Artist vs. Authority Framework

In our Facebook Group, Wendy asked a wild question that I’ll summarize like this. She’s doing a website redesign for a client. There was a pause in the project. Then the client responds to Wendy saying they like everything but they aren’t experts. They’d like to have a designer they’ve worked with in the past create the mockups that would then be sent to Wendy for her to implement. Of course, this will add considerable time to the project. So, what should Wendy do?

Client Relationship

This seems like a really bizarre reaction from any client. Of course they’re not experts. That’s why they hired Wendy in the first place. She’s the expert, right? Well, maybe no. It seems that in this situation, this client has created two partitions in their mind. On one side you have Wendy doing the technical development. On the other side, there’s some sort of marketing component that they seem to think is outside of Wendy’s expertise. Based on chatting with Wendy, and what I know about this project, it sounds to me like Wendy is more of an expert than her client and their other designer combined. Ok, whatever. Be that as it may. The first thing I’d want to unpack is why the client doesn’t understand the breadth of Wendy’s expertise. It’s possible that it’s nobody’s fault. I don’t know how Wendy landed this job. Maybe it was a referral from someone who did a poor job of positioning Wendy in the first place. So, the relationship just got started on the wrong foot. Whatever the case, the first thing I’d do is look into why there is a gap between what the client thinks and what Wendy actually does.

Three Miscommunication Culprits

The top three reasons why a client might not understand all that you can do are:

  1. You have added some new skills since the last time you worked together
  2. Your referral sources don’t really understand what you do
  3. You position yourself as “the website person”

There are ways to address all three of these problems. If that’s something you’d like to see, please let me know so I can make a video about them. For right now, let’s look at how to fix the third problem where you’re positioned as “the website person” because I think that’s what happened to Wendy.

The Artist Framework

The vast majority of web designers structure their business model based on The Artist Framework. This is definitely where I started out. It applies just as much to coders as it does to graphic designers. We all think of what we do as art. The famous WordPress motto is Code Is Poetry! This is not wrong. There is certainly art involved all over the place when you’re launching a website. But today, websites are not primarily thought of as art even though they are often created by artists.

The Artist Hierarchy

As artists we prioritize our workflow like this:

  1. Feelings
  2. Actions
  3. Data

The most important thing is that the client feels happy with what we have created for them. This is why the very first thing we do is have a discovery meeting to figure out what they want. Based on what the client is feeling, we take action to bring their vision to life. In other words, our actions based on the client’s feelings. Haven’t you had clients tell you things like, “Can you make that pop more?” Or, “Can you brighten up that shade of blue?” The primary goal of our actions is for the client to feel happy with what we’ve done. Once the client is fully satisfied, we launch the website and see what happens. In this workflow, data is at the bottom. It’s the last thing. Feelings run the show. Those feelings drive our actions. Then we launch the site and collect data to see what happened. Feelings, Actions, Data. This is all pretty obvious, right? I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Well, I don’t like it. I don’t like it because too many things suck all at the same time.

  • The client is stressed out because the burden of results is on them.
  • We have to deal with crazy change requests that aren’t based on anything other than opinions and feelings that drag projects on forever
  • We don’t get to see what happened until it is too late to do anything about it because most clients don’t subscribe to a monthly marketing package.

The worst part of all is that we as web designers have virtually no authority. Even when we know what the right thing to do is, nobody listens. This is what is happening to Wendy right now. She’s in a situation where nobody is respecting her authority. It’s frustrating for us and dangerous for the client. I almost shut down my entire business over this exact problem. I vividly remember the exact project that almost had me hitting the eject button. I was getting emailed Word documents with crappy content and I had to go through the website and update punctuation and endless segments of sentences. It was awful. And what made it even worse was I was actually reading the content as I was making the edits and I was 100% certain that nobody was going to buy anything based on this crappy content. I didn’t shut down my business. But I totally flipped it on its head. I developed The Authority Framework.

The Authority Framework

The Authority Framework is the opposite of The Artist Framework. Here we prioritize the workflow like this:

  1. Data
  2. Actions
  3. Feelings

Start With The Data

The Authority Framework for web design is similar to the Doctor Framework. Doctors start with the data. Doctors are the most authoritative people out there. They do research for years to figure out what works BEFORE they are even allowed to get clients. Doctors never ask for their patients’ feelings about what they would like the doctor to do. When you go to the doctor, they’ll ask, “What brings you in today?” Nobody ever replies with what they want the doctor to do. They alway answer with the problem they are trying to solve. That’s a subtle but huge difference! It’s the difference between saying my stomach hurts and I’d like you to give me some stomach surgery. For us as web designers, it’s the difference between clients saying they need help launching a new line of service and saying they want the design to “pop” more.

The Data Drive The Actions

Stop having “discovery calls” for the purpose of understanding what the client feels like they want. Now, we’re having evaluations or qualification calls where the goal is to see if the client is a good fit for the solution you already have. Just like a doctor won’t treat a patient that needs help that is outside of their expertise, you want to make sure your client has the problem that you solve. If they do, then you’ve got the solution. Rather than the client’s feelings driving your actions, the data drives the actions. Rather than the client telling you what they think they want. You tell them what needs to be done to get the results they need.

Design Is Never The Problem

One of the most common ways that I am misunderstood when I’m talking to web designers is that web designers think that not having a good website is the problem they fix. The website is not the problem. There may be – and probably are – deep problems with the client’s website. But, that’s not the problem the client is trying to solve. Remember the Doctor Framework. Remember the qualification conversation. What brought the client to you today? We’re not focused on a technical or design-related problem. We’re solving a deeper problem that addresses the health of your client’s business.

Success Drives Feelings

Of course I want my clients to be happy with the way things look. But what I really want is for them to be happy with what’s happening in their business because of what I was able to contribute. That’s the best feeling. It’s beautiful to see the client’s relief. It’s inspiring to see the results of their success cascade through the other areas of life. Their spouse. Their children. Their health. If you haven’t had that experience yet, don’t stop until you do. It is one of the few sources of real meaning in life. Taking your experiences and your skills and packaging them up in a way that allows you to love and serve other people – especially in their moments of desperation – is a true source of meaning and joy in life.

Change How You’re Seen

If you want to know more about The Authority Framework, I put together this quick video that unpacks the details. Even if you just watch the first half, I think it will change the way you view your business and they way your clients view their relationship with you.

The Authority Framework

Discover the counterintuitive strategies I’ve developed over the last 20 years for landing serious, growth-oriented web design clients.

This is a modern approach to solving the most frustrating problems of running your own web design business.