The Agency/Client Design Dynamic – Why understanding the ‘Why’ of a project is crucial

Ian Anderson – The Inspiration

Some idle Googling lead me to an interview with Ian Anderson, head of influential 90’s design studio The Designers Republic. Back then I fell in love with his work for Warp Records and WipeOut on the Playstation, but his thoughts on how to get the most out of interactions with clients really resonated:

...the ones we worked with most successfully I (had) formed a personal relationship with...

Ian Anderson, Founder, The Designers Republic

So important! For a project to run smoothly and painlessly, form personal relationships. It humanises you, they’ll be more open to ideas, they’ll value the work more and be more likely to collaborate on solving issues.

...I basically kind of interrogated them to find out exactly what they wanted. Like, ‘Why do you want to do this? For what reason? Who do you want to talk to, and why?’ and so on. If someone gives me a brief and says ‘We need you to design a catalogue,’ my first question is ‘Why do you want a catalogue?

Ian Anderson, Founder, The Designers Republic

Understanding the ‘Why’

To me this cuts to the heart of the agency / client design dynamic. Properly, deeply understanding the why of a project is critical to shaping the solution correctly. It sounds trite, but the why is so often explored incompletely or even altogether overlooked.

For a UX project this means spending time with stakeholders, probing and pushing until they articulate the business goals. It’s not easy taking this direct, sometimes adversarial approach. The questions “why this project?” and “what is the purpose of the site?” are my first to stakeholders and they often expose gaps in underlying strategy. It takes confidence to challenge like this, and empathy to manage fuzzy answers without exposing the client.

I’ll write later about how I like to interact with stakeholders and how I manage diverse views into a consensus, but for now, keep pushing your stakeholders for concrete answers. Keep asking why until you hit the bedrock of truth.

And now a special treat for anyone who shares my cultural heritage: the soundtrack for Wip3Out. Enjoy.

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