3 Ways to Make Designer/Client Relationships Work / by Olivia Penero

So you’ve got a client, and you’re very excited to get started on your project. The first few stages roll out fine, but you notice your relationship becoming quite strained. You find yourself wanting to speak with your client less and less, and you just want the project to be done with. You may have finished the job, but how did your relationship with your client fare?

This dynamic could be very powerful if handled correctly, and it doesn’t require a magician to keep things running smoothly between designers and clients. What does it take to make this relationship (or any other relationship, in fact) work at top condition?

 

1. Communicate continuously.

As a Designer, when you’ve got the green light to start working, that doesn’t mean you speed up so fast there’s no time for pit stops. I get it - you’re a free spirit whose creativity shouldn’t be confined to a box, but you’re 50% responsible for delivering the project as best you can. You’re part of a team of yourself and your client. Be open to your client and make sure you’re both on the same page. Keep each other in the loop of whatever developments happen. That doesn’t mean staying connected 24/7 of course, but major movements need to be reported.

As a Client, giving the designer a green light doesn’t mean you can just sit back and give the whole task solely in the hands of your employed worker. Yes, while the whole point of you getting someone to work on it was for you to be able to relax and be worry-free, you handle 50% of the success of the relationship too! Staying in the loop allows you to work on developing the project together, making necessary adjustments that will benefit both you and the designer. 

Lack of communication often leads to misunderstandings, causing “I told you so’s” and generally a sour relationship between both parties. Instead of having an awesome project which you both can be proud of, either one or both of you may feel cheated or feel they’ve wasted time on it. Most problems come from the fact that there was no communication in the duration of the project, and the expectation that the ‘designer should know what to do’ or the lament that ‘the client wasn’t very clear about what the next developments will be’, could’ve been avoided altogether.

 

2. Set expectations.

While we’re on the subject of expectations, I’d like to say that it’s better to set these before the project even begins, and the more detailed, the better. I’m sure you already know this, but setting expectations help put milestones on the map, and both parties are then able to see the roadmap more clearly. Expectations help make the blueprint of the whole engagement - you know what’s expected of you as a designer, you are clear on what you need from the designer as a client, and anyone can look back on that list further down the timeline and not get lost in terms of what they need to deliver. 

As someone who’s been doing professional freelance design work for 4-5 years now, I’ve experienced clients who have no idea what they should expect, and in this case, it’s our role as designers to educate them. This will make things easier for us ‘free-spirited’ people, because once we’re clear on each others’ expectations, only then can we actually use our creativity to execute it as we see fit. 

When we do video or voice calls over Skype (most clients are foreign employers) and they finish giving a very vague brief of what they want done, I go over what they’ve mentioned. An example would be if someone wanted an animated video done, ‘with pictures and a character in it’, I go back and ask what they mean. Is it a video that’s 2D, or 3D? What’s their general idea of “pictures with a character”, and so on. More often, all they want is an infographic with “moving pictures”, and not a fully animated character. Again, we go back to item number one - communicate

 

3. Understand where both parties are coming from.

We tend to get impatient with others who don’t understand what we’re saying, and that happens even in normal conversations, right? More so in this dynamic. Often, clients who want some design work done have no idea how to call something so trivial to us, and we involuntarily widen the gap between us and the client by perceiving them as idiots. We’ve got to understand that they didn’t study Fine Arts or get a degree in Design to learn the jargon. They wouldn’t know the difference between “raster” and “vector” images even if they went to the best University in the country. It’s not their chosen discipline. 

This is the same for us designers. If we’re employed by a businessman, we also wouldn’t know jargon related to their field. If they looked like idiots to us for not knowing Color Theory, we’ll look like idiots to them for not knowing simple business terminology. We’ve all got our strengths, and the reason why they come to us for design help is because they know we know what we’re doing. We also go to other professions for help in their related areas, like a doctor or a veterinarian for example. 

Patience goes a long way in making relationships work, and that applies to the work dynamic too. Don’t get tired of interacting with your client or your designer. The more you start getting fed up by the other, that emotion will rub off on them. It’s a cycle, really. Be more understanding of each other’s short comings. Give it time, as long as that time doesn’t hurt the deadline. 

 

Have you ever experienced anything like this in your career? How did it go? How did you make your relationship work?