Brief vs. expectations

waves_smallI’ve written on the subject of briefing a designer before, but the recent extreme example below that I’ve come across shows that it’s probably worth mentioning again…

“So, what exactly is a brief?” I hear some of you ask. Well, the simplest explanation is this: it’s the description that you give to a designer of what you want them to do for you.

If it’s a branding job, it’ll be an explanation of what you were imagining for your company image – even if it’s no more than the ‘feel’ – what you like, what you don’t want and what you hope your business to reflect through it. If it’s a print job, it’ll contain information about the number of pages, size/shape and intended audience, number of colours and content etc. For a website, you would expect to share your branding guidelines if you have them and any existing materials so that your website can reflect you and your business. You’ll also need to have thought of a list of the pages and their likely content and whether you want an online shop, booking form or other elements… That’s an outline brief and it will go on to form the basis of the contract that both parties (should) sign.

Beyond this list of specifications, there are lots of subjective opinions, expectations and other factors that require absolute clarity at the outset – for the protection of both the client and the designer. Most of us have been in positions where we have realised too late that what we thought we had asked someone to do for us is not actually what they thought we were asking. Usually, after a brief exchange, these things can be adjusted and everyone is back on the same wavelength.

Occasionally, people encounter customer service brick walls, leaving clients with a bad taste in their mouth and a reticence to go ‘through that again’. Even more disappointing is the fact that graphic and web designers seem to be embroiled in their fair share of these types of disputes.

In terms of the look and feel, we know that many people come to a designer and have no real idea what they want something to look like and they are expecting inspiration from a designer’s eye. After all, it’s a designer’s job to interpret the brief, right? That’s absolutely correct and a perfectly reasonable expectation. We love to be given that freedom and trust. After some discussion it’s usually easy to pin down what a client wants as long as they are honest in what they say they want and expect.

So, with this in mind, the website example I came across recently had me a little open-mouthed. The site was built but didn’t reflect the wishes of the client. A half-hearted attempt to put it right didn’t go any way to achieving that. The site was made live with ‘lorem ipsum’ (placeholder) text still visible; worse still, the actual text contained typos, grammatical errors and the like. The client had expected this to be corrected as part of the contract, although in fairness, it wasn’t specified. That said, it’s rare to come across a designer who resolutely won’t fix a typo that they can plainly see because they weren’t contracted to.

What’s (thankfully) even rarer is one who says that they won’t fix it without being paid a substantial premium and uses their contract as their only defence. The client believed that although it hadn’t been included in the contract, it was part of the overall service being offered as it had been discussed at meetings and the client was prepared to pay for the help. It sounds like client attempts to reconcile seemingly failed and in the end the designer started suing the client for breach of contract! The site was no longer live at this point.

Two questions spring to mind:

  • Why on earth did the designer think it ok to make a site go live knowing there were so many errors that would damage the client’s reputation? We would expect someone to go back to the client and at least explain that there was need for work, but that it wasn’t included in the contract so there would be an additional charge of X.
  • Who in their right mind would spend money on unnecessary legal fees to pursue a claim for such a smaller amount than the likely fees, especially when their own reputation is at stake? People talk to each other – and upset people can harm any business…

So, the morals of the story are:

Read your contract thoroughly and don’t expect something to be included if it’s not mentioned, even if you have had a discussion about it and thought you had been understood. Ask for anything missing to be quoted for/included before work starts

  • Don’t be afraid to ask ALL the things that come to your mind at the time, however silly they may sound. We love questions before a contract is signed. It shows a client has read it and wants to have a two-way partnership with us, with no nasty surprises. If your designer belittles you for asking those questions, you need to consider whether you should quit while you’re ahead and look for someone else. If they’re defensive now, what will they be like if you don’t like what they’ve done?
  • It’s ok not to like something (but also helpful to a designer if you explain what isn’t working for you)
  • Only sign off on a job and pay the final instalment when you are completely happy with everything about it. Final payment and/or signature constitutes acceptance of the work

If you have a situation that you’d like a new perspective on, please feel free to give us a call for our (free) evaluation and guidance on what you could do about it.


Also published on Medium.

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