Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Age Old Question

How much should the client be involved in the creative process? It's a tough question and really depends on the exact situation you are facing as a consultant.

I discovered this discussion on LinkedIn's IxDA group this morning and thought my subsequent response was worth a blog post as well. To follow the on-going discussion (I'm pretty sure, I'm going to be flipped out on by someone on these boards, so if anyone can get my back, I would be forever grateful:) the link is: LinkedIn IxDA

Q:     Collaborative Design
    Does anyone do collaborative design? Is it a good idea?

    Different people and groups, other than the design group, can have a lot invested in the final design of a product or service. Going beyond avtivies like JAD sessions, how do these individual collaborate on your design efforts? Should they have a equal say in the direct and final detailed design? Do you have any formal mechanism to include other groups in your organization or is it basically a free flow of ideas? 

A:     My response post:
    That's a tough question... I've been involved in something called an Innovation Session (IS) at my last consultancy (Industrial + Graphic + Exhibit Design) where we would go through a process of interviewing stakeholders, collecting and reviewing all research nuggets obtained, discover themes/problems and structure questions to be reviewed at the actual IS with a collection of stakeholders from the client's organization + the design team.

    I am an organized person, so this process is somewhat terrifying and stressful in that you cannot predict or account for the outcomes. You have to just go through it and trust that it all works out. I have to say that having been through several of these sessions, the results/outcomes/creative ideas produced by clients as well as creatives are always quite awe inspiring. As an added bonus, after such sessions, you are forever seen as a magician in the client's eyes and you almost never have to prove your value to them again throughout the rest of your collaborations.

    The tricky part of your question is assuming that the client doesn't know anything about anything (sometimes, depending on the personality, it's an easy thing to do). As a consultant, we are experts within our specialized skill set (for me that's marketing strategy and design). We forget, though, that the client is the expert in their field/business. Sure, they may need guidance in refining that message and making sure their broadcast channels are effective and efficient, but they deal with their business/industry day-in and day-out every day; we don't and only know enough (what's needed) to work well with them.

    As a consultant, if you do your job right of fostering a positive client relationship -- one where the client understands your role and value in the partnership AND you understand their role as knowing the ins-and-outs of their business/industry and having a story/message to share with their audiences -- collaborations can be a beautiful thing. If this relationship is skewed in either direction, it can be a huge headache at best and a living nightmare at worst.

    It's too bad you rarely can predict which way it will turn out (beautiful/nightmare) until it happens -- thus the risk of such collaborations. I think it's well worth it for the huge benefits and creative ideas that come out of the successful ones. 

Your reaction/response is welcome and appreciated in either the comments below or in the LinkedIn discussion.

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