Working under people is a crucially important skill that many people don’t expect to learn. As my teacher told me, commissioned work is likely the most lucrative work for a game developer, just as government funding supports the Film industry. Learning to understand the needs of a client and work toward their goals is very important and a good job might lead to a future with the client.
The first stage of client interaction is your first meeting. You want to get as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, but you don’t want your meeting to feel static and impersonal. It’s best to think of your meeting topics as “Objectives” instead of “Questions”. Questions work, but will feel formulaic and unnatural depending on the context. Using Objectives defines the scope of the subject, and allows you to apply context to each objective and ask the appropriate question in the moment, given the context. The first question you ask is the most important, so your first question should be broad enough to capture the entire project at a surface level. The first question is called the Uncorrupted Version Question, and can be asked as “As broadly as possible, what would you like us to make for you?”. The UVC lets the client give the broadest description of the project as possible, allowing you to tick off quite a few objectives with one question. Afterwards, you will use all of your remaining objectives to round out your knowledge.
But when you know what you’re making for your client, you will need to deal with the possibility that you still don’t know everything you need to. Knowledge gaps can be covered with research. For example, I’m creating an AR garden educational game, which means I need to know anything about gardens. My team and I have been doing field research in an actual community garden helping the gardeners there, in addition to research about gardening in general and the curriculum elements regarding it. For actual design guidance, we’ve taken the liberty to propose solutions for these which we can pitch to our client. Our client is fairly open in how we solve design problems, but we should always be prepared to pivot at their discretion.
Regularly meeting with your client is the next step, show them your ideas and your progress to give them confidence in your work and ability. Don’t hand over your documentation, but always give them something to look at to demonstrate the work you’ve done.
The last challenge you’ll face when working with a client is that you might not be thrilled about the project you’re working on. This is always a problem – even your own ideas get boring after a few years. You’ve got to find a way to love the work you do, even if you can’t want to get it over and done with. Jacob Janerka, creator and artist behind Paradigm, said in his talk ‘How to Make Thing Not Look Terrible’ with Simon Boxer that to get over burning out on your artwork, you really need a break. Work on something different, or take time off in general will help to get over the blues. Same is true here, if you can’t stand writing design specs, maybe drawing UI or writing a different section will give you time to refresh.
Working with clients can be a lucrative and rewarding experience. The amount I’ve learned that I couldn’t have otherwise has been very rewarding and the challenges this work has put me through have made me a better and more flexible designer.