Lately I’ve noticed, along with numerous other design professionals, that working relationships once regarded as solid are now much more dynamic, with clients routinely – and seemingly out of the blue – selecting another firm or team. Many of the firms that weren’t selected (but who’d thought they’d had an inside track) are bewildered at the decision, and end up bitter, irritated, or angry. They sit and stew and gripe while trying to come to terms with why they weren’t selected like they knew they would be. Blame is assigned, mostly to the client or to a committee or for some other nebulous reason – and the opportunity to learn is missed.

Clients select companies and teams that they feel will best complete the task at hand at that point in time. Working relationships and prior projects probably don’t weigh into it anywhere near as much as we’d like them to, which is perfectly appropriate from the client’s side of the table. For qualifications-based selections, fees don’t matter – but perception of cost and responsiveness and depth of service certainly do. New firms and teams form, come into the area, win a job, and perhaps even do it better than the local team. Or perhaps not. There are a lot of design solutions out there. Someone else’s design does not necessarily make yours better or worse. You aren’t in the room for the conversations of budget, schedule, programming, or any of the other hundred topics that come up during the process.

In all my years of practice, I’ve only met one or two clients who, after a project for which we were not retained, regretted their decision. The other firm or team is different. Maybe better at something, maybe not, but it’s not your decision, and probably a waste of your life energy to question the client’s motives. They’re happy with their selection.

Put the best team together you can. Let each individual shine as you expect them to, showing each client the innovation, the creativity, the potential for an outstanding solution. Don’t worry about who’s competing with you. Don’t worry who is competing against you. (And no, those two are not the same). Focus on your team, why you’re that much better, why your services are exceptional in a field of others. Because thinking about the others dilutes your effort, whether you realize it or not.


If you don’t, some introspection is always a good idea, but do it as a means of healthy growth. Ask the client for that debrief. Be fair to your team, be fair to yourself, move on. There’s other work out there, waiting for you to do. Go get it.