Common design mishap – beware of “relative” design

By Lily Robles

Relative Design is not about hierarchy or scale. What I term “relative” design, is actually the reason and impetus for clients to come to Opus looking for a redesign of something that has already been completed. Sometimes the request comes right away, sometimes it takes a year.

“We had our VP’s daughter who graduated from design school do our logo.”

I have to smile when I hear people say things like this. First, because it’s new business and we are always grateful for new work. But also, because I understand what they’ve been through. I know that they will have a much better experience now that they are seeking new, non-relative designers.

“It’s nice to keep work in the family. It’s nice to reward a friend and give them an opportunity. It’s better than a stranger because we don’t know if we can trust them.”

This is all nice, but most of the time, it doesn’t work for exactly these reasons. Design is a professional service and when we think of design as a “favor” for a friend we don’t give it the time and objective consideration required. It starts out friendly and wonderful, but can often become awkward to the point where one or both parties just want it to be over.

For “relative design” to work, the communication has to be open and explicit. To the client, don’t be afraid to tell the designer if it doesn’t work for you and your business.  If they are recent graduates, or don’t have much experience, you actually need to spend more time helping them understand your needs. Give them as much information as if they are, indeed, a stranger. Hearing you talk about your business, your customers, and your needs, will help them deliver. To the designer, be clear about what you need to do the best job possible and estimate how much of your time you think it will take. Don’t be shy about asking for their time to discuss the design, listen and ask questions. Don’t create opportunities to shortcut the process because you think it might be inconvenience them. What’s more inconvenient (and more costly) is if they don’t participate and end up with something that doesn’t work or fit their needs.

These are the common mishaps, but I do think this type of arrangement can work if both client and designer can be clear about intentions and process. If you have hired a “relative” or if you’ve been hired as a favor, please share any advice you can offer!

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