“Feel free to take this project in any direction you like, I trust your judgement completely,” said basically no client ever. Instead, you may have experienced “I’m not sure what I want yet, but it isn’t that” or, better still, “Can I sit by you while you work?” (true story). When working with clients, whether you’re a freelance designer or an employee, a huge realization you face pretty early on is that – shock, horror – not everyone is a designer. It sounds obvious, but it really does impact everything, from the vocabulary you use, to how you explain concepts and more. Clearly, maintaining a happy, professional and successful relationship with your client isn’t always a walk in the park. But it is crucial for your well-being, as well as your income. That’s why we’ve brought together ten tips for designers on working with clients effectively:
1. Cultivate a healthy relationship:
Just like any relationship – communication is key. Start off by setting expectations, so that you understand your client’s needs and they form an understanding of your team’s workflow and boundaries. This way, you can establish a positive process that will work for both sides, and also decide on deadlines accordingly. To encourage open communication, make sure to update your client regularly, sharing your work-in-progress with them, as well as any hiccups you face along the way (more on updates later). Chatting to them regularly could also surface any misunderstandings you may have had, so that you can ensure you’re on the right track and don’t end up doing double the work.
While ‘kerning’, ‘kinetic typography’ and ‘mockups’ are everyday phrases for us, they most probably sound like alien-language to our non-designer clients. Try putting yourself in your client’s shoes. Although it’s hard to do when you’re actually immersed in a heated conversation, take into account that your client has not gone through the design training you have. It is likely that they cannot envision what you’re describing, and might not know where or how to look for inspiration or references. They may say something annoying like “can’t you just Photoshop it?”, but the truth is, they just have no idea. And to be honest, you probably don’t know too much about the ins and outs of their field, so bear that in mind even in the toughest of moments. If tensions rise, remember to respect your client both professionally and personally, regardless of how frustrated you are (your bank account will also thank you later).
Although it’s not always easy, work towards perfecting the balance between confidence and humility. By showing your client that you have the self-assurance to stand up for your design and for what you believe in, they will, in turn, perceive you as an expert in your field and treat you accordingly. This attitude will also help you receive feedback positively, as you put your ego aside, stay professional and focus on how you can implement the most relevant bits of feedback to reach the best design.
2. Understand your client:
Know your client’s business
Just like you’d prepare for a design interview by researching into the position you’re applying for, the same goes here. Do your homework about your client before meeting them to find out what they do, what their vision is and what they stand for. Get a little more in depth, by looking into who their clients and competition are. This will also give you an understanding of their field of expertise and their type of business – are they a small brand or an international corporation? Have they worked with any big names in the past? What is their biggest competitor’s visual language? All of this will also help you feel more confident when you meet them and enable you to better understand their needs, as opposed to seeing them as random requests.
Understand your brief
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When working with clients, questions are the best way of gaining a clear and thorough understanding of what they want to achieve and who the target audience is. It will also reduce the risk of miscommunications, that can result in extra work – and possible sticky situations. Visual examples could also help ensure that you and your client are on the same wavelength, so show them references to narrow down on a concept.
3. Define the plan and manage the process:
Set and manage expectations
This is where a solid contract will come in handy. It should include a clear outline of the plan and details on each side’s deliverables, such as amount of drafts and milestones along the way. Plan the process according to what works for you, then explain it to the client so that they will know what to expect. Just like in any project, set realistic timeframes and deadlines that you and your team can stand behind. Sticking to these timings will help develop a trusting relationship, so make sure you consider this carefully beforehand.
Be a team
The recipe for success is to form a team with your client, which of course is easier said than done. Involving your client throughout the process and making joint decisions will likely lead to a positive work environment and a sense of collaboration, in which both sides are satisfied with the progress and with the project as a whole. Remember to ask for feedback and adjust your work accordingly, making them feel comfortable to voice their opinions and generating a good vibe.
Update your client
As already mentioned, keeping your client up-to-date with what you’re up to is highly valuable in forming a blossoming relationship. Here’s a checklist of what to update your client with: – Tasks you completed the previous week – Tasks planned for the upcoming week – Tracked time broken down by type of work – Budget spent and budget remaining – Tasks that may go over budget or schedule – Any expectations you have of your client – The actual design progress
Wrap up like a pro
The final touch is to make sure to deliver all the relevant files, so stay super organized throughout the process. Even after passing everything on, remain available and responsive in case your client has any last comments or requirements – within reason, of course.
4. Stay in touch even after the project:
Be an ongoing partner
You never know when your client may come in handy again, or when you’ll need that recommendation from them. Your professional image is highly important, which is why you should maintain a healthy relationship with your clients, even once the project is over. You can be available to give them free advice if they ask for it, and help introduce them to any connections you may have. After all, as they say “what goes around, comes around.”