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The things you learn from your clients

‘Tis is the start of the season for giving, and that has had me thinking about all the knowledge my clients have passed on to me whilst I’ve worked with them and their businesses.

I’ve found myself continually thinking back to important moments, conversations, or turning points with specific clients who have shaped, inspired and ultimately improved the work I produce for them. More than ever, I find myself sharing stories with my peers about what I’ve learned from the very best clients I have the privilege of working for. Things that I couldn't have learned any other way.

This blog is for you dear client and the lessons I’ve learned. From YOU!

Clients know their business better than I do.

It may seem obvious, but some designers sometimes believe otherwise. As much as I rely on background and design research, great clients continually demonstrate their deep intuition about what will work and what won’t work—what will yield the most meaningful material and how it must be sold to the world. When a client idea strikes me as odd or unexpected, I remind myself of how often I’ve seen unexpected ideas yield design work that resonate far beyond what I expected. Our pals at Rogue Raw for example, they knew what they were producing and encouraging was a raw lifestyle for pets, a culture, and so we said, well ok! And we branded them as such.

My expertise matters, but only if I make it useful.

My expertise only matters if it is uniquely useful to my clients, which is never easy when design needs, projects, and problems evolve so quickly. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. KNOW. YOUR. CLIENT. I’ve recently been upskilling myself and doing some really cool stuff for Mitchpine. They took me on a road trip where I learned all sorts of fascinating nuggets about the forestry industry, and what Mitchpine can do in support. I learned that forestry has multiple problems (forestry wastage - up to 14% of the tree is left on the ground creating slash fields).  On my field trip to Kohitere Forest I watched demonstrations on how they do things, with the right machinery and what challenges the forestry block owners and staff face on a daily basis. It was such a great little trip into the forest. Fresh air in the lungs, clear space in the head and tactile sensitivity in the fingertips. It’s so important to get out there. Know your client and understand what they do. I now have enough of an understanding to create some marketing on how Mitchpine can be part of the solution. Once you do understand your client, things click and the designs follow. Top Tip.

Want to know more? Check out what they are up to on their website

Be there when I’m needed, be gone when I’m not.

Sure, my clients love responsiveness, high touch service, and they value a personal relationship that makes working together rewarding and fun. But they also have jobs to do, careers to build, teams to manage, organisations to navigate. Even if the creative I’m doing is central to their work, I’m not needed or wanted at every turn. Sometimes I can help them most by staying out of the way. I feel satisfied when I have laid the foundation for their success; and then it’s back to my desk to get ready for the next round.

Meetings matter, but only when they’re necessary.

Designers like me spend a lot of time “doing” which requires long stretches of uninterrupted time to get work done. Meetings can interrupt the design flow and sometimes feel like a burden. Schedule meetings and invite me but only when I can add value please, like at the very beginning of a project. I can’t stress how important it is for me to be there at the beginning of a project. This allows the client and designer to both scope the project with a wide lens from the outset, before narrowing things down. It means nobody is double guessing. In fact, it means nobody is guessing at all. I don’t do guessing. I let the client learn as I learn. That way, we all learn. 

Sharing information helps everyone.

Perhaps the most common characteristic among clients I admire is when they generously share information—about them and their own organisation and about the work I’m producing and why I’m doing it. It’s all about how I meet their needs. The information provides crucial insights for me to do my best work, and it helps me to improve for the next project. It inspires openness on my end, too, so that I communicate clearly and consistently about what I’m doing and how. For example, my client Sally Duxfield; by creating her beautiful books, designing her newsletters and articles, creating digital brochures and yarning away to Sally, I have learnt about the chemicals in our brains and what they do for us. How we should set up ourselves for a productive day. How to prioritise and manage ourselves thanks to her excellent IMPACT-4Q model. Just the other day I learned that our brains are like a filing room, where all our memories get stored, what each sense was doing at the time of that memory. Fascinating.

Want to know more? Check out her books, programmes and all-round treasure chest at her website

My advice to myself (and you dear reader) is... Never stop learning.

This year alone, I’ve learnt about: 

  • Communication styles.

  • What the Public Service Commission does and why, and for who.

  • The wonderful things there are to do in Auckland for children.

  • How a log gets split for maximum usage.

  • What you are entitled to when going through the family court system.

  • What the local economic development agency can offer businesses in our district.

  • All about vine health in a vineyard including how my favourite Pinot Gris starts off as a tiny, fuzzy little bud.

  • Biomass is the key to less slash in a slash field.

  • And naturally... how to create art for sniffing (?!?) 

Keep learning people. See you next month.