Willy Wonka & the 5 Client Types

There are countless posts describing the good clients and the bad clients, and while I don’t wan’t to be just another of those, I wish to share a conversation I had not too long ago describing clients in terms of the characters from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. We’ve all experienced some, if not all, of these client types and the personality quirks we face when working as consultants across domains and project types.

Augustus Gloop

Augustus is the gluttonous boy, reaching into the chocolate river and falling in causing his own demise. Augustus is the client that always wants more. We have all heard of feature creep? Well that is brought to you by clients and stakeholders like Augustus Gloop. Without restraint, features and functions keep adding to a project and before you know it we fall into a chocolate river. When learning about the lifetime supply of chocolate, Augustus comments “I feel very sorry for Wonka. It’s gonna cost him a fortune in fudge.” As anyone in this position can attest, the fudge is our resources and profit. Finding the balance between original scope, a successful product, and meeting all new expectations is an ongoing struggle with this client.

I feel very sorry for Wonka. It’s gonna cost him a fortune in fudge.

Veruca Salt

Veruca is the spoiled brat who is known for saying I want it now. If there is a common thread among the children in Willy Wonka, it’s the lack of restraint. This client wants to see wireframes when you are still knee deep in performing research sessions and to see aesthetics when you are investigating information architecture and taxonomy. When Veruca’s father shows no control over his daughter, they both land down the garbage chute. In consulting, it is easy to want to give in and show the client what they want to see, but it is important to stick to a process and delivery what is appropriate and possible at each step of the process.

Well, I think that furnace is only lit every other day, so they have a good sporting chance, haven’t they?

Violet Beauregarde

Violet takes the piece of chewing gum and after experiencing a delicious five-course meal turns into a blueberry and requires squeezing. The gum wasn’t ready, and once again the client turns into a blueberry.

It happens every time, they all become blueberries.

You know the client. They see your wireframes or prototype and despite your clear labelling, and pleas, they take the interim deliverable as a final product. Ultimately the light switches on and they realize the development needed to make the vision a scalable reality but this isn’t until after much conversation and investigation around how it is (or clearly isn’t possible) to adapt a simple prototype into a full fledged system overnight.

Mike Teevee

Mike Teevee sees it on TV and bases his world around references he can pull from there. The client who asks to make it like Apple or to do it this way becuase it worked for Amazon. Without context to their environment and needs Mike Teevee clients want what they see and hear as good design. Pay no matter to scale as designs are translated, you’ll find yourself as the consultant either taking splices of interactions piecing them together or losing the design alltogether as you continue to translate items from a public system into your own.

Mike, if you go again there won’t be anything left!

Charlie Bucket

Charlie, dear Charlie Bucket. He wins the golden ticket on a whim after finding some money and ultimately wins the prize of Willy Wonka’s factory. (I’d say *spoiler alert* but if you haven’t seen the movie I would be shocked). This could be described as the dream client. Often found when working for non-profits and smaller shops they eat up, with eager eyes, the design process and the improvements we look to offer. Remember Charlie too faltered though with the fizzy lifting drink. Despite the good natured environment Charlie still wants more and tries to hop in the driver seat and design. Innocent and good natured, this is a learning process for everyone and ultimately leads to a successful design.

The other characters

There are some other characters we would encounter through this process.

Slugworth, the perceived villian, is in fact Wonka’s right-hand man. If we are accepting the designer is Wonka in this metaphor, then Slugworth is the client stakeholder we are unsure of at first and becomes our ultimate cheerleader in the end. Slugworths are invaluable in getting buy in from the larger client team and can make or break a long term relationship.

Grandpa Joe, Charlie’s grandfather. He gets as excited as Charlie about design and process but isn’t as technologically savvy. Typically Grandpa Joe is your senior executive or steering committee. You provide high level details and don’t want to bog them down with the minutia of process and research findings.

The Oompa Loompas. The obvious answer here is they are the development team. To a large degree that is correct. They come out, implement your work and make riddles of the messes caused by design and process. Oompa Loompas are also any other stakeholder who comes in and out of a project at a whim. Uncontrolled you typically don’t interact with them long enough to know their names and they blur together as one collective voice. Finding time to manage and share with these stakeholders is important however they often do not have the voting power you might look for from an invested client.

So who do we want?

It’s easy to say there are no ideal clients or that we should only work with the Charlie Buckets of the world. In truth, every type exists in almost every project and it is our responsibility to balance the needs and expectations of everyone in the room. Maybe with these abstractions in mind we can enjoy picking the Veruca Salt out of the room and less time being aggravated by their requests.

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