Jul 3, 2016

The Misconception Behind “Client Is Always Right” Philosophy

written by ninja
The misconception behind the client is always right

It’s a principle we have all heard, and one that we have heard one too many times. This “truism” or paradigm in my perspective is fallacious, misleading and all together just wrong.If you need proof,then look no further than Apple Inc. and study their philosophy.

Take the doctor-patient analogy for instance. You walk into a hospital, tell the doctor all your feeling (signs and symptoms), he runs his prognosis and diagnosis and prescribes for you medicine. You trust that he is well informed in his field and that the medicine you are given will probably cure you. Regardless of whether he is right or wrong, you believe that because he is the doctor, he knows what he is doing. Then pops the big question, why should creative media be any different?

Let’s look at how it usually goes on in the creative world: graphic design studio, web Design Company or a software development company; and especially ones here in Africa. A client walks in tells you want you want and you implement. However, it is usually not as easy as I just made it sound. The whole journey is a bit more complex than that. Problems starts arising when the client starts dictating what he wants. 90% of his/her judgement are usually based on one premise or cause: THEIR PERSONAL PREFERENCE.


As a professional or a guru in your field, this is where I start to get worried and bothered. The plain simple truth is, a client knowing what s/he WANTS is very different from a client knowing what s/he NEEDS. Two words that are so similar yet so different.

Taking into account that you consulted the right person or company, then working with a creative media should be no different than walking into a hospital. The truth of the matter is, the person who is always right when it comes to the creative or software industry is the USER; because ultimately it is they who are going to use your app, visit your site or be influenced by your logo or campaign. This does not in any way nullify the client’s personal preference or all completely erode the thought that the client’s perspective is not at all important (because ultimately it is them who in most cases are paying for your services).

There are different scenarios when it comes to a client-developer relationship but for the purpose of this article I shall group them into two:

Case one: is a client who understands their market base, their targeted audience and they have a well layout strategy for targeting this group of people. If as a creative, or an app developer are lucky enough to meet this breed of client- the ones who have a company font and can tell you the reasons for their choice, and have different “renditions” to their logos and layouts, their choice of color is perfect- then please don’t make work any more difficult than it should be. Deliver on what you are told and get the check.

Case two: The client who has no clue about what they want or the client who thinks they know what they want. The former is a bit easy to work with because they will trust on your experience and skills to get them the right thing for their market. It’s the later that has long held the belief of the client is always right. So what exactly happens when you meet a client who thinks they know what is best for them? In the few years I have been developing, I have found that most companies do exactly as the client wants, even if they know that whatever it is the client is demanding for makes no sense at all. The result is usually a prolonged design and/or development period. The reason for this is quite simple really. Once the client sees what they want, which in most instances usually turns out very different from what they had thought it would look like, they reject and the company has to go back to the drawing board and begin the whole process a fresh. The client makes new demands, the company/individual blindly accepts and the never ending circle continues.

A big conundrum in the industry that is just starting to take flight in east Africa, and one  which must be addressed now rather than later. WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU LAND SUCH A CLIENT?

As Katana Inc. We have been lucky enough to land clients who treat the whole project as a partnership and not an employment contract. We figured the trick lies in the initial agreement between the company and client way before the whole process of development begins. The best way for a company, and the best way for the whole industry to shape around quality than quantity is to set the initial agreement correct.

Research is key in the phase. Before a company decides to take on any project, research (as much as possible), should be done on the client’s targeted user and reason for wanting that logo, site or app. I would go as far as advocating for the research to be done even before client preference are known so that they do not dilute the whole purpose of conducting the research.

Creatives should also make it a point to make clients understand that the whole thing is a partnership. If you look at it keenly it actually is. How that app, logo or site one makes is their marketing tool. You make a great one you land more clients and everyone is happy. So really, both fates are intertwined, where one person’s success can shape the others.

The bottom line is to advise the client on their target group and the target group’s preference. This should be in line with the client’s needs and expectations of the whole project. Is it to increase user interaction? Boost sales? Generate more leads? Improve on an already existing infrastructure? All this are questions that should be well thought of and answered before a project is began. When done correctly, the intersection between that which the client loves and what the user s prefer will be met, which ultimately would lead to a happy client and a happy developer.

As a creative it is your job to understand the user and their behavior and link that up with the company’s needs for the project. It is also your job to make the client understand all this prior to development. Unless of course they intend to be using the whole thing by themselves, which is never the case.

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