The four worst types of design agencies (according to clients!)

4 February 2015

A new survey has identified what clients see as the four worst types of design agency, and Rob Alderson suggests we should listen to what they had to say. As ever you can add your thoughts using the discussion thread below..

The relationship between designers and their clients can be a complex one. Of course clients are the lifeblood of the industry – in that if nobody is paying then there won’t be a load of design work getting done – but the attitude towards them can sometimes border on the exasperated (as proved by projects like this which turn ridiculous feedback into posters).

But when all is said and done, insights into what clients really think are invaluable, and so a recent survey – What Clients Think – should be of interest to anyone working in the design industry. The study – put together by Up To The Light and The Design Business Association – is based on 420 interviews with companies that employ design agencies of one shape or another, and includes a raft of interesting stats. So we learn that nearly three quarters of clients wish their agencies were more proactive, while 61% wish they were more self-critical. Nearly two thirds of clients wouldn’t expect to pay for a creative pitch, while a whopping 89% can’t remember ever having visited their agency’s website.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the survey is hidden away on the penultimate page (and first flagged up by the fine folk over at Design Week). “Clients often have some rather stereotypical views about the types of agencies that should be avoided at all costs,” the report’s authors write. “Clients are quick to notice if their agency begins to show any of these traits so beware.”

The four main stereotypes that turn clients off are listed as:

London Ivory Tower

The agency that never leaves the M25 bubble and is totally out of touch with reality. Trendy designers who inhabit the rarefied world of agency land and don’t understand ‘"real" consumers.

Prima Donnas

The agency that is only interested in their own portfolio. “Precious” designers who don’t understand commercial realities.

No Follow Through

The concepts may be great but they let themselves down on making it all happen. They cause the client extra work and aggravation.

Strategy Overkill

The agency that bombards the client with strategy, whether it is necessary or not. However, the creative execution of the strategy disappoints.

Of course stereotypes are, by their very nature, reductive and I am sure designers would be quick to come up with equivalent client types that should be “avoided at all costs.” But to dismiss these criticisms too hastily might be folly. Despite the variegated nature of designer-client relationships, the truth is that he who pays the piper does sometimes call the tune. And maybe design agencies should consider whether they’re in danger of falling into one of these four fatal categories.

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About the Author

Rob Alderson

Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.

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