Trust Me: Column for Australian Infront
There’s one thing you can never have too much of in the design process. Sometimes there can be ‘too many cooks‘ — by that I mean there are too many designers, too many people all chipping in.
Sometimes there can even be too much creative freedom — if there’s two words I can’t stand at the beginning of the creative process, they’re ‘Open Brief’. Do whatever I want? WHAT! Tell me the constraints, draw a neat little box and I’ll find an imaginative way to get out of it — that’s how I work best. When you start thinking about it, almost everything can be ‘too much’ when taken to the n’th degree.
One thing I’d nominate that can never be in over-supply is Trust. Trust makes the world go round, even more so than money. When I show up for work for 4 weeks, I’m trusting the boss will deposit that stack of bills they owe me for my time. My wife trusts me to be kind and loyal, my cat trusts me to feed her (that reminds me…).
Beautiful things can happen when a client trusts their designers — and I’m not simply talking about being certain that PDF will arrive before 4pm or all the typo’s will be cleaned up. Real trust is when a client knows their design team are really trying to solve their problems, have the resources tools and experience necessary for the task, and no matter how challenging the idea that comes back may at first seem, they trust the team enough to hear them out, to think it through and give them the benefit of the doubt when something seems risky.
I’ve been thinking about trust a lot lately. In the last 2 weeks I’ve heard this saying three times in completely separate contexts; “No one get’s fired for hiring #####”. This finds us back at the beginning of the process, when clients choose their design company — a situation I’ve previously written about for Australian Infront.
Clients are not just buying a folio, or a name — they’re chiefly buying a relationship with a team of professionals they trust to get the job done. A studio or agency’s folio, track record and client list all contribute to this perception — but it’s purely the groundwork. The team from agency side who walk into the room and give their pitch need to finish off the job — some studios have been building their brand for 50 years or more, and that critical last 2 hours is crunch time. But here’s the rub — what if each team of people are broadly similar? Smiling, helpful, smart and articulate — any agency or studio rolls out their A-Team to reel in a new client.
At this stage the reputation and track record comes back into play — it helped them get in the room, but now seeing as the options all seem credible, that reputation comes back into play. The marketer in charge of selecting the agency has a responsibility on their shoulders. What if it all goes tits up? Who can I choose that would put me in the clear even if it all turns out to be a disaster, this is called risk management — it’s also called covering your arse. A few friends of mine work for these sorts of storied agencies, and I’ll admit I’m a little jealous sometimes of the advantages they get in winning the big clients (but only when they’re big clients worth having!).
Next, trust is crucial during the design process itself, and I’d like to share a particularly excruciating piece of my own experience to illustrate. A few years back, a rather large state government branding project I worked on — one of those big clients not worth having — had a very fractious and, frankly, dysfunctional approach to decision making. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, had to go past the minister responsible for approval — the client contact we worked with mostly on a day to day level, was completely disempowered to make any of his own decisions.
It didn’t stop there — to make matters worse there was another layer between my contact and the decision maker, consisting of the heads and 2iC’s of various departmental factions. They were, quite simply, at war with each other, and the branding work I was involved with was their current battleground. Basically, no one trusted each other, so every decision, no matter how tiny and inconsequential, had to be put past the entire cast of characters, and then the supremo minister had to have his say. It was a brutal, hellish job, when it didn’t need to be — simply because the people involved on the client side didn’t trust each other.
The last place I see trust at work is in the studio itself, between designers themselves. Having bounced around freelancing these past few years, I became quite savvy about how I entered a new studio or agency, ensuring I started with a level of trust and respect, and then built on it. I don’t work well in handcuffs, and I also lose my patience easily when having to explain every little thing to colleagues who can’t keep up with me.
Unfortunately, whilst I’ve done a reasonably good job showing the different places where trust aids design, I’ve got no idea how to pass on to you how to be more trustworthy — indeed I’d imagine trying to be more trustworthy is a sure fire way to come across as untrustworthy. Sometimes it’s a tone of voice, a certainty in the way you express yourself that communicates you have half a clue what you’re doing. Sometimes actually having the confidence to admit you’re unsure you’ve figured something out actually increases someone’s perception of your trustworthiness. Whereas trying to hide your mistakes is a great way to obliterate trust, same with sharing confidential information or lying, for instance. Actually, I just realized I could probably write an entire post on how to lose trust — that I have endless real world examples to share.
Image Credit: Tracey Emin, Trust MeNeon light, 9 x 32 inches (approx.)