“Is this a non-negotiable feedback?”
You’ve been there before. The client sends you a list of “feedbacks” he wants to see incorporated — ranging from layout adjustments, colour tweaks, swapping images, delaying transitions, and some very specific requests such as adding brightness to the transitions, or changing the font size to 90 points (“because 90 points on my Microsoft Powerpoint looked good”), or replacing some headlines with a handwriting font from dafont.com (“because it is catchy and nice”).
What do you do? Especially when you have been doing this for 15 years and the client is an IIM MBA grad in his late 20s, who has climbed up the corporate ladder and has now become a brand manager being tasked to handle projects. He reports to a senior manager who reports to the group manager who reports to the CMO – who in fact, is your real client. He has to prove himself in the eyes of others.
(Note: I wanted to be gender-neutral, but he/she/they looks extremely cumbersome to read. I will use “he” to refer to the client. It could well be a “she” or a “they”.)
You’ve tried in the past explaining why certain design decisions were made. You’ve tried highlighting that videos should be reviewed as a whole – a single frame cannot be viewed in isolation because changes affect the narration that comes before and after. You’ve pointed out that his requests to make the fonts RED will make that section really weird in a book of 80 pages. You’ve said NO to the drop shadow on that CTA button. He hears you but interprets everything as intentional confrontations – because in his mind, he is the client, and you — the supplier who has to do his job. And the client is always right.
So he wants everything done as per his way. Non-negotiable. He keeps his feedback points as a checklist; if you don’t do 100%, you will get a stinker mail CC’ed to everyone implying that your team was careless for not incorporating all the necessary feedback.
You have a good relationship with the head of marketing. It’s just this one young guy in his team that you really dread working with. For the sake of the long term relationship, you put up with the brand manager and finish the job. You wish you can just go to his boss’s boss’s boss and blatantly declare that you will ostracise this dude and will refuse to take on anything he is managing, but that sounds really petty and politically wrong.
We’ve all been there before and I still don’t have any wise solutions. It has always been a dilemma.
A common suggestion is to hire juniors and servicing people to manage these problems. “He’s an entry-level brand manager – hire a servicing person as a messenger, take his feedback and pass it on to the junior designer. That’s the ideal scenario – the job gets done while he stays happy. And you? You are the boss! Why should you even be involved?”
But why should I turn my people into robots? Take the feedback and implement them according to a checklist. Do not question. Do not ask why. How will the juniors grow into critical thinkers and decision-makers? And what kind of message am I sending out, if I, as an employer, do not value their brains and their creative decisions; and instead force them to take design calls from a client based on his whims and fancies?
If the designers have it tough, think about the writers. It is too easy for clients to play English teachers – take out a red pen, circle words, underline sentences and put in a comment on Google Docs – “replace this line with xxxx”. You (writer) stare at it, and one part of you wants to debate the suggestions, and the other part of you wants to just click the “accept + resolve” button and move on with life.
There’s a brighter side to things though. Fortunately, as clients progress in their career, and grow into their role, they start letting go of these petty, micro tweaks and start paying more attention to bigger issues – the strategy, the effectiveness of channels, the user’s overall experience, the brand’s overall messaging, etc etc. Whether the headline is set in a cursive handwriting font, is no longer significant.
Maybe all this can be viewed as parenting? It’s like dealing with teenagers who yell at their parents for being unable to align with their visions and ambitions and crave attention and validation.
You’ve been there before. That teenager. Your parents must have told you all these stories about you always being at loggerheads with them. “But darling, it all turned out well no? It’s just a phase! Look at how close we are now?”
It’s just a phase. It will be over. Be patient.