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MARCH 4, 2009   

It gets complicated

Detail of email payment acknowledgement from ChaseIt's a little strange, I thought as I walked home from our meeting at Gypsy Beans today, to be working with my son on two projects at the same time in different roles.

We're doing a major renovation of our kitchen—first in at least twenty years—and Danny's company is doing the work. I'm the client, he's the contractor.

At the same time, I'm designing a website for his company. He's the client, I'm the contractor. And of course our father-son relationship factors in somehow. I drew this diagram when I got home to show the relationships. It may help explain why I sometimes feel tugs in multiple directions as we talk.

One of the hardest things as a designer is when your client doesn't accept your brilliant idea as perfect but instead keeps raising pesky objections and concerns. You have to bite your tongue to keep from saying "Hey, I'm the professional here, just listen to me and everything will be fine!" And in the case of this particular website I have the added temptation to say "And I'm your father, so just do it my way!"

Obviously that would not be a good way to handle the situation, so I'm trying to work with my client to improve my idea. I think it's going to work out just fine...eventually.

Of course our roles are reversed when we talk about the kitchen rehab. As the client I expect the contractor (Danny) to defer to my every wish. Not to mention the added "I'm your father" factor. I'm pretty sure he gets a bit annoyed at times, but handles it well. So I expect we have an interesting month or so ahead.

A bit of history

It wasn't clear this afternoon, but as I've thought about the relationships and diagram I realize it comes out of an experience I had many years ago while working with a counselor. Things in our family were going poorly, largely due to my own actions.

Diagram of family relationships

At one point the counselor said "Draw a diagram showing you, Joanne, and your kids, with arrows to show how you relate to each other."

I thought this was stupid, but did it. When I saw the drawing it made things clearer than ever. I was mostly relating to my children through my wife. My connections to each of the kids were weaker than theirs with Joanne and each other. Shirley (the counselor) asked if I was happy with this. No, I wasn't. Then it's up to you to change it.

That drawing started a long, painful, and eventually rewarding process of change. I'm happy to say that if I were to draw the diagram today, all of us would be linked by a web of arrows.

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2009 MARCH