I’ve had the chance over the years to see both sides of the client/design agency relationship. I began my career at Ralph Appelbaum Associates, a world-renowned museum exhibition planning and design firm, working with clients like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of African American History in Detroit. What I loved about those projects was getting to work with multiple teams on a variety of projects with different subject matters. When you’ve spent the afternoon listening to famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson wax poetic about the planets as you prepare exhibits for the Rose Center for Earth and Space, you realize life can be pretty good.
But the downside of being on the agency side was not having a chance to live with the results, not getting to see firsthand what worked or didn’t work about the solutions we designed. I definitely got a chance to do that in my next position as creative director of digital media for The Museum of Modern Art in New York. If something didn’t work the first time we put it out there to the public, we had to figure out how to fix it, adapt it, or kill it if we couldn’t make it work in the end. We had to think carefully about what projects had to live on and evolve over time and which were shorter, more self-contained projects. These different approaches had an impact on how and when we chose to partner with outside design agencies — and it was incredibly important to have those partnerships for a number of reasons, including supplementing a very small in-house design and development team, bringing new creative ideas to the table, and being able to test out emerging interface approaches. Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great agencies and consultancies, including For Office Use Only, Cogapp, Hello Monday (a screenshot from the Century of the Child exhibition website it designed is shown below), Hello Design, Big Spaceship, Stamen Design, Second Story, and famed Japanese designer Yugo Nakamura's firm tha ltd., to name just a few.
What I learned from working with all of these companies is the importance of being not just a good client, but hopefully a great one. These and many many other design agencies are focused on bringing their best game forward and are organizing themselves to do great creative work as quickly and efficiently as possible. But if you, the client, aren’t meeting them halfway, you aren’t going to get the best work from the relationship. If you do, however, the results can extend well beyond the immediate project to ongoing partnerships and changed internal communication within your own team.
For more, read my full report on How To Be A Great Client — I’d be happy to talk to you about it further. You can also listen to a discussion on the report in the recent CX Cast episode below. Listen here, or you can subscribe through iTunes or your favorite podcast app to listen to all of the weekly episodes. CX Cast is now available on Android as well.