The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

The advantage of working client side

– September 18th, 2006 –

You may guess from the complete lack of updates here that I’ve been rather busy since returning from holiday. Getting into the swing of things after a holiday is bad enough, but getting back into the swing of being a commercial designer again after four years at a public service broadcaster is a challenge. I’d like to think I’m up for it though. That said, working client side is an incredible challenge and, if presented with the opportunity, I think every designer should jump at the chance.

What do you mean client side?

I mean working for an organisation for their output rather than clients. So, if you work for AOL, or the BBC, or Yahoo! or Google, then you’re working client side.

As you may know I worked for the BBC for four years, which overall were incredibly rewarding for a me. It did require a complete change in the way I thought about design though which I guess is the reason for this post.

What’s the difference?

Client side designing (and I guess it’s the same for development) is a little bit like painting a bridge. You never finish. Once it’s done, you go back to the other side and you start again. It’s about continual, iterative improvement. Little by little the product is improved. The benefit of this for a designer is you get very unique view of the process compared to an agency/client relationship. In a way, you are the client. The sense of ownership is far greater than in an agency. However, it does have a downside or two.

As I said, you never seem to finish. There’s rarely a sense of closure because there’s always something else to do. This can kill morale and, I think, it’s the factor in determining good management of any internal design resource. Projects need clear edges. Start, middle and end. Go for a drink and start the next project next week.

Of course I do have the benefit of hindsight here. And let me just say this isn’t a dig at the BBC by any means, I’m just, well, rambling on about things I’ve been thinking about for a while and now I’m freelance some things have become very clear. I’ve also spoken to a few people about working client side and we all seem to share the same issues and problems, but also the same advantages.

The benefits of designing client side and then agency side

First of all, there’s the audience.

Working for a public broadcaster in the UK, as is probably the case for any publicly-funded media organisation, the audience is pretty much the organisation’s bottom line (mostly). Audience approval and traffic is the measure of a site’s success. Not advertising or subscriptions but what the audience thinks and the traffic the site gets.

Being a designer within that audience-focused environment is fantastic. It’s all about the end user. There is a flip-side though and I’m sure this is the case for any designer working in this industry today. That environment isn’t always conducive for producing creatively challenging projects, let alone solutions.

Then of course there’s time.

Things on the client side of the fence, particularly where the bottom line is a little blurred, run a little bit more slowly. Thankfully, I worked in agencies for a good few years before the BBC and that part of me remembers I need to work quickly, efficiently and to budget in order to make a profit. Oh, and it’s certainly helping for the development of Flow.

Do you work agency or client side?

It’d be really interesting to hear your views on working client or agency side. Love it? Hate it? What challenges do you face every day? What are the real hurdles you’ve had to face and overcome? Who knows, maybe I can help.

Filed in: design.

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