The brief we’re given for a project is often a stab in the dark by the client.

They’re aware of a problem, one which they’re pretty sure they’ve identified, and were nice enough to provide us the solution. We just need to give it some form, and boom, everyone’s happy, the problem’s solved.

It’d be nice, albeit a little boring, to work in this way. Luckily, few clients understand their problem well enough to be able to give us a true solution. Hell, some clients don’t even understand the problem they’re having.

For some reason, perhaps because they’re paying our bills, perhaps because they have the power to say “no, that’s wrong” we often treat clients as if they were some sort of holy monster.

To suggest to them that their brief is wrong, that they don’t, in fact, know what they need can seem idiotic when we’ve painted them with such a brush.

The truth is, most clients are too close to the problem to be able to see it for what it is, so how could we expect them to know what the solution might be? They’re also not going to be as sophisticated when it comes to design, let alone the theory behind it, nor the technology, to know what would work best.

So they jab at it. By the time the client has come to you, they’ve probably had internal meetings with stake-holders at their business, talked to their families while having dinner, ask a friend, ask a creative relative, asked a business mentor.

From all this they feel informed and the solution, to them, seems obvious.

And if not, if they haven’t done all that, at the very least they probably have an image in their minds of what the solution to be.

So we must be delicate with their ego as well as our own. Ours tells us that the solution the client has suggested is a poor one, that we can do better, that it’s an insult to our creative genius!

The client’s ego tells them that they’ve done really well to learn something new and the solution they’ve come up with is great, but they just need someone else to press the buttons.

Our defences go up because an overly defined brief can feel like they’re doing our work for us, telling us in explicit detail what is to be done, as if we were useless and our skills meaningless.

What do you think the client thinks when we do exactly that in response? Their backs will get up more than ours, as they’re the ones paying the bills, parting way with their money and their time, for our ‘creative genius’, which more often than not, seen as a gamble.

So, if the brief is a suggestion but we need to take care to not insult our clients, what do we do?

We ask questions. We ask the client why they’re asking for what they’re asking for, what it seems like the best solution to them. We cannot, for a second, dismiss anything they say. Somewhere in their reasoning is a little mound of soil into which a solution is begging to be planted.

Some taste fruits and summer and nature and a hundred other little notes. Others just taste wine. Few taste nothing but alcohol.

As designers we are very much the former, our clients are often in the middle. We have to help them figure out what it is their tasting, what it is that’s going on.

It’s easiest to ask why the client is doing something. Why are they using a website to promote a product? Why are they using posters? Why are they using social media? Who is their audience? Who are they hoping to sell to? What is it that the product does? Why is it better than the competitors? What’s special about it? What about previous work that was done for them didn’t work? What did work?

If we can work to understand, as deeply as we can, what the client is really needing – what their message is trying to express and to whom, then it becomes easier to show them the best way to go about it.

It’s something that can be hard to learn as a designer, and some clients may never even realise that it’s the case, but the brief is a suggested answer to a suggested problem.

Understanding the problem, hell, going further back and understanding the page on which the problem is printed – the context of the business within their community and industry, and you can suggest a better problem to solve. Suggest a better problem and you can suggest a better solution, giving better results.

Tens of thousands of people are calling themselves designers because they know how to make something pretty. But design isn’t just about making something pretty, that’s simply a given. Design is about problem solving and communicating the answer. So why given wrong answers to wrong questions?