The client’s guide to commissioning creativity

I’m a client.

Not on purpose – it sort of happened accidentally. Took on a part-time job to earn extra cash while I was illustrating, and fell in love with the place – the British Heart Foundation. You would too, believe me.

Louise Kyme

Which makes an interesting clash of creative backgrounds. Going from a world of ideas and creativity, to a door with ‘do not interfere’ across it takes a while to get used to. And in the creative industry the client role is clear. Read any design blog – how often have you seen unpopular work get the ‘it must have been the client’ comment? I’m exaggerating a touch, but as a newcomer, that was my impression.

So once you officially become a ‘client’ (three turns anti-clockwise and your name signed in blood) you learn new ways to behave. You need to ‘not interfere with creative’ or ‘reference the brief in your feedback’ or give feedback ‘always considering your audience and objectives’. Then you get slicker at it. And it’s around about then you start figuring it out.

What you start realising is – screw the rules!

So here’s my random, not-quite-following-the-rule-book, guide to being a good client, and getting the best from your creative agency.

1. You’re human, they’re human. If you feel buzzing with excitement every time you see your agency in reception (the same way you feel when you see your best mate) then they’re the right agency for you. If not, don’t go there.

2. Do all agency roster meetings. (Google Jan Casey). Keep them fun, but competitive. Go to the pub afterwards.

3. And it’s OK if they take the mickey out of you in the pub. In fact, 
it’s probably good.

4. Find the right agency for your job – if their previous work doesn’t make you think wow, it doesn’t matter what and how you feed back, they will never be wow. This seems obvious, but we clients sometimes commission on a hope and a prayer.

5. Do not accept bad craftsmanship. (Good craftsmanship? Google Hat-Trick Design).

6. And don’t just accept the first one that calls you with a pushy sales line. Find the ones whose work you adore. (Read Design 

7. Once you’ve listened, and listened hard, then trust your own judgement. Designers always think they’re right, even when they’re not. You have more information to hand, more context – you know what you need more than they do.

8. If creative isn’t going well with an agency you know and trust, have a heart-to-heart. Figure out what’s really up. Be kind. Be honest.

9. Collaborate and treat the relationship as a partnership. That means the client valuing great design, but it also means design agencies engaging in the business and strategic needs of an organisation, rather than solely focusing on aesthetics.

10. But, most of all, realise what an amazing industry we’re in. What staggeringly smart, modest, nice, genius, mad and hardworking people we’re lucky enough to work alongside. It sounds corny, but we’re in this business to make the world a better place to live in, and that’s how important great design and design commissioning is.

Louise Kyme is brand & design manager at the British Heart Foundation.

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