As I was driving to work today I turned on the radio to NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Toyota’s upsetting recall was the topic of their discussion as it has been for the past week so I didn’t think much of it. Since I was half-awake, most of the conversation blew over me until I heard the one phrase that had the same effect as throwing a bucket of cold water on me: Toyota Corolla. My car!!

 

My car, the charcoal-gray, fuel-efficient, dependable piece of metal that got me everywhere I wanted to go had steering problems? No. Actually it was just the 2009-10 versions (I have a 2008, thank goodness).

After my short panic attack I started listening to the program more intently as they broached the topic of how Toyota’s Japanese culture affected the way they handled the situation in American eyes. Several news stations have accused Toyota of “bragging” about their negotiated recall and criticized the company for their failure to immediately address the issue with more concern. They characterized the Japanese Automotive company as having an ethnocentric business style that lacks global integration; thus the Japanese custom of not openly addressing a mistake was seen as cowardice in the eyes of American consumers.

This immediately switched on the “designer” lightbulb in my head. The misunderstanding between the Japanese corporation and the American consumers is much like the communication tunnel between designers & their clients. In this tunnel, in which the designer is at point A and the client at point B, ideas become twisted and re-imagined sometimes in an unfavorable way.

I’m not saying that designers suffer from any type of ethnocentric point of view, but we do see the world differently from people who are not as concerned with the visual efficacy of their daily lives. Since our work depends on our clients, in the same way that the American automotive market makes up a large fraction of Toyota’s sales, we must learn to adapt to their needs. Urban Geko always works with our clients to make sure their needs are met to produce the highest quality design around. Here’s how we do it:

Build rapport with them and make them aware of your passion for design.
I feel like I’m one of the few people I know who gets excited to go to work everyday. I love what I do and if my clients know that they will be more likely to be enthusiastic about the work as well.

Make it clear that what you are doing is always in their best interest.
If you’re creating a website for someone, often times they own their own business or are a sole proprietor. This means they are pressed for time and need to get their design work finished as fast as possible. They don’t care about your needs they just need to know that your design will increase the visibility and/or profitability in some way. If you can help them understand that your designs are doing just that it will make the whole process a lot smoother.

Try to see things from their perspective.
Imagine a day in their shoes- as well as the shoes of the target audience they are marketing to. What is important to them? What would grab their attention? What would make them feel like your design is worthwhile? Ask yourself these questions before you even begin the project.

Work both for them and together with them.
If someone is dropping a few thousands on a website he or she will want to feel as though they are playing a large role in the decision making process. It is their money after all, so make sure they’re getting what they paid for.

Treat every client like a big name, high recognition project.
For the sake of your company’s portfolio as well as your reputation for customer service, design firms can’t afford to brush off small boutique firms that only need a simple informational website (well some firms do, but we at Urban Geko don’t!). Just because someone has a smaller project doesn’t mean that they don’t have a referral that can lead to bigger things or future projects. More fundamentally, they are human beings too- regardless of how big their budget is.

Hopefully Toyota’s brand will recover from this incident, but in the meantime designers can take this opportunity to learn a few things from their mistakes.

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