In the spirit of Valentines Day, let’s talk love hate relationships, with a heaping side of Humble Pie.
A love hate relationship: it's wild, thrilling and full of passion. But on the flipside, stressful and heart wrenching. I could use this to describe just about all of the most successful and memorable design projects I’ve done. How so, because these two feelings can only co-exist when the heart is “all in” so to speak.
Scientifically speaking, there is literally a fine line between love and hate. Some of the nervous circuits in your brain that are responsible for producing feelings of hatred are actually the same ones used to produce the feeling of love. And when you think about it, love and hate do share some similarities. Both are extreme emotions, and both can lead you to do irrational, heroic or even evil things.
So it makes perfect sense. This type of behavior isn’t just confined to an idea of romantic love. The most extreme emotions are triggered when the stakes are highest. When one of two parties reveals something of great significance to them (an idea, opinion, feeling, etc.) that the other was previously not aware of. There that something sits, revealed, lingering for acceptance or judgment. Things can either go really well or really bad at this moment.
Think about how many times you’ve been overcome with extreme emotions of love and hate toward a friend or colleague that you respect and admire in a situation like this. Or, dare I say it, a client.
Ah, yes. There you have it. Admit it, you’ve all been there. The stakes are high, you’ve just laid your heart and soul (i.e. the project that consumed you for just about every waking hour of the past week, month or year) before them. Do they swoon with excitement and exhilaration? Burst with gratitude and admiration? No. No, they most certainly do not. Someone always seems to have an opinion. A tweak. Or the worst— the “I’m not feeling it” look. It never seems to play out exactly the way you had pictured it. How ya feeling now? You’re crushed. You’re angry. You immediately begin fantasizing about the replacement client. The one that will appreciate you, and value your expertise.
But wait. Hold on. You can’t just up and play out some ridiculous fantasy of slapping them up side the head and exiting the conference room in some dramatic fashion. You have a history. You have a contract. You happen to like them. Now what?
Good news, all love is not lost. I have found this exact type of love hate relationship, with clients especially, to be one of the most valuable and rewarding of all. A long time ago (we won't say how long), when I was fresh and naive, I’d frequently make the mistake of walking out or quitting on the job/project. Until one day, I couldn’t afford to. The stakes were too high. The project was too big. It would be the crown jewel of my portfolio. The first “real project." The coveted annual report.
Oh, I was more than pissed with the feedback I received from the client on my concept. Fuming. How dare they, I mean what the hell do they know about type selection, whitespace and grids. Really. I bit my lip, held my tongue, and did something I hadn’t done all too often in my adolescence. I opened my mind, my ears, my heart. I listened. I really listened. And do you know that I was able to hear something I couldn’t hear before?
They weren’t telling me what to do. They weren’t pretending to be the experts. They were giving me the same courtesy. Just as I was putting it all on the line, showing them my best work. They were giving me their honest perspective. We were both submitting something to the other, that we previously did not know.
I learned at that moment a most valuable lesson. One that has served me very well both professionally and personally speaking. My job is not to sell my ideas to the client, but to be a communicator on their behalf. As a graphic designer I am more adequately equipped to accomplish this task. Yet the client is more adequately equipped to understand the audience. It’s not the job of any designer to do what the client tells them to do, it’s our job to meet their needs. (Read that again.)
That is the love-hate relationship that when mastered makes a graphic designer very good at what they do. That annual report was, and still is, one of my best pieces. The best work comes from true collaboration. And since that one very valuable exchange some time ago, when I discovered the art of listening – really listening – to client feedback, I’ve come to value that the project’s real success depends on it. Like it or not. Love it or Hate it.
Happy Valentine’s Day.