As I wrote in my last (which was also my first) blog post, “Working with an illustrator, layout artist, designer, graphics specialist, or whatever can be a lot of fun.” Actually, I should have written “… should be a lot of fun” rather than “… can be a lot of fun.” After all, this is art, and art is fun, right? Remember art class in grade school? Pure joy! Endless fun!
But now we’re all presumably grown up and sometimes – too often – the fun never begins when it comes to working with an artist. Looking at my 25 years as a graphic designer/illustrator/artist, I can see plenty of reasons why the relationship between an artist and a client can have problems. Generally speaking, there are two symptoms of a problem. One, the client is not happy with the work. Two, the artist feels as if she or he is always at odds with the client, and just can’t seem to deliver the results the client wants. In the end, the product is off target, there is a lot of grumbling and every step on every project is pure pain. For both sides.
Sometimes the cause is rooted in differing personalities. Other times the unhappiness comes from work styles that aren’t working together. Of course, these would not be insurmountable obstacles if the end product was outstanding. In that regard, it’s like a hockey team. All the players may dislike one another, but somehow if they win the Stanley Cup, no one cares much about having been at odds with one another all season.
But what if the end product isn’t outstanding? What if the artist thinks it’s awful and the client thinks it missed the mark? What’s the problem?
I have to be honest here: with the vast majority of my clients and on nearly all projects, I don’t have a ton of experience with dysfunctional work/creative relationships. But I have had some that didn’t work, and believe me, just a few of these leaves a dent. So, what’s the problem? How do we fix this?
I’ve found over the years that this usually comes down to a lack of communication. And that’s understandable, because everyone communicates differently. One person’s “clear explanation” can be another person’s “clear as mud” suggestion. Just about every time I found myself out of sync with a client the basic problem was we weren’t communicating effectively. He or she thought the goals were very obvious, and I thought I understood what we were trying to achieve, but in reality, we were aiming for different targets. That just leads to a client unhappy with the first couple of stabs at the project, and that unhappiness (yes, we artists are usually VERY sensitive when it comes to clients being unhappy with our work!) leads to more pressure on the artist, which leads to a reduction in creativity, which leads to lower quality in the next round of work, which leads to more unhappiness on the part of the client … and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on.
How do we both avoid this vicious circle of off target work, unhappiness and stress? We talk. We talk it through, maybe talk it to death. We do that so I understand, for example, what you really mean by “bright and colorful,” because to me that may have a much more “bright and colorful” connotation than it does to you. It really is about communication in the context of a relationship, and that’s the key. The better the communication, the better the relationship and the better the finished products.
So I do my best to really “talk it through” with my clients, and in some cases, they may think it’s a pain, but trust me, it’s just a way of making sure we understand what YOUR goals are, so I can hit them. And remember, once we’ve worked together on a few projects and we’ve made a conscious effort to communicate well, it won’t take as long on future projects, just because we’ve built that good working relationship.
OK, before I close out this post, I have to cite one of my favorite, funny quotes:
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” - George Bernard Shaw