Design View | Articles and opinion on design professionalism, technique and culture by Andy Rutledge

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

June 28, 2010

Nathan made an astute point when he recently observed that your clients are not stupid. In his post he wisely advised us to stop childishly misdiagnosing designer/client disconnections. But while a designer’s inappropriate response or preparation is problematic, the idea that one’s client is “stupid” requires another sort of gut check as that assumption indicates deeper problems of professionalism.

There’s an easy test for evaluating design professionalism. The quality of your client experiences is directly proportional to the quality of your professionalism. If you have “stupid clients” it’s because you’re behaving stupidly to begin with, for we attract what we project. If you’ll stop being stupid, your clients’ IQs will increase dramatically. Funny how that works.

Initial steps toward stupid
If you don’t research and vet your potential client before asking them to sign your contract, stop being stupid. If you bid on projects even though the potential client doesn’t know much about you or why you’d be a good (or bad) choice for them (they “just need a web designer”), stop being stupid. If you don’t habitually work to discover how suitable a potential client is for you before bidding their project, stop being stupid. If you haven’t defined specific deliverables as required of your client attached to specific milestones before any contracts are signed, stop being stupid.

Descent into stupid
If you aren’t the one defining the project process, stop being stupid. If you don’t define, police, and unfailingly adhere to specific milestone requirements and deadlines for both yourself and your clients, stop being stupid. If you’re producing design artefacts before completing a comprehensive discovery process, stop being stupid. If you haven’t defined specific, agreed-upon consequences for missing any milestone deadline for both yourself and your client, stop being stupid. If you’ve not defined specific channels of direct communication for your project, stop being stupid. If you’re dropping out of communications or allowing your client to drop off the radar for periods of time during the project, stop being stupid.

Stuck on stupid
If the suitability of deliverables ends up being evaluated subjectively because you failed to quantify objectives, constraints, and/or specific conditions, stop being stupid. If you aren’t getting paid on time because you failed to define specific payment milestones—and consequences for late payment—before contracts were signed, stop being stupid. If approvals become an agonizing process because your client doesn’t trust your design decisions…because you failed to establish a rapport or do the work required to garner their confidence before any contracts were signed, stop being stupid.

The final score on stupid
Finally, if your clients don’t come back to you for subsequent phases of projects or entirely new ones, stop being stupid. It’s not them, it’s you.

Responsibility for everything begins and ends with the pro. You’re supposed to be the pro. The idea that one would blame a distasteful situation on the client (the client’s intelligence, the client’s attitude, etc.) is on its face unprofessional. Such an inclination denies a fundamental tenet of professionalism; that every problem you encounter indicates a poor choice you made earlier in the process. And yes, doing the work required to allow you to choose to work only with clients that meet your high standards and requirements is one of your responsibilities. Fail to meet that or some other fundamental responsibility and every subsequent failure is yours, too.

Turns out, Forrest Gump’s mom was right. Stupid is as stupid does. Don’t get stuck on stupid.

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