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I met a client that currently works with a designer whom I don't know - the client showed me his new logo and asked my opinion about it. I answered that I don't like "grey on grey background". That's all I answered.

Two days later I got an email from the client (He just sent it without prior conversation) with all the sources of another designer's works and he asked my opinion about the whole bunch of 4 PDFs and their content.

  1. How would you price it (to give an opinion about another designer's work).

  2. Do you think it is ethical to answer that question (I actually dislike the results, thus I am biased from the beginning. Secondly, I don't make that kind of designs - i.e. CMYK-based printings etc).

  3. And if you don't want to answer that question - how can you articulate the rejection?

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I'd just say that the other chap isn't working for me, so what I think is unimportant. What matters is whether the client likes it. –  Andrew Leach May 23 at 10:57
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Any appraisal of any design work depends on whether it meets the brief they were given. Do you know the brief? If not, that's a handy way to dodge an awkward question (e.g. "I'd normally avoid that style for [reason] but it might meet the brief they were given") –  user568458 May 23 at 12:08

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Well, audit and consulting in graphic design is a very interesting set of services. I would not dodge from this opportunity. Propose to the client your audit services based on a hourly rate.

Just keep in mind - audit is about what they have, what is good and not; and consulting is what about what can be fixed and what can be achieved.

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I would +10 this if I could. Excellent point about "auditing services" being available, and an even better one about what auditing and consulting are. –  Lauren Ipsum May 23 at 19:55
    
I am glad that you found it helpful. –  Vnovak May 25 at 12:05

As for point 1, see Vnovak's excellent answer, not least the superb differentiation between critique and consulting.

On point 2, the thing to keep in mind is that "like" and "dislike" are not criteria you should use to judge any design. "Like" is subjective, based on personal idiosyncrasies, taste and personal experience. Worse, saying what you like or don't like isn't useful. Rather, consider the business problem that the design is intended to solve. Bill Muggeridge, director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, said this in a Washington Post article (via Design Talk):

“One of the big differences between art and design is that art is mostly about commentary — it’s making a statement that you’re expecting other people to contemplate and be moved by, emotionally, or altered by, in terms of their perceptions.

“Whereas design is really about solving a problem that makes something more pragmatic, and useful, and valuable or valued, and of course you can add qualities of aesthetics to that, that make it also a delight. At the same time, if it fails on the functionality side, all is lost, whereas if it fails on the delight side, it might still fit into a lot of people’s lives in a satisfactory if not an exciting way.”

Does the design accomplish that, or not? Can you say why, in a short paragraph or two? If you can't, step back for a moment and reconsider. As a designer, you should be able to articulate why an element is or isn't effective, does or does not contribute to the purpose of the design as a whole. The medium (print, web, mobile app, video) doesn't matter here: the same question applies no matter whether you're talking about a billboard or a master shot for a movie scene. John McWade has another excellent post that makes this point very well.

Not only will you find this an incredibly useful exercise, one that will help you to look at your own designs less subjectively, it frees you from the ethical dilemma. You will know for yourself whether the design is effective, independent of your personal taste, and you will have learn a new skill in the process.

You will also be able to relax on the subject of whether you should take on the job of redoing the client's identity materials.

On #3, if you really don't want to get into it, a simple "I don't feel comfortable commenting on the work of another designer" should be understandable.

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Nice answer I should say! –  Ilan May 24 at 19:33

I'm glad you're so conscious of business ethics!

  1. For a quick, infrequent, and casual opinion, I wouldn't charge anything. "These colors clash", "maybe font XYZ would have been a better choice", etc. But for complex professional consulting (such as reviewing several PDFs in your example, or when people routinely bombard you with questions), I'd charge whatever my standard hourly design rate was, with a minimum of one hour billed. When it begins to feel like you're doing free work for someone, you probably are. And that's not fair to you. As a litmus test, ask yourself "am I being inconvenienced, or going out of my way for this?"
  2. It's certainly ethical to have a perspective, whether or not it's objective or informed, and also to comment on or critique the work of others. Though context is also important, for example in regards to a coworker or competitor, or in a business setting. Bashing the work of another designer solely in order to steal their client's business would definitely be unethical. Though to be honest, if your work is a better fit for a client, you shouldn't feel bad if your service is considered over another's. The general idea is simply to avoid stepping on others to get ahead.
  3. If you feel taken advantage of, just say you're happy to give a quick opinion but don't have the resources to offer professional consulting and design services for free to everyone who asks. And that you'd be glad to discuss any work opportunities that would offer fair compensation for your time.
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Valuable and useful answer! –  Ilan May 25 at 5:33
  1. I wouldn't price to give a quick opinion.
  2. I think it's a good idea to give positive feedback unless the work is definitely bad.
  3. Let's say that from 1 to 10 you are a 9 grade designer. If you see 7-8 grade work I think you should say it's good. If it's 4-6 you can say that this designer needs to learn more. If it's 1-3 you can say it's the work of a beginner.

My idea is to adopt some tribe psychology here. We are the tribe of designers and we should always convey a high value status to other tribes. Something like "Designers are great, valuable people but some of them are still learning." ... which is actually true. Even if it's 1-3 grade work you can still say: "This guy is doing a great job but I can see he is still a beginner."

Great beginner vs. Incompetent designer. After all he is a designer, you are a designer ... the client will perceive you as a part of that tribe/group. If one guy is incompetent ... there is a great chance that you are incompetent also or at least that's what he would think. On the other hand we have the great beginners. If beginners are doing a great job and he thinks you are more advanced, then he would think you are a god like designer. :)

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The psychology part is what I was looking for! –  Ilan May 25 at 5:34
    
Great answer. @NewViewers don't skim it. The 3rd point only makes useful sense with the rest of the explanation. +1 –  DumbNic May 25 at 15:15
    
@Ilan I can give you very valuable advice. People think and act for two reasons: Survival(safety & comfort) and Replication(sex). You can view any sort of interaction through these needs. If you convey an idea, that you can help your client to survive the marketing jungle, he would instantly become your friend, because he sees survival value in you. If you say: "Hey, I would talk to you later, I have to meet this group of men." ... high survival value. These men need you, therefore you are valuable leader. My only design rule: My design, should make my client more money, than they pay for it. –  Komental May 26 at 15:19

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