In my first post as a member of Team Fogg, I thought I’d talk around a point of contention in the world of design. That is to say, in my experience, most clients tend to know what they want, but not many know what they need.
With each new client comes a new relationship to develop and a new business to understand, but not necessarily an unprecedented problem to solve. Our clients by their very nature as successful business people are understandably immersed in what they do. Some are focused to such an extent that they may feel the problems they face are unique to them, when in fact our first challenge with any client is usually the same; building the brief.
But shouldn’t the brief already exist? Is it not supplied by the client themselves? In theory, the answer is yes. A brief would ideally come ready with all the insight and data we need to allow us to deliver the very best solution possible. In reality the brief will quite often ask more questions than it answers.
Our very own James Brooke wrote a blog post in June of last year discussing the value of information gathered from the client – insight – as opposed to being guided by your gut feelings – instinct. Both insight and intuition are essential attributes if you work in branding, and the subject of striking the optimum balance between the two never fails to spark debate.
There are a few schools of thought on how best to obtain the information you need from the horse’s mouth. Many agencies use briefing workshops at the beginning of the process in an attempt to gather everything in advance and in person, to maximise their initial control over the project. Others tend to operate in a more fluid manner and will embrace new and influential information later in the process. After all, ‘control’ means different things to different people.
Different clients tend to present you with different types and amounts of information on day one. Some will hand you reams of paper for you to make sense of, while others may entrust you with a blank canvas. What is certain is that there is no certainty; there is no universal right or wrong way to learn about your client.
What we can do is ensure we approach each case with fresh eyes, offering keen observations by adopting a perspective the client perhaps hadn’t fully considered before. This is the first step in identifying the wants and prioritising theÂ needs.
I know of no greater sense of achievement than finding a solution to a problem that your client wasn’t aware they had. When you do this you’ve achieved two things; you’ve brought an issue to light before it’s even become a problem, and you’ve offered a solution before you were even asked to conceive one. You’re the prevention and the cure all rolled into one, and it feels good.
Waterfall vs Agile
While I have experienced success using client workshops to gather as much content at the start of a project as possible (particularly digital) I’ve also had the problem of having to make significant changes to the scope mid-project. It’s often the case that the more planning time you invest at the beginning, the more there is to lose later if the client’s needs should change. This can be costly, and it’s a cost that you often need to absorb as an agency.
With workshops the aim is to gather more initial insight to limit theseÂ unforeseen late changes to the scope; changes that can sometimes render the brief irrelevant – or even obsolete – and cause big headaches. At best,Â it leaves you with an outcome that could’ve been better. At worst, a client who is dissatisfied.
These problems are experienced by every agency working in ‘Waterfall’, which is 95% of us.