I saw a great phrase in an article recently: “Clients often self-diagnose their problems. But they can be wrong. You are the expert. That’s why they’re hiring you. Slow down your process and warn potential clients that you are not the “emergency” designer.”

And it hit me: we are not emergency designers.  We never have been.  We ask tough questions and spend time in discovery and research.  We dig and dig before we ever start designing.  We make recommendations.  We’re not “yes” people; we’re “why” people.  When you tell us your website needs a feature, we don’t just agree; we ask why. Then we push you (and ourselves) to dig up a better answer or provide a foundation to back up your request.

And yet, we end up “hurrying up” more often then I’d like.  We tend to take on emergency projects even though they don’t fit our general mold of process and project management.

It’s not that we can’t build a site quickly; we certainly can.  It’s more along the lines of our initial approach to a project.  Once we get to the design and development stage, we’ve already done our due diligence and the process can fly. But we like to know we got there with good reason and research.  We like to know the stakeholders are all on board with what we’re about to produce, and we like to know that every conversation that needs to be had has been had.

We’ve had a virtual onslaught of new project inquiries in the past few weeks.  And that’s a great thing, of course. We’ve been working hard on great projects and launched this gorgeously redesigned site and have been out writing, speaking and getting to know folks. Our clients give us fantastic referrals to everyone and anyone. We’re busy and loving it.

Of the new inquiries, a handful are really great, qualified, well-fitting projects for our team. Clients who want us to spend the time digging and learning and researching before we build; who want us to labor over the details and create really polished, beautiful web and mobile apps.  Who want us to thoroughly test the products before they launch.

And another handful are looking for “emergency” designers to take over a project that went south or start on something immediately that was supposed to be done last week (I need this 200 hour project launched by mid-February!).

Next time you have an emergency, open this box.

Next time you have an emergency, open this box.

To these emergency clients, how fast we can get them a proposal reflects on how fast we can turn the project around – when in fact, the two are not at all related.  We need time to spend doing our research before creating a proposal. We need time to determine the best platform and approach and our own resource assignments.  It’s a complex matrix and it all takes time to do it well.

That said, we’ve taken on quite a few projects that weren’t going well and turned them around – but those clients recognized that the process would take both time and hard work.  They brought us realistic expectations and we turned out some awesome work.

It’s amazing when expectations meet reality, isn’t it?

I’m feeling liberated in this realization.  It’s yet another “red flag” for my arsenal of client selection tools that help us determine fit for new projects, and a step forward in solidifying our approach to design and development.

Do you find yourself providing emergency design services?  How to you react and how do those relationships turn out?


10 Responses to “We Are Not “Emergency” Designers”

  1. Jessica Barnett

    Most excellent way of expressing this! Appreciate the reminder…

    It can be easy to forget that the client relationship is just that, a relationship. It needs to be a good fit.

  2. Brett

    I think a lot of “Emergency” situations could be avoided by clients not getting bad information in the first place, usually from less qualified designers or developers. Even we struggle with tough expectations right out of the gate and it’s super important for us to make sure it slows down to get the job done right. I guess I could say I’m not the ’emergency’ printer 🙂

    • Andi Graham

      I completely agree – we deal with a lot of bad information out there from our competitors and peers (“Sure I can do that in a week!”) and struggle against that. And you might not be an ’emergency’ printer but you are amazing!

  3. Brian Burridge

    So glad I got a chance to read this. This was so spot on and I know we’ve been falling prey to it as well. It’s so easy to do. Your reminder though, and classifying it in this way, I think will help us protect against it. Thanks!

    • Andi Graham

      Thanks, Brian. I think we all want to help and we all know we can do it well – but sometimes the love of the challenge takes over our rationality (and the clients!). I just enjoy the reminder to step back and think through the implications of the situation.

  4. Meggan McDonald

    Great post! We do end up provided emergency services to clients for all the reasons you mentioned. It’s been most successful when we’re able to educate the client about the process to successful design and integration so that we can divert future ’emergency’ projects. That type of conversation is always a delicate balance but it can be done so that everyone involved wins. There are some clients though that don’t respond and those are the type that aren’t interested in a relationship – they are interested in a quick fix. We provide the best solutions to our clients when we can focus on strategy and execute rather than just repairing something that lacks clearly defined objectives, research, etc. Your point about taking a step back to think through the implications is so familiar – great reminder!

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