The Business of Affection

Recently, while chatting with a fellow-designer about a difficult client, she sent me a quote that took me by surprise, and gave me great comfort:

“You can only work for people you like. This is a curious rule and it took me a long time to learn because, in fact, at the beginning of my practice I felt the opposite. Professionalism required that you didn’t particularly like the people that you worked for, or at least maintained an arm’s length relationship to them, which meant that I never had lunch with clients or saw them socially. Then some years ago, I realized that the opposite was true. I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of affectionate relationship with a client. And I’m not talking about professionalism — I’m talking about affection. That, in fact, your view of life is in some way congruent with the client; otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle.”Milton Glaser, Milton Glaser, Inc. New York City HOW Design, February 2005

Affection? I’ll tell ya, I really had to think about this one. In many ways, it blows everything I know about professionalism, and perhaps even design itself, out of the water. If design is a discipline of problem-solving, why should it matter if the designer and client “click”?

Disheartened at my inability to connect with this particular client, I thought back to all the succesful projects I’ve ever worked on — the ones I am most proud of and enjoyed most. In these situations, communication was easy and natural. There was laughter, understanding, mutual respect, a “connection”. Come to think of it, there was affection.Is it possible to achieve a successful end result even if the designer-client relationship is challenging? Certainly. But what if nobody is enjoying the process? Does the project suffer? In order to communicate for someone that we can’t communicate effectively with, we are put in the situation where we must try our best to remove our personality from the equation so we may climb into the mind of somebody we don’t particularly understand or even like.And then, what’s left? The very core of our creativity is personality.One thing we can’t always control is whether or not the client does their homework before choosing a designer: Have they requested multiple bids? Have they interviewed multiple candidates, reviewed portolios, compared the various ways different designers might approach the process?What we can control is how we communicate. Are we sometimes too “eager to please”, too desperate to close the sale, too concerned with the “professional” and not so much the “personal” that we forget to be ourselves? Do we trust our gut? Are we brave enough to let our personalities shine through? What if, God forbid, this potential client doesn’t like us, then we’ll surely lose the job! And that wouldn’t be good for our self-esteem to discover that somebody doesn’t like us, right? (But working with a client with whom you share no mutual affection is?)If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re saying to yourself, “Well, it’s probably for the best anyway.”So what do we do? How can we communicate more about ourselves in a way that our face-to-face professional consultations, self-promo pieces and websites can’t?Call me crazy (as long as you check back with me in a year or two to tell me I was right), but what about blogging? Until now blogging has been the realm of personal journalists and political junkies, but businesses are catching on like wildfire. And why? Because blogging is more informal, it’s a personal voice — not the typical “marketingese” language we normally speak. It’s honest, it’s our personality, it’s us. What better way to educate clients not only about the process of design and the value of good design, but the personality of the designer himself/herself?Peter Flaschner sums it up best:

“Old media talks to my head, blogs talk to my heart.”

As you consider where blogging fits into the graphic design industry, I ask you to consider this: “Could it foster affectionate relationships?” We are communicators — why the hell are we not blogging it up? We should be. Not only can we make the blogging world “more beautiful” but we can open new lines of communication with our clients, and maybe form relationships that “click” and are mutually beneficial and enjoyable to all concerned.Considering that so many of us are self-employed and isolated, why aren’t we capitalizing on all of our skills to leverage the power of blogging? Do we not complain that consumers of design require so much education? Do we not complain that we are undervalued? Then let’s talk about it. We have an incredibly powerful medium at our fingertips, let’s use it.Imagine a client finding you through your blog (just post a link to your personal blog from your “corporate” website is about all it takes). You’ve been confident, you’ve been a bit vulnerable, and you’ve definitely been honest. Now imagine them learning all about you before they pick up the phone.What have we got to lose?

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