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Jeffrey Zeldman talk w/ AIGA NY | DesignNotes by Michael Surtees

Jeffrey Zeldman talk w/ AIGA NY

Jeffrey Zeldman talk w/ AIGA NY

Before design talks I like to ask myself a number of questions so I can be a more active listener. Naturally the questions change depending on who’s talking and what their subject matter is. With Jeffrey Zeldman, I know him as one of the leaders in “web standards”. He has a well respected name in a diverse field, so I was interested in what he had to say. The title of his talk was Selling Design, so web standards wasn’t going to be priority number one of the night. Not such a bad thing considering the AIGA organized the event. So what was I looking to get out of the talk – I wanted to learn something I didn’t know, find out his design process, learn about what makes him different.

Something I didn’t know was that he started off in an ad agency before going into the web. And like most others when the web was in it’s early commercial side, those that created sites didn’t have a lot of experience. What they did have was an understanding of the brands they were working on. In one example, his knowledge of Batman helped convince the client that he should design the site. He knew what would diminish the image of Batman and what wouldn’t.

Is it simple enough to create great work only if the client is great? Perhaps not so true – VW wasn’t apparently nit the easiest client to deal with during the glory DDB days. Zeldman concluded that the great ads that got created was that the agency never stopped working on the same job. If you always do your best, even after three or four sets you will still come up with great stuff.

Respect your clients, simple enough – it’s a two way street. But you also have to be able to smell trouble. If you’re getting a lot of paperwork before the project starts, that may indicate a lack of focus. If the problem is hidden in all the early documentation that could indicate other problem issues that could pop up later on.

Zeldman also talked about the importance of being calm and methodical. You need to be able to explain your creativity and research in a clear manner – hence your process. This is helped along with having a relationship with the client before you start showing the design. It’s also important to keep reminding the client where you are in the scope of things, what has already been agreed and what’s going to be achieved.

Along with being able smell trouble, you need to be able to translate what the client is trying to say. As he talked about this, it seemed like I had heard a similar thing at another talk in Edmonton. The point being that you need to understand and interpret what they client is saying.

Everybody understands design today, or at least everyone reacts to design emotionally. When talking about your work to the client, convey the meaning as opposed to the raw technical things that are obvious in front of their eyes.

And you also need to be able to respond to criticism. What is it that they don’t like, and why. He used some examples from Dan Brown – push back, look into it, get agreement. Both sides need to feel as if they’ve gained something from it.

The overall talk was a good refresher on a business that happens to be in design. There wasn’t any shocking new pieces of info, but it didn’t need to be like that either. He related to the audience and in turn the crowd gave their full attention.

In a bit of gossip – the AIGA is getting a new website – probably in December.

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  • Litherland

    I’m sorry to have missed this. I’ve been a little overwhelmed here lately. I didn’t realize that Khoi Vinh was also speaking. You’ll have to fill me in when I see you next.

    Re: the “a lot of paperwork before the project starts” and “lack of focus” and scope creep thing: I’ve found that it’s extremely important to get people to put what they want and need in writing (otherwise known as an RFP). It doesn’t have to be formal or fancy, but the act of writing helps to clarify thought in a way that speaking doesn’t. It’s surprising how difficult this is for some people—even how resistant some people are to it—but it makes all the difference in the world.