The Designer + Client Relationship

As Shelter approaches its 10th anniversary, we are looking back at what we have learned as designers, creative thinkers, mentors and business people. Today we thought we’d reflect on what we’ve learned about the Client + Designer relationship throughout out career(s).

The Client + Designer relationship is special because it is both personal and professional.  Clients are like friends; they invite us into their homes, share their stories with us, and help us get to know their families.  We work together on personal things that matter a lot to them.  As a result, clients should feel included in the design process and welcome to contribute their ideas and inspirations.

But clients hire us as specialists: architects, interior designers, and planning consultants.  As professionals our job is to troubleshoot problems and propose solutions — to offer informed suggestions about specialized issues.  We are ultimately responsible for producing a design that meets our clients’ expressed needs and hopefully exceeds their expectations, but also complies with codes, building practices, construction schedules, and budget constraints.

Balancing personal interaction with professional service is a skill we are constantly fine-tuning. We know after all these years that it involves mutual trust.  We trust that clients will share a complete wish list and budget with us up front and then provide honest feedback about the ideas we propose. On the flip side, we hope that they will trust us to craft designs that suit their needs to the best of our abilities, and to provide honest answers to the questions they have.  We trust that clients know a “yes” from us is heartfelt, but a “no” is heartfelt, too.  We trust that entertaining wild ideas can clarify and improve a design — even after they have been value-engineered out.  And we trust that clients realize that adjustments to budgets and schedules entail changes to the design, but that we do our best to minimize the tradeoffs.

We also know that this balance involves respecting each others’ emotions.  Everyone on the project — clients, designers, contractors, engineers, inspectors — has a vested personal or professional interest in its success.  We have realized that producing a project with enduring emotional value is as important as finishing it on time and under budget.  Users and producers alike should be proud of the final product, and proud to have been a part of it.

Enjoy your Labor Day from the gang at Shelter!