A spin-off
June 5, 2000 7:57 AM   Subscribe

A spin-off of a previous thread: "The folks at firms like Kioken, who are known to fire their clients if they do not follow them down their ego led path...".

Uh, not to put down Kioken...but does the phrase "The customer is *always* right!" still apply to web design... Or did I miss the revolution...(again)?

posted by EricBrooksDotCom (25 comments total)
Maybe in terms of the web, that should be updated to, "the user is always right". I know I've seen some web design disasters that were designer-driven, but I've also heard some horror stories from designers who couldn't get the client to understand the user experience. I know a few designers who've practically driven themselves to tears trying to explain the concept of "download time" to a client.
posted by harmful at 8:05 AM on June 5, 2000

"The customer is always right" is a concept long past its usefulness. The customer is frequently misinformed on a variety of issues...otherwise they would not hired a vendor to build their site.

This is not to say that clients are stupid. It's just that their area of expertise lies elsewhere.
posted by jkottke at 8:29 AM on June 5, 2000

The reason, I'm asking.... there are so many horror stories out there from web developers...where they have to bend over backwards to appease clients. Folks who mean well, but don't understand exactly how the web works....

I recently had a "Dream Assignment" where I was given "Carte Blanche" to present a site any way I wanted. (Their exact words: "Yo E, tear shit up!").

I'll, of course, cherish that moment for as long as I live...I doubt I'll ever get an assignment like that again. (SIGH!)
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2000

You want to see a site where the client tells the vendor (one of the best in the business) to do it our way, and a terrible site no one is pleased with is the result?

Among other misinformed radically stupid notions, the client originally said, "We don't want images on the homepage."

For political reasons the vendor just couldn't fire the client.

posted by capt.crackpipe at 8:37 AM on June 5, 2000

The customer should be made to feel right, even if e is wrong. That's how you maintain business relationships. Then again, Flash shops aren't in it for the long term: they want the moolah up front. But a little respect never hurt anyone.
posted by holgate at 9:19 AM on June 5, 2000

Jason's right - often the client's expertise lies elsewhere, and hey, at least they occasionally realize that they should hire professionals. It's an important part of that professional relationship to educate the client as to best practices, in much the same way as a doctor or an accountant would educate me on best practices when I sought their professional advice. That said, I think holgate's sweeping condemnation of some very talented individuals and firms is a bit short-sighted, as Flash continues to evolve as a terrific cross-platform/cross-browser development platform choice for many 'reputable' clients and agencies.
posted by judith at 10:49 AM on June 5, 2000

Just wondering, what's the difference between this and the original thread? Weren't we not supposed to repost stuff that had already been posted before?

In any case, Flash is nothing but a toy.... it's frivolous and doesn't serve as a useful utility. Most sites have done away with the "cool" <insert sarcasm here> Flash intro. It gets old quickly... seems every Flash site has the mandatory booming bass rave music with little blips on every mouse over. I'll take my dHTML thank you very much.

I actually got into an argument with the "web designer" at work at AGF over using Flash for the "Annual Report 1999" (you can see it yourself... click the link on the homepage)... He insisted on doing it in Flash, but by the time he was done, it came out to a 1 meg file. Now he DID manage to stream it, but the system admin wouldn't let it fly cuz it would have taken over our entire T1 line with enough requests for it. In the end, I won out, and I was put in charge of writing the thing into dHTML. The job was done by myself and another co-op student. Granted it's not perfect (we used fixed font sizes), but we tried our darnedest to try to make it cross browser compliant.

It was definitely a learning experience trying to code it in dHTML. Definitely not as easy as just dragging and dropping things in Flash, but I can feel satisfied that it was relatively cross-browser. Oh yeah, and being a co-op student handing the WEB DESIGNER'S ASS on a plate to him was a pretty good feeling too. :)

posted by PWA_BadBoy at 10:53 AM on June 5, 2000

And regarding "the customer is always right", I think it's the web designer/developer's job to sway the customer's misinformed opinion. Most customers are reasonable people. I think the key is to make them understand that this is YOUR area of expertise, not THEIRS. If the argument is convincing enough, they will have to listen. Firing the client should not be an option. If anything, just don't take credit for the work you did for a bad customer. :)

Mind you, I'm not a bigshot. These are just the opinions of a 20-year old still learning the ropes.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 10:59 AM on June 5, 2000

The thing that amazes me is companies like sony and Barney's are actually hiring kids to design their shoping experiences on the web. If I were Sony or Barneys I would look for people who still use 56k modems to spec out the design. Has anyone seen the barney's shop? Could you figure out how to order something?

