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Devin Silberfein: Working for killer clients

COO at Flash trailblazers 2Advanced suggests that you can't live with clients and you can't live without them.

To recycle (and modify) an old saying: clients, you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them. That is the nature of our industry. We all have internal, back-burner projects (apps?) that we’ll eventually finish and launch to wild reviews. We’ll sell them and retire young. Until then though, we spend most of our hours on client work. After all, clients afford us the opportunity to create things for the masses on a daily basis, while providing a level of variety that most of us need, else we’d go crazy.

In our 13 years and over 1,000 projects, 2Advanced has had some great clients and our fair share of challenging ones. In time, those challenges make us stronger and more capable. My eleventh grade English teacher wasn’t a big fan of my work, but I probably learned more from him challenging it than I did from any other teacher or professor. Here are the clients who, like Mr Pepe in high school, have taught me the most (albeit accidentally).
‘Here’s the thing, we need to launch in 30 days.’

We’ve seen new and return clients come to us with that three-month project and only a month to do it. It’d be suicide to take on their work, but we’ve all done it – often because it really was a cool project and we wanted to prove we could do it. And that’s exactly how this client has made our team better. By sheer will, the team pulls out a miracle and our confidence as a group rises. Suddenly the three-month projects are easy, if not boring. Additionally, when we put our process to a stress test like this, we learn what works and what doesn’t.

‘I have a background in design.’
Too many times I’ve had clients tell me about their background in design. I’m not sure if this is meant as a compassionate play (‘see, I’m just like you’) or a challenge (‘I know what I’m talking about, so you’ll have to try harder to ‘wow’ me’), but either way I see it as a warning sign. Regardless of the validity of their opinion, we end up defending our designs, and in time we’ll look at our work more critically to make sure it’s bulletproof. In doing so we find things to improve that we otherwise wouldn’t have even considered, that ultimately make for a better product and happier client.

‘Looks Fantastic! Just one more thing.’
We recently wrapped up a design project which easily set the record here at 2Advanced for ‘one more thing’ emails. Every time we delivered an updated comp, our client was ecstatic – loved it and graciously thanked us – but they just had one little change. Scope and budget issues aside, this was especially challenging as we teetered at the edge of completion almost indefinitely only to get sucked back in for ‘one more round’ of revisions. Adding to the frustration, we knew that each revision weakened the design incrementally. In the end though, this was a lesson in detachment and patience. We fight to do great work, but it’s our client’s name on the line and they know their needs and customers better than we do. Just remember to breathe; it’ll be okay.

‘Our office is still using IE8, so we need to target that.’
When I look at penetration rates for different browsers, I always wonder how many of those IE users are the clients of the world, under corporate lockdown. Without turning this into a browser debate, it still warrants some consideration when clients are myopically focused on what it looks like within their walls and not on their customers’ screens. A client on IE8 means nothing if the target audience mostly uses Chrome. If we must deal with older browser versions, we approach things from a standpoint of ‘progressive enhancement’ (a more glass-half-full version of ‘graceful degradation’). We will design for ideal situations and also create a mock-up showing how older versions will perform. Once we have buy-off on that, we have a lot of room to optimise for each browser. In the end, we’re on top of browser compatibility issues and we sleep well knowing that we provided the best possible experience for all users.

‘We can’t decide, so let’s combine elements of both designs.’
Its been statistically proven that if you produce two unique comps for a client, 78 per cent of the time, they’ll come back with an answer like this. I like to think of this as a good thing because it means two designers both hit the mark. It’s a more complicated situation in practice, though there is an upside to this. Much like the client above who challenges everything you put together, we end up looking at our work under a microscope, and it’s stronger in the long run because of it. With two designs each partially hitting the nail on the head, the new task is taking what’s right from each without creating franken-comp. This is a challenge, for sure, but any time we can rise above a challenge, we know we’re making ourselves better.

All of these lessons were learned with the gift of hindsight. At the time, expletives were muttered, drinks were had and computer mice were thrown, all to handle the frustrations. Remind me of that next time my mouse makes it to the other side of the room.