Who is your client?

Chris Lane / Art, Business, Design, photography / / 1 Comment / Like this

America's Cup Building - Valencia, Spain - David ChipperfieldAmerica’s Cup Building in Valencia, Spain, designed by architect David Chipperfield. image from Wikipedia under GNUFDL.

In all aspects of commercial work, be it graphic design, photography, commissioned fine art, or architecture you have a client. I was listening to an interview on a BBC Radio 3 podcast the other day with architect David Chipperfield and he briefly brought up the question for his own architectural work, “Who is ultimately the client?” This question intrigued me and I wanted to follow up on it further. After all, this question can really be put out to a much broader base than just architecture. Who, indeed is the client for the work you produce?

The Billpayer

Obviously, the one that is actually giving you the money to do your work is ultimately the client, right? They are the true decision maker, because without them, it is just a hobby and the work will not be seen by anyone else but yourself. But without people below the billpayer, the billpayer wouldn’t be able to generate the money that pays you, which brings me to

The Workers

This group doesn’t always hold so much sway in a lot of the art fields, but does in architecture, as Mr. Chipperfield mentions. In architecture, the workers have to work in the building that is constructed. So they would be the people directly affected by the amount and quality of the light and the layout, for example. So they become partly the client in this aspect as well. You certainly wouldn’t want to design a building that is shorter than the average height of the worker. In design, the worker should be at least somewhat aware of what the design entails. The worker needs to know what is driving the sales so they can deal with the next group of people

The Current Customers

Again, without this group, the Billpayer and the Workers wouldn’t even exist. These people are directly responsible for the money coming in. When you design an advertisment, the design is made toward this group of people (and the next, but I’ll get to that) so they are in a way the client as well. You are making something for them. Not only does the design have to continue to remind the Customer of the Billpayer’s product, but you have to avoid alienating the Customer as well, or everything will be lost. Take the Tropicana redesign as a point of that fact. In architecture, the customer is the client in that for a shopfront, for example, the customer has to recognize it and relate to it and want to enter. Then within, the layout, which falls in both architecture and interior design, has to be intuitive so they can have an enjoyable and simple shopping experience. And back to the shopfront, you want to lure in the next group, known as

The Potential Customer a.k.a. The Public

The unsuspecting public can ultimately be the client because the Billpayer is always trying to get new people into the Current Customer category. So as the Potential Customer walks by said storefront, they should be intrigued and a design should entice desire in them to want to pass over the invisible wall from Potential to Current. So in that case, you wouldn’t want to create art that disgusts the public if your motive is to get them to buy. So it can at times be a fine line between a tried and true method of satisfying the Potential and Current Customers and being innovative, which could satisfy the next client, namely,


As I mentioned in my post about experimenting, you always want to move yourself and your work forward. So theoretically, the final client is yourself. You want to create something new and interesting, something that pushes the bounds of the current norm. This can be toward a common goal of giving the other clients something new and something that furthers yourself. If you are stagnant, you are in danger of people forgetting about your work.

Even though you think your new work is exactly what the Potential Customer will relate to, you have to be careful not to oppose the Current Customer, and sell the idea to the Billpayer. So in the end, they are all your client. You may need to convince the Billpayer that all these others are also important. It does depend on the medium you are working in, whether one of those groups holds more sway over others, but ultimately the group as a whole is your client and you must take into consideration each group individually to come up with a truly good solution. Good luck with that!

Do you have anything further to add? Do you think this is utter hogwash and only the person paying is the client? Let me and everyone else know in the comments below.

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