from him or her during the process.

We too learn the jargon of others, out of necessity. Like when we go to the mechanic or something breaks around the house, and we have to talk to a technician, another professional. We understand that by having a car, we need to make the effort of knowing at least a little bit of how it works, so we don’t catch ourselves stranded in the middle of the night in a lonely road, helpless.

But that doesn’t mean I know what a mechanic is talking about when he’s going on and on about what’s wrong with my car. And I would probably be completely lost if I had to speak to a textile designer or an architect about their work. I just hope they explain it to me in a way I can understand and trust them to do their best work.

Respect

Sometimes people are just plain mean, or disrespectful. That is a completely different thing. Like in any other business, there are tough clients, tough people that we have to deal with. But not knowing that an online image is to be measured in pixels, shouldn’t make a client from Hell:

I need to know what size you need the graphics for the website. Is two? Maybe three inches good?

Or maybe we should make things clear in our terms of service and contracts:

“I thought your quote was for an unlimited time limit, I’m not finished with my changes and I don’t want to pay any extra!”

And, of course, sometimes people are just clueless:

I need to get moving, anyway you can do some work on this on your vacation. That’s a long vacation, I bet you’ll get bored anyway, and this is back-and-forth via email, not phone, so it shouldn’t cause you any stress.

Conclusion

I have no conclusion. I still haven’t found the secret to convey my work and my methods in a simple way. Even the words that sound the simpler to us strike me as sounding completely foreign during meetings (like JavaScript, HTML or CSS). But I’m sure as hell making a bigger effort of not being patronising, of putting myself on other people’s shoes, and trying to make things sound as clear as possible.

I feel most of the times, if we are facing a “client from Hell”, it’s our fault and we should do something to fix that.

And now I hope I don’t ever have to complain about a client again, or at least remember of not doing it in front of someone else. That would be most embarrassing.

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