08 November 2006
Colin Wood
Colin Wood

Who are the clients? What do they sell? Who do they sell to? Where do they do it, and how do we reach the customers?

These are the basic questions that would be asked at any early briefing meeting. Although many hours could be spent answering these questions, they aren't much fun and you won't give you the sort of detailed picture you need to do a good job. Moreover, you may not have your proposal accepted and you will have to do the conceptual work all over again. Very boring. And just think of the extra studio time you will need.

There are far more interesting questions you could and should ask.

First of all there is the mother of all questions: who's in charge and who pays the bill?
Even if you think they are of unsound mind and in need of serious rehabilitation, you will probably want to pay some attention to their suggestions, wants and desires.

So much for the chief, now for the indians.

Who do they think they are? What is their self-image? What is their motivation?
Sometimes you get lucky and have to deal with just one person. Oh, bliss!

On the other hand, fate might come and bite you on the bum with an incongruous group of yuppies.
It may become clear that these people would rather suck radium than agree with another group member's idea. The game, you see, is not to get a design solution, it is to win. The prize is not an increase in sales; it is an increase in status, salary, car parking space and that all-important corner office.
Be careful not to get distracted and start asking questions like 'How do you see the campaign structure?' Or worse, 'Is this what you wanted?'

Under no circumstances ask whether they like your work. The answer will always be qualified and you will open the floodgates of intrusive (and loaded) opinion. The answer will be from another planet.

You could try your hand at a spot of brinkmanship yourself and suggest that you are quite prepared to incorporate their suggestions (because they will improve the job so much!). You then thank them so much for taking such a brave decision given that this will take you past the drop deadline. You are sure that the chief will understand given that this island of an idea is so good. Yes, brave it is.

You must regard the briefing meeting at the client's office as gladiators regarded their pre-event instructions or adventurers on safari regard their guide's friendly advice on how not to get eaten. There are no heats; only finals.

The difference between art direction/design and sport is that, in sport, you have rules, a coach, umpires or referees, a clock with no elasticity, and only two sides are playing.
There are many intangibles with creative pursuits. From a designer's point of view almost the whole thing is as solid as fog. What makes matters worse, designers without exception have a mind's eye. They can all picture what it will look like, even down to shades of a colour and the hint of a smile. Whereas the client may be tone deaf and have to read large print books.

What is nice in high level sport is that the judges are invariably past competitors. They know the objectives intimately, can empathise with the competitors' problems and understand what it takes to make the grade. They may even care about the pain and suffering. Now there's a thing.
You may think that this is a little cynical, and you would be right. Not all client relationships are like this and I have known some that are made in heaven. What I have learned is that if a job is painful, tedious and boring to put together, it shows. If the creation is hard because you don't understand then ... well, you don't understand.
It's all in the mind, you know.

About this article

The above article is reprinted from Design Graphics, with permission.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood founded Design World magazine in 1983 and it became one of the world's largest selling generalist design magazines. He published it for 12 years in all. From 1990 to 1993 he published a large format generalist magazine for Australia (only) entitled Design Ink. In 1993 this was relaunched internationally as Design Graphics. He also publishes the annual Art & Design Education Resource Guide for Australia and New Zealand, now in its 17th year. Next year sees the publication of the second Oz Graphix, an annual showcase of the best graphic design from top Australian studios.

Design Graphics
Design Graphics is a magazine devoted to all aspects of digital publishing. It covers a wide range of related subjects from high end printing, through new media all the way to the web. Each issue contains inspirational work by top professionals, tips and techniques in the Studio Skills articles, feature articles, technology updates, information on the latest hardware and software, reviews, hardware comparisons and much more! Design Graphics has a loyal and enthusiastic readership, most of whom are professionally engaged in design, communication, publishing or related activities.