Lessons we accidentally learned while running a design shop

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(deardesignstudent.com article)

long long time ago, a potential client knocked on the door. That’s how long ago it was; people still came by and knocked. When I opened the door he said, “I need to hire a designer. I’m a friend of your old client Bob. Bob gave me your name. He said you were a pain in the ass to deal with and I should listen to everything you say.”

We’ve never been happier.

We don’t trust people who want to like us. They tell you what you want to hear. They choose friendship over criticism. And they don’t make your work better. To us, a compliment doesn’t count unless it’s given begrudgingly by someone who’d rather kick our asses.

We named ourselves Mule. Mules are designed to work.

Hi. We’re in client services. And we design solutions to your problems. We’re stubborn about solving them. We see client services as a partnership of equals. You’re the expert at your thing and we’re the expert at our thing. We need to work together. We know you could’ve chosen to work with lots of other people. But you chose us. We take that responsibility seriously. You worked hard to get the budget for your project and we respect you enough to do the right thing. Even if it means arguing with you once in awhile. Because in the end, when the work we do together is successful, you’ll forget every single argument we had and you’ll send other people to us. And you’ll tell them, “they’re a pain in the ass to deal with and you should listen to everything they say.”

Below are some of the things we’ve learned over the years that guide us in doing good work.

To us, a compliment doesn’t count unless it’s given begrudgingly by someone who’d rather kick our asses.

Talk to people before you hire them!

You’re going to spend a few months with whoever you hire. You need to know you can work with these people. Don’t hamstring yourself with an idiotic RFP process that doesn’t allow you to talk to the people you’re going to hire. This is the future of your organization, not a raffle. Before we work together we need to know that we can work together too. We need to know that we respect each other. And most of all…

Don’t work with anyone you can’t argue with

Things get tense during a project. We’ll be looking at the ugliest parts of your organization together! We’re going to be exposing internal disagreements. It’s embarrassing. We’re going to have different ideas on how to achieve your goals. Things get heated, even when everyone is trying to be their professional best.

Arguing isn’t even a thing to be avoided! Sometimes it’s the best way to solve a problem.

We are not a vendor

Vendors refill the soda machine in your lobby. You tell them to put Cherry Coke in the machine and they put Cherry Coke in the machine. We’re a partner. You tell us to do something and we’re going to ask you why. We’re going to talk about how that maps to a goal or not. And if it doesn’t map to a goal, we’ll talk you out of it. We’re the experts at our thing. That’s why you hired us. You’re the experts at your thing. That’s why we’re working together. There needs to be trust and respect on both sides. We’re not doing it for you, we’re doing it with you.

Research is not negotiable

We can’t solve a problem until we understand it. That means we need to study it. That means we need to talk to your current customers, your potential customers, and we need to talk to your employees. Once we understand the problem together, then we can begin to design solutions for it. Every hour we spend on research saves us ten hours down the road. So no, you’re not saving any time by attempting to cut it. Just stop.

We don’t work for the people who write the checks

Your organization won’t succeed unless the people you’re communicating with understand what you’re saying. So they’re the people we listen to the most. You should listen to them as well. They’re the ones we’re all working for. Think of it this way: if you get it, you’re happy. If they get it? You’re rich. Which I’m told can also lead to happiness of a sort.

Trust the process

The truth is, when we start a project, we have absolutely no idea what to do. What we have is a process for finding out. A process which has worked time and time again. The design shops who walked into the pitch meeting with ideas are idiots. They have absolutely no idea if those ideas are right.

Theory is only interesting until you have history

If we do everything absolutely correctly, a project is maybe 80% right the day it launches. And it’s never the 80% you thought. We make educated decisions based on research. We believe in those decisions. Until the project launches. Then we believe in data. The day your work launches is the day your real work begins, because that’s the day you begin collecting actual evidence. And we’ll prepare you for that day.

Do everything to avoid the world’s shittiest conversation

No one likes difficult conversations, but there’s one conversation that sucks beyond all others. That’s the one where you call us about six months after your project launches. Telling us the project failed. And that your organization is closing shop. Or that you’ve been fired. Or that you’ve had to lay off staff. We never want to have that conversation. To date, we haven’t had to. That’s because we’re willing to have all the difficult conversations during the project that keep that conversation from happening. So if we’re working together and we’re being stubborn, or we won’t let go of something, or we refuse to give in, or we won’t let you have something you really want… it’s because we know it leads to the conversation neither of us want to have. We’d rather fight for your success, even if it means fighting you.

These days we do workshops, as well as client projects, because we want to help other designers learn the lessons we’ve learned over the years. So in turn, they can help more clients. We want to help both groups be as good as they can possibly be. Our goal, as always, remains to design a better, more just world. We’re here to level the playing field. And sometimes that takes a bulldozer.
read more here at deardesignstudent.com…

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