Getting clarity is tough. At times it’s quite a battle. Having to navigate the murky waters of the creative process riddled with dozens of opinions, personal preferences, and mis-information can cause your motivation and zeal toward the chance of creating something new to capsize under the lack of clear direction. There is little more discouraging than realizing all that could be done, yet having no clear direction as to which path to take.
Clarity is crucial. But can we realistically expect clients to know exactly what they want? If they knew exactly what they wanted, why wouldn’t they just make it themselves? I’m not saying designers have all the answers, but one thing we most definitely should be armed with is great questions. After all, it’s tough to find great answers when you’re not asking great questions. Figure out what you really need to know, then discover the answers together with the client. This is normal in many other fields, but for whatever reason that reality gets skewed in the design world.
A typical client coming to you and proceeding to tell you exactly what they want their design project to look like would be like an everyman telling a surgeon exactly how they would like their liver transplant done. It doesn’t work that way. In the same way that people go to doctors for professional surgery backed by years of schooling, mentoring, training, and experience to help them solve a difficult problem that is beyond their ability, so should people entrust designers. It would be absurd for you to go to a friend’s step-son for a critical surgery simply because he has a scalpal, yet it’s widely accepted to do just that when the same step-kid has a pirated copy of Photoshop.
Now hear me out, I’ll say again designers do not have all the answers, but designers do want you to have the best solution possible for your needs. However, designers can’t know all your needs unless we grill you with questions. Contrary to common practice, they shouldn’t just be questions for the client to tell what he or she wants, but more to show what tough question they are trying to answer. Often they’re trying to answer their own question then telling you to make their answer, when really they should present their question (problem) so the best answer can be discovered together.
Often the answer they bring is something like “We need a new website so people will buy more of our [insert product/service name here].” When really it would make more sense for them to come and say something like “We’d like to boost our sales/traffic/clients. Looking at our company how could we best do this in the world of [web/print/ads/billboards/e-mail/etc]?”
At this point the designer needs to be ready not to give answers, but to ask more questions. Great questions. Questions that help him discover what the company/client is all about. How they think, what they do, what they don't do, what they're good at, what they're bad at, why they want more sales, and throughout this process attempt to have a better understanding of “the question/problem” than the client. Maybe they don’t need a direct mail coupon campaign, instead they need an e-mail campaign because their clients are not in the demographic that often gets mail (teens). Maybe they need well-designed billboard ads around town to raise their awareness rather than another 1″×2″ ad in the local PennySaver. Maybe their customer service stinks, and no matter how many new clients they happen to bring in, they’ll eventually lose every one of them. Maybe they don’t even need a website redesign, they just need more memorable branding. There has to be strategy, there are no quick fixes.
However, none of these [more appropriate] solutions would ever be uncovered without the asking of the right questions, extra questions, maybe even too many questions. This will save you innumerable hours of redesign, scrapped projects, and frustration when you seek to know as much as possible about where you’re going before you even push a single pixel.
Go above and beyond. Clarity is not easy. It’s not your client’s job to bring all the answers, that’s a part of why they’re bringing in a creative designer. Make them glad they did.
Learn who you are working for, with, and alongside of to unearth not just another good solution, but a great, clear, and concise solution that meets and succeeds their actual need. Directional clarity is often unearthed by first asking great questions rather than trying to just provide an answer.