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Friday, October 29, 2010

Respect Thy End User

It should really be the first commandment of design. Isn't it? Well, it's my first commandment. Know your end user and respect their needs. My renown professor, Frank Manke, stressed this over and over. Yet, I come across so many situations where this has clearly not been the case. I know in talking with my colleagues that they frequently run across this issue with their clients as well. How many of us in the color/design world have been hired to redo something for a client because the color or design did not suit the client's style?

Give a colorful hand but know your limits

One client had a lovely home and their designer did a fine job with the furnishings but simply handed the clients a list of paint colors at the end of the project. They felt the colors were muddy and dull. Another felt railroaded towards using colors didn't suit her home or style.

Is a soft flow of colors what your client wants?

The Sky is the Limit Design

Is a little shot of color going to bring the room alive and capture their attention without overdoing it?

House and Home Magazine

Perhaps the color design process can be a little intimidating or mysterious to some and people feel a little nervous to speak up and reject color that does not feel like a comfortable fit. I've had clients feel nervous that they are picking out “boring” colors that won't be respected. Others feel pressured by color fearless friends who encourage them to choose racier colors that simply don't work for many people. A good designer/colorist will take the mystery out of the process.

I find my first goal in starting a project is often what is lacking in our fast paced world right now, to listen. Whether it's a large scale project with many end users or a single client's kitchen, the first step in starting the process is to listen. We are often similar to tightrope walkers, walking a fine line between specifying colors that look best with architecture, furnishings and other surroundings, introducing new concepts and respecting what our clients want and can live with.

Sometimes a red pillow is as brave as they wish to be. That's OK!

Philip Sinden Design

Color tolerance is such a personal characteristic and is a key to understanding your client. I was struck by Frank's advice again recently when I started hearing complaints about the school office where my younger son attends school in my neighborhood. A couple of people, who know what I do for a living, even asked if I had been responsible for this. A well intentioned decorator had come in and wanted to assist in choosing paint colors for the office.

Those of us that work with color know that many visual ergonomic principals and other factors come into play when specifying colors for a work environment. This decorator chose a color she thought was pretty and, without testing it or asking the office staff, had the district painters put it up. We now have a strong green office that makes the staff feel ill. The green itself is not bad and may be pretty in a residential environment, but not in an office. The first comment the office staff had when I asked about them about the process was, “We were never asked!”. Know and respect your end user. Don't sell a fuchsia room to a person that gets nervous around beige.

Relaxing or irritating? It all depends on your color tolerance.


My clients are great about how far I can push the envelope as far as suggestions outside their requested palette and it's certainly fun to see the spark in their eye when a new idea I suggest takes hold with them. Many welcome and want a dose of color education, suggestions, ideas and placement options. That is my job, obviously, but it's also important to know when a client really just prefers you to help them pick out the best white, yellow, gray or taupe for the job and respect that.


So we colorists and designers move forward though the client world and continue the supremely wonderful, happy job of walking that tightrope for our clients. I wouldn't have it any other way.


Nicky P. said...

Marie, we may need to talk about a small project here in Alameda!

Marie Brady said...

Oh Nick, now you've got me curious! Do tell! Enjoying your blog, BTW-go Giants!

Donna said...

I always start my color consultations with a 15-20 chat. This way I can find out what color and feel the client wants but more importantly to capture their personality as well.

It's so very important to listen then to choose color.