last friday, i caught dwain cox of chik-fil-a as he spoke at the atlanta creative mornings series. beyond being a great speaker and head of innovation for the cow-run company, he's also the former owner of his own design consultancy. in fact, as he tells it, the main reason for the jump to chik-fil-a a couple years ago wasn't because of a lack of work or dissatisfaction with running a studio, it was that his group was doing so much work with the home team that he simply decided he could have a bigger impact, in a company he truly seems to love.
in his talk (which you can check out in a week or so), he outlined a few principles of working with clients (from his perspective as a studio owner and now as the client). so simple, they're impossible to refute:
less is better (when it comes to solving real problems). crowdsourcing won't solve everything.
find and use your sweet spot. this separates the pros from the amateurs.
clients don't expect you to solve their problems. they expect you to listen and then help them as much and in the best way you can. there is a difference.
if, at the end of a meeting, you've said more words than your client... you lose.
finally, the simplest of all: be truthful. in all aspects. if a prospective client comes to you looking for a new logo or website to solve their sagging sales, but you know it's really because they're serving crappy food, you have to have the courage to say so. the clients you really want to work with will respect truth delivered without heat.
this last one has hit home the last couple of months with us personally: in one recent project, we were hired to make some modifications to an existing structure, to bring it into a regulatory compliance. the client believed the wrong material had been installed during construction and needed to be upgraded. as we launched into gathering the existing documents, we determined literally within the first two hours (by doing some forensic digging and back-checking) that in fact the originally specified material was almost certainly what was installed. 99.9% sure.
now, we weren't hired to confirm what was there - we were hired to manage the replacement. it would have been very simple to take their internal findings at face value and take off designing the replacement. and we're guilty of doing this on occasion as well. but part of being truthful is figuring out when you're not really needed. sometimes.
telling our client about our findings would not only save them a couple hundred thousand dollars in construction costs and another umpteen thousand in inconvenience, but it would also talk us out of a job. there was some risk we'd embarrass the staff who had come to the initial conclusion. in the end, of course, there was no hesitation about the right move to make. as diplomatically as possible, we laid out our findings. and... we hope that we'll get another shot to work with them in the future. nobody said doing the right thing was always easy...
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