Trust and the designer-client relationship

Trust is the essential component to making great creative work. Here, designer and co-founder of Wolff Olins, Michael Wolff, examines its role in our personal and work lives, in brands, and in how we use design to shape the world we want to live in

Trust is essential in any enduring relationship. To win someone’s trust in both our personal, as well as in our work lives, is a privilege.

As I became a schoolboy, and probably even earlier, the concept of mistrust was born in me. I’d discovered the expediency of telling lies to get out of trouble. And it usually worked.

I took this discovery with me into my adult life and was happy to use what we, in the UK, call ‘white lies’. I did this in order to get away with misdemeanours or embarrassments – sometimes to make something sound better than it was, and sometimes just to soften the situation of letting someone down.

I didn’t realise that telling white lies had become a long-standing habit of mine. As I approached becoming a mature adult, I began to realise that my lying meant that I couldn’t be trusted. It was a profound and very painful discovery.

I could see that I was capable of all sorts of deceits to smooth my way, and that this stupid habit was sowing seeds of distrust of me in others. It meant that some people considered me unreliable. I discovered that I’d become someone that you couldn’t trust or depend on. Yet eventually I understood that to many who I valued – this was me. I had no idea that I must have been seen this way for many years.


When Wally [Olins] and I became leaders of Wolff Olins, I’d expected people to forgive my flaws – some did, but many didn’t. I didn’t know that it would take me some years of a ‘lie-free life’ to win the trust of many colleagues on whom I depended. At least as important as this, I didn’t realise that trust underpins love and that without complete trust, love is a hollow protestation. Excuses rarely convince.