If Your Creative Firm Has Never Said ‘No’, You Might Have a Problem

If Your Creative Firm Has Never Said ‘No’, You Might Have a Problem

Recently we’ve been shopping around for new office space. We love our current spot, but these blog posts are catching on and we’ve outgrown it. Anyway, in the process of seeing tons of potential new office spaces around downtown St. Louis, we spoke with a lot of realtors, and met with a lot of architects and space planners.

“We can do whatever you want. This is a great space.” “We can move this for you.” “Sure, we can build that for you.” “We can do anything you want. Just let us know what it is.”

Everyone was very nice and was trying to sell their space. The problem was that even though we had an idea of what we wanted – lots of pictures of offices we liked from other design firms around the country, armfuls of Ikea and similar furniture catalogs, a rough idea for seating and space needs – we didn’t know exactly what our new space should be. Endless yeses did nothing to narrow our options or provide any kind of expert guidance. We were left to our own ideas with no outside filter to help weed out the bad ones.

I swear this story has a point.

So, finally we found a developer who took us on a tour of some really wonderful offices he had designed. They were inspiring yet practical, and were not too cliché or over the top. It was a great experience based on where we’d been and what we were looking for. And while this developer was friendly and accommodating (after all he was trying to land a tenant), he spoke more of what he wouldn’t do, than what he would.

“I don’t do fluorescent lights.” “I don’t pick paint colors until the construction is complete.” “I don’t do glass blocks.” “I don’t think you need this many offices.” etc, etc.

“No.” It was almost refreshing. Here was someone who has produced work that his other tenants love and that we truly admire, and while he wanted to make us happy, he wasn’t willing to sacrifice the outcome of the work. He wasn’t forcing his opinion on us either. He simply, politely said “no,” and then offered alternative suggestions. His ‘no’s’ provided the guidance we needed to wrangle our ideas and see the situation from a new perspective that allowed us to design an office we’ll love.

If someone cares enough about the work they do that they are willing to lose business to protect its integrity; I think that’s how you define a professional.

When we work with clients on design and marketing projects, we do our best to listen, be empathic and bring our perspective and experience. In most cases, clients pay for expertise, not simply for an agency to agree with them. It’s an agency’s responsibility to inform clients of the bad ideas as well as the good ones. So if your creative firm has never politely said “no”, you might have a problem.

And by the way, our new office should be ready in October, completely free of fluorescent lights.

Mike Spakowski

Mike Spakowski

Mike Spakowski is Principal / Creative Director of Atomicdust and is involved with the day-to-day design strategy, art direction and studio management.

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