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« Broken events | Main | Thank you, Zig »

Avoiding "I'll know it when I see it"

This is a waste for the buyer and the seller.

When you have a business or individual waiting for you to bring them custom work, it can lead to an endless cycle of, "hmmmm not quite right." If the architectural drawings, high-heeled shoes or ad campaign doesn't meet their unstated standards, you're back to doing it again.

Sometimes you can make a handsome profit on all the fees you charge to redo things that indulge the ego of the customer, but more likely than not, your time is wasted until they're happy. If you have a client who feels the same way, you can work together to save time and money by being clear with each other about what's wanted.

I think helping a client say what they want before they see it is a worthy endeavor.

  1. Do it on purpose. When engaging with a new client, intentionally create an environment where personal taste is described in advance, and as much boundary-building as possible is done when it's cheap to iterate, not at the end when it's expensive.
  2. Demand benchmarks. The world is filled with things that are a lot like what you've been asked to create. So mutually identify them. Show me three other websites that feel like what you're hoping to feel like. Hand me a hardcover book that has type that reads the way you want yours to read. Walk me through a building that has the vibe you're looking for...
  3. Describe the assignment before you start. Using your words and the words of the client, precisely state what problem you're trying to solve. "We're trying to build something that does a, b and c, and not d..."
  4. Then, before you show off your proposal, before you hand in your work, restate the problem again. "You asked us to do a, b and c at a cost of under X. What I'm about to show you does a, it does b and it does c... and it costs half of X." This sort of intentional restatement of the scope of work respects your client by honoring their stated intent, at the same time it focuses your work on the stated goals.
  5. Make a decision about whether you want a reputation for doing this sort of focused work. If you do, don't work for clients who don't buy into the process. Over time, you'll earn the kind of clients you want.

Of course, this isn't going to work every time. Sometimes the client loves the power of saying no. Sometimes the client isn't articulate enough to describe what she wants. And sometimes the goal is magic, and no one knows how to describe that in advance.

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