Thank God for Dumb Clients — Refractal Studio

Clients, customers, users… I’ve heard co-workers complain about them for over a decade now, but the simple truth is that we need them desperately. Without them, we’d be out of a job.

In another life–20 years ago–I managed a deli. The sandwich station in the kitchen is where I started. It’s where everyone started. I’ll never forget the busy days with a line out the door. A curtain of order tickets in front of me filled my field of vision during the brief moments when I glanced up from my cutting board. I loved those days.

Jumping onto a busy foodservice line like that at 11am is like stepping into a time machine. It takes a few minutes to get into the flow, but then suddenly you look up, and it’s 3pm. There was always one person on the shift that complained, though. Whining about the line and how busy we were.

UGH, LOOK AT THAT LINE. DON’T THESE PEOPLE KNOW HOW TO MAKE A SANDWICH? STOP GIVING ME TICKETS. THIS SUCKS.

I understand the sentiment at the moment, but beyond a short-lived frustration, I never got it. The line was there for me. For us. Enough days without it, and we’d all be out of a job. We’d be standing in a very different line over at the out-bound call center down the street hoping to get a job so soul-sucking that the turnover was 90% quarterly. I was glad those people couldn’t be bothered to make a sandwich. Making sandwiches as a professional requires speed and precision, but is generally pretty easy, and I was good at it.

Later, when I got into my actual career doing technology and design work at an agency, there were always a few of the same people around. They were more highly educated and better paid, but they whined about the same things. They complained about how clients just don’t get it, the customers have no taste, and users are so dumb … LOL.

Here’s the thing, though. If my clients knew how to do my job, then I wouldn’t have one. If my users magically knew how to use my product, I’d be out on the street. We need dumb clients. We need users that are “bad with technology.” I’m convinced that isn’t really a thing, by the way. “Bad with technology” describes everyone. “Inexperienced with technology” represents a more specific group, but it’s getting smaller every day.

Dumb clients are why I’ve been able to bring home the bacon doing what I love for over 15 years. My ideal client is dumb-as-hell, specifically in the area where I’m a subject matter expert-technology, design, etc…

My ideal client is also brilliant about their customers, their product, and their market. My job as a consultant, agent, designer, developer, etc. is to shore up that weakness so that we can go far together.

This makes it easy to provide value. It makes the day go by fast. It makes for a great working relationship where two parties can come together and make something better than either one could have on their own.

There’s a massive caveat here that clients can’t be dumb about everything. That they aren’t rude and unwilling to learn. When you find yourself in that situation, where the only thing the client brings to the table is money, it’s (often) time to part ways. That sort of relationship can work, but it’s rare. Much of the responsibility of avoiding that situation is on us as agents/consultants anyway. You can kill rudeness with kindness. You can defeat an unwillingness to learn with passion for your subject matter.

Half of my job has always been educating, and I’m OK with that. If I can’t teach my clients anything, then I can’t provide any value. And if I can’t do that, if they can make their own sandwich, then the line for my services goes away. I’d never want that for more than a fleeting moment. If I did, then I’d be the dumb one.

Originally published at https://www.refractalstudio.com on November 17, 2020.

Consumer experience consultant in Kansas City. Making stuff for humans since 2005.