This will either strike a bit of a chord or have a load of fellow designers disagreeing in no uncertain terms but since there’s been some interesting discussion about what a “web designer” is of late I thought I’d offer an unlikely alternative suggestion.
Web design is a highly skilled, specialist customer service role
First of a couple of caveats.
- I don’t mean this as in a headset wearing cubicle dwelling customer service rep.
- I don’t mean this to belittle the role that you take in crafting designs and solutions for clients.
- I’m writing this as someone who’s worked as a cubicle dwelling customer service rep and believes it’s just as easy to provide good customer service as it is bad.
- I am a web designer and producer.
Don’t design directly for your client, design for their customers.
It’s easy to sit down and design for a client. Quite often they’ll have a clear vision about what they want – the difficult bit is getting that out of them and into a brief/visual/wireframe/prototype. If you’re working exclusively for the client you’re doing it wrong.
Your client is most likely in business because they offer some sort of service that they charge money for. It’s how they market and sell that service that keeps them trading year after year.
There’s hopefully a good chance they’ve got some insight into their customer base and it’s those customers you’re actually designing for, not your direct client. They’re an interface between their customers and your skills.
Having worked in a range of customer service roles at O2 before starting a design career. I think it’s stood me in good stead managing a successful freelance job and now working as a Creative Director.
I’ve always felt it’s not that difficult to provide good customer service – for anything. It’s amazing how many companies employ idiots in their call centers who can’t think or even follow a basic script.
What’s this got to do with design?
For want of a better description, I see many parallels between what I do on a day to day basis and what I did several years ago at O2.
As a designer, I’m constantly looking for solutions to problems (sound familiar?) and how best to get visitors to complete a specific task (find something, buy it, fill in a form etc). This is very similar to a great customer service agent who should be able to:
- Listen to an often agitated client / customer problem carefully and extract key information quickly
- Empathise with that person and make the client / customer problem their own
- Make suggestions for fixing the problem and implement them
If you’ve ever spent any amount of time on the phone to one of – well, pretty much any large organisation, chances are you won’t recognise the similarities between design and customer service because you won’t have experienced what good customer service is or should be.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting the two roles are the same but I am suggesting there are a number of common elements once you focus on designers working with a client to satisfy their end users.
Where’s my headset and 70 calls a day?
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t consider every customer service role to be a cliche of headset wearing minimum wagers in a call center. Far from it. I’d just like to open up this branch for discussion and see if it’s just me thinking along these lines or if some real parallels can actually be drawn in the core principles of keeping users happy.
A bonus question
I saw this after I’d decided to write the post but I guess I have an alternative answer to most. Design reviver – Design is ________?