I think we would all like to fire the occasional client, but we usually have better reasons than Kioken could ever come up with.
posted by DragonBoy at 11:03 AM on June 5, 2000

The customer is almost always wrong.
posted by baylink at 11:25 AM on June 5, 2000

Really, can we get over the flash vs. dhtml debate already? Both have uses and both are here to stay. I'm a diehard scripter but there are situations where flash simply is better.

Oh wait, I forgot, flash and dhtml are mutually exclusive.
posted by bryanboyer at 12:21 PM on June 5, 2000

As a consultant, I'm constantly amazed by the new and innovative ways my clients find to be completely ass-backwards in their thinking about the web and their customer experience. However, I'm not in any position to do anything but educate the client as to the reasons their thinking is inappropriate. More than education tho, I have to consistently communicate why they should trust my ideas. Demonstrating in the early stages that your designs are elegant and usable may take time and effort some projects don't have (how many nights have you spent doing comps for the sole purpose of emphasising a minor design argument?), but I've found it invaluable in improving my relationships with my clients.
posted by gangcandy at 12:37 PM on June 5, 2000

This has nothing to do with Flash and Dhtml or SQL server ms MySQL. This isn't about the technology, this is about informing the client.

We are hired because the client expects professional expertise and services. Same as someone hiring an Architect [Designer] to build a house [website]. You see houses [websites] everyday. You live in one. You know what you like and don't like about them. You have an idea what you want in your dream house [website].

Now as a professional, it is our job to combine the client's needs with our design skills and desires to create something that works for the client and satisfies us.

Education is key. You're buildling a relationship here. A client that does one project and likes you and likes their work with you will almost certainly come back. Sometimes it can be frustrating as hell trying to explain to a client why a flash intro isn't good or why making that page all one image will make the download time huge. and what download time is. etc.

But the pay off in the end when the client sees the light and begins to understand the concepts is amazing. Because a dialogue develops and just as you begin to understand their business and how the web fits in, they begin to see it as well and what the web is capable of.

Remember - you were once a newbie on the web too. Share your knowledge. "It's your world, you can change it"

And now I step off my idealism soapbox.
posted by eljuanbobo at 1:18 PM on June 5, 2000

Seems to me this depends on what your goals are. If you're in business to be in business, you'd be foolish to turn down any client, no matter how clueless. Work to convince them when what they want isn't what they need, yes, but in the end do whatever it is they are paying for whether you think it's a good idea or not. Just don't put the bad stuff in your portfolio!

If you're in business because you love design, the rules are different. Why waste your time with a client whose wrongheadedness is about to ruin your week? As long as you have your basic financial needs met, why NOT pick and choose to get the most interesting jobs? In the end, it's your life and your career, not theirs...

posted by Mars Saxman at 2:06 PM on June 5, 2000

Flash is a tool, like any other tool. Blaming Flash for bad Flash sites is like blaming the English language for bad literature.

At least some of the Kioken debate comes from the tone of the Industry Standard's article - not from the work itself. Even some who are responding to the work itself seem to have been influenced by the provocational tone of that article. Context is everything. (If you don't believe me, visit the traveling exhibition of Hitler's watercolors, and try to respond to them as ART, rather than "an expression of Hitler.")

Clients' expertise usually does lie outside your area of expertise. Good clients know this and work with you. Some don't. The designer has a responsibility to educate the client - and the education sometimes flows both ways.

Some clients can't be worked with or educated, and it's good to learn the warning signs so you can exit the situation before it comes to a head. As we do with dating. Hopefully.
posted by Zeldman at 2:48 PM on June 5, 2000

... is like blaming the English language for bad English literature. Is what I meant to say.
posted by Zeldman at 2:49 PM on June 5, 2000

judith, I said "Flash shops" deliberately, meaning the kind of agencies that are ideologically and technologically committed to finding a "Flash Solution" for every site, even when it's not needed. There's an arrogance about the high-rollers of the Flash crowd (from personal experience) that really needs to be popped.

Point: you earn respect if you know your stuff. Which is why clients deserve a certain respect, because they know their stuff well enough to be able to afford you; and why designers deserve a certain respect because they're getting paid.

What I liked about the web when it was filled with promise is that it appealed to a renaissance sensibility: you had to be more than a one-trick pony. Why should that be different now? Font designers aren't necessarily great typographers, just as "knowing Flash" isn't "knowing the Web". Neither is "knowing DHTML" or "knowing backends" or "knowing Photoshop".

And, Zeldman (and I hate referring to people by nyms, so take that as a "Mr Zeldman" or "Jeff" depending on your preference): sometimes you can blame the medium. There was a time when people wrote stuff in Latin because it was better suited to the subject matter than their demotic tongue; right now, there's far too stuff being written in Flash that should have been served up in the lingua franca of HTML.
posted by holgate at 4:08 PM on June 5, 2000

>right now, there's far too stuff being written in Flash that should have been served up in the lingua franca of HTML.

HOLGATE: i agree with you there.

