Me and most of my design friends have all heard about Clients from Hell. Some of us actually met and worked with such people — the types of clients, that make any designer cringe in fear and disgust. However, there are not many guides, that help clients NOT become a designer’s worst nightmare. And this is a huge problem, since the client’s role is just as important for the success of a project, as the role of a designer.
Being a good client takes time and effort to get used to. It is not an inherent or natural ability to know how to communicate with a design consultant, or what to expect from them. Trusting someone to give you a solution, especially if it is not the solution you’ve imagined, takes some courage and a leap of faith.
Since you are here I can assume that you want to be the best client you can be, and get the most value out of working with your design consultant. That’s why I’ve gathered a series of tips that can help you achieve exactly that. It is organised in a series of guides, that you can navigate easily:
A good client’s guide to responsibility
The first and most important thing that needs to be clarified in the beginning of each project is responsibility.
A good client understands their responsibilities, and the responsibilities of their design consultant.
You as a business owner are the one, who knows about your business. The understanding of your business problems, objectives, audience and limitations should be your bread and butter. So it is your role in a relationship to communicate these to your design consultant.
On the other hand your design consultant is the one who has spent years in learning the craft of creating functional and beautiful designs, that solve your problems, while raising an eyebrow or two. A designer lives and breathes things like symbols, fonts and typography, composition, color theory, user experience. It is within his capacity to make effective design decisions which would help you solve your business problem.
“A good client hires a designer not for a skilled pair of hands, but for a mind that’s been trained to solve problems in a way they can’t.”
You’re My Favorite Client by Mike Monteiro
A good client has a clear problem that needs to be solved.
As a client you should always come to a designer with a business problem. And you are the person who knows why is this problem important for your business. You should do your best to communicate the problem you are trying to solve, and why you want to solve it.
Your design consultant’s responsibility would be to get an in depth understanding of your problem and offer you a solution, which works in the most efficient and effective manner. Sometimes in the real world the solution a designer offers is not always the one that would make you, the client, happy. Which leads us to the next point…
A good client trusts their design consultant’s ability to solve a problem in the most effective way possible.
Maybe the solution you are offered with does not come out “as you imagined it”. However you need to understand that it is not you, that your designer needs to impress – it is your audience. And even though you should be the one who identifies who your audience is, it is your design consultant’s job to identify what design solutions would work with these specific people.
You as a client should ask yourself, would you be willing to pay a serious amount of money to a designer, if you already knew how to solve your problem?
Once you decide to work with a specific designer you need to be absolutely confident in his ability to solve your problem. And once the deal is sealed — trust him to offer you the best solution possible to his ability.
“Trust your designers. Give them the authority to make decisions they’re singularly qualified to make.”
You’re My Favorite Client by Mike Monteiro
Now that we clarified your responsibilities as a client, let’s look at the instrument you can most effectively use to influence a project and guarantee its success — your feedback.
A good client’s guide to effective feedback.
Giving feedback to a designer is a very challenging balancing act. For one you as a client need to guarantee they understand all of your concerns, for the other you would want to leave them enough room for ideas and innovation, so that they provide you with the most effective solution they can think of.
The worst case scenario for you and your designer is when you, the client, start prescribing solutions, and meddling in the work. This creates a lot of confusion and stress for both client and designer, because you both start acting beyond your responsibilities, and “fight for the steering wheel” of a project. So what is the type of feedback, that doesn’t leave your project “crashed in a ditch”? Here are a couple of tips:
Share problems, do not prescribe solutions
Your opinion as a client is crucial. It just needs to be framed in the most effective way.
When you go to the doctor, it’s not a good idea to try to prescribe your own medicine. Same goes for working with a designer. You and your grandmother love turqoise and the font should be Comic Sans? Why would you need to pay an expert, if you’ve already figured stuff out?
What you are an expert in, actually, is your business. As a business owner you know your needs and audience. That’s why you should try to state the problems you currently see in a design, by looking at them from the eyes of your audience and business needs. You want it to evoke a different emotion? Target a different audience? Achieve a different end goal? No problem. Go ahead and say so.
Make up your mind
Once you make a decision, stick with it and don’t contradict yourself. Second guessing every decision, is not getting you any closer to achieving the outcome you are after. Better to get to a design solution and test it out in the real world, getting real feedback, than spinning wheels and going nowhere with the project.
Share your ideas
We all have ideas and love the sweet kick out of seeing them come to pass. This includes both clients and designers. However everyone involved in the project should try their best to guarantee that any idea implemented gets the project closer to the intended outcome.
Keep feedback as simple as can be
Sometimes excitement and ideas can actually distract both client and designer from focusing on the end outcome. When trying to stuff too many ideas into a single design direction, you are running the risk of creating conflicts and inconsistencies that are going to ruin the end design and possibly keep you from achieving the intended outcome.
Keep feedback short, sweet and timely
Remember that the faster and shorter you respond to any questions from your designer, the faster you can get to the outcome you are after. A good rule of thumb would be to answer any questions or feedback requests within 24 hours. This is not always possible, but it is a good place to start.
Are you ready to become my best client yet? Talk to me and let’s get the ball rolling.
If you’re reading this blog post and you’re one of my current clients, know that you’re already great and you have nothing to worry about.