>I said "Flash shops" deliberately, meaning the kind of agencies that are ideologically and technologically committed to finding a "Flash Solution" for every site, even when it's not needed.

... and there, too.

but there is a lot of wonderful work being done in flash - mainly by artists - and the web would be poorer without it, just as the web would be poorer without quicktime, javascript, or style sheets.

this doesn't remove the need for meaningful, focused content.

it doesn't remove the need for ACCOUNTABILITY.

and we do need to use the appropriate tools for the appropriate jobs. it would go without saying, except that - you're right - some people think "the web is flash" (or whatever their pet technology may be) and that, of course, is absurd.

i guess the thing that bugs me is the "us vs. them" flavor these kinds of conversations can take on. (us "designers" vs. them "clients." replace this duality with any other: flash vs. html/dhtml, blogs vs. diaries, accessibility vs. pushing the envelope, etc. etc. ad nauseum.)
posted by Zeldman at 10:44 PM on June 5, 2000

"i guess the thing that bugs me is the "us vs. them" flavor these kinds of conversations can take on. "

Well sorry guys. I thought it was a pretty good thread that offered (at least *me*) some good advice....

I always hear a "Designer has to wear many hats". Usually that applies mainly in terms of having to be "writer/scripter/programmer/back-end/graphic artist"....very few can do them all with equal skill.

I find (as most of us here seem to be freelancers) it also means "telemarketer/salesman/customer service/repairman". You really have to be a "people person" in this field, and sometimes use an "almost ESP" to understand what your client really wants. And have the balls to speak up for yourself and tell "your boss" what's possible, and what's not practical.

Educating them, showing them the best route to go...the way a doctor can break down what ails you in plain english, or a lawyer drops the "legalese" to explain our course of action in laymen's terms (preferably monosyllabic words)....

Some of the best stuff I've heard in days. Thanks guys!
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 12:41 AM on June 6, 2000

I had a thought provoking conversation with a Real Person<tm> last night (:-)... on the topic of whether the inventors of technology have a moral obligation to submerge it and not let it out in the light of day if they can see that it will become a force for evil.

Now, maybe "evil" is too strong a word for what results when you take a file format designed for animation and use it to build user interfaces instead -- though obviously some people don't think so -- but this devolves to (one aspect of) the gun-control argument all over again: do we hang the tool creator because we don't like something someone's done with the tool?

He took the "power corrupts" side of the argument. I countered with "the hackers aren't the corrupt ones, it's the *money* that corrupts."
posted by baylink at 7:55 AM on June 6, 2000

ERIC: It's a great thread. The "us" versus "them" is a general observation about the way these conversations go, not disrespect to you for starting the thread, not disrespect to anyone who posted here.

BAYLINK: RealPerson is at least borderline evil, and the companies that are copying it are more evil still. "We can pay some guy in Indonesia $5,000 US/year" to be our 'answer guy.'" Exploitation makes it viable, that's why it's evil. Though I'm sure the people behind these companies go to bed at night thinking they're providing employment and therefore doing good in the world.
posted by Zeldman at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2000

Zeldman: Nah dude.... I didn't mean to sound disrespectful to your not meaning to sound disrespectful either... (???) Sorry bout that. I do understand what you meant....for some people it always has to be one or the orher....why not both???? Why not neither, if it's unnecessary????? damnhowmanycaffeinepillsdidIjust pop?:0)

Baylink: I voted for my favorite Charlotte Pic, did you?
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 1:42 PM on June 6, 2000

The customer is always right is an euphemism I have always hated. Do not reduce your working relationship to a one line description. Clients come in every color of the rainbow. Our job as communicators of various kinds is to distill the "insider" knowledge they posses into "outsider" clarity using our skills. We must apply these same problem solving skills to the relationship. Educate!

Personally I support the edgy, envelop pushing firms and designers for trying new things regardless of the software they use. However, I object to their frequent inflexibility sometimes bordering on megalomania. They demonstrate only their narrow mindlessness not how hip and cool they are. Nature has proven that if they do not develop viable, competitive, elegant solutions they will die out. But don't jump the gun! Critics bashed Impressionism when it was new and look at how valued it is now. Experiment!
posted by Mycroft at 2:01 PM on June 6, 2000

P.S. Zeldman, that shirt is too cool! Where do I find the ordering info at that site?
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 2:03 PM on June 6, 2000

...maybe I'm just in a bad mood today, but on those biennial conjunctions of browsers and plugins when what are ordinarily cryptic error messages on oddly coloured backgrounds metamorphose into cutting-edge pages full of flash and dhtml and javascript and all that, I see not a beautiful explosion of creativity and artistry, but a thundering torrent of complicated solutions to the wrong problems.


posted by Mars Saxman at 1:46 PM on June 7, 2000

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