Graphic designers and web designers – especially those of us who freelance or run a small design studio – are constantly meeting new people, new potential clients, describing our work processes and so on. If you’re not doing this, chances are your design career isn’t going so hot. Anyway, many of these new or potentially new clients of ours have little to no experience working with designers – and as we all know, heading into the unknown can cause stress and bring about questions and concerns.
With that in mind, I asked a few of our recent clients some questions regarding their side of working with designers – what stressed them out, what their worries were, and suggestions for how designers like you and I can alleviate these concerns. Their answers were interesting, and by listening to these concerns, I think any designer can improve their next project and/or business relationship.
Client Concern: Cost
Both Anna, a client of ours from Yoga for Today (new website is being built as we speak!), and Jacqueline, owner of JACEK Chocolate, mentioned the fact that one of their shared initial concerns revolved around cost. Jacqueline needed a full brand built from square 1; she also was starting a business that required investment in equipment. Anna was concerned about whether or not the quoted price would creep up as the project went on – would there be hidden fees?
Solution: Make sure you do your research and know what the costs for a project will be, and communicate these clearly to your client. As we can’t see all potential roadblocks, be sure also to mention that your quote is based on certain terms (number of revisions, current described project specs, etc) and that if these specs change, the price will likely change as well. On top of this, be sure you’re able to explain the benefit of paying for quality design work to your client; getting it done right off the top means no costly redesigns down the road, no loss of brand equity due to a needed redesign, and the like.
Client Concern: Designer’s Habits
By designer’s habits, I mean things like “Does he/she take feedback well?”, “Do they actually listen to my concerns?”, “Are they asking the right questions to get the results I want?”, and “Are they going to hit deadlines?” – all specific concerns raised by Anna and Jacqueline.
Solution: Three of the four above questions focus on people skills – so make sure yours are sound. Make sure to listen to your client; they are spending their hard-earned money on you, and they rightfully have questions. Remember that you’re designing for their business – not your art portfolio. Don’t be aloof; be personable. Learn about their business by listening, asking the right questions and more. Remember, your client cares more about whether or not the work you’re doing for them meets definable business goals – not so much “how nice it looks”.
With regards to the deadlines/timelines concern, the first step is to be punctual. Return emails and phone calls as soon as you can. Don’t be late for meetings. In the initial meeting, explain clearly to the client what they can expect from you in terms of turnaround times, and what you hope to expect from them on their end. All in all, just be sure you come off as a designer who cares about their business and doing the project right – in all regards.
Client Concern: Seeing the Client’s Vision
Daniel Moir, a singer/songwriter and client of ours, mentioned that one of his chief concerns was whether or not the designer’s end result would match the vision he had in his head (specifically regarding album design and website design). Jacqueline had concerns about this as well regarding the vision she had for her brand.
Solution: Try active listening, a listening technique that “requires the listener to understand, interpret and evaluate what (s)he hears”. This may involve paraphrasing and repeating a client’s statement or question back to them (“Okay Daniel – so what I’m hearing you say is that [paraphrased statement]“), or taking what they’ve told you and going through your past body of work (or other inspiration, perhaps online) to see what styles match what the client is trying to articulate.
It can be tough to articulate design; sometimes seeing actual work will help clear the air (“Yes! I like that worn look and the weight of that font” etc).
As well, Daniel specifically mentioned that he preferred seeing “a wide array of styles in (the designer’s) portfolio, showing his/her diversity and ability to realize the client’s vision”.
Client Concern: What is My Role?
We heard this concern from a few of the clients we talked to regarding this article. Those unfamiliar with the design process were unsure of how the project would proceed, and what they would be required to do.
Solution: Have a basic project outline prepared prior to any meeting. In this project outline, mark down tasks and who would be responsible for completing them, as well as any more details you require. In the meeting with your client, break down how the basic project will go (meeting/ research/ drafts/ presentation/ revision/ content creation/ testing/ launch/ training etc) and what you would like from them. Don’t be afraid to be specific – if you’d like a Word document broken down into subsections with subtitles pertaining to each page on a website, say so. If you need the images to be cross-referenced and supplied with the text, ask for that. Don’t be a demanding jerk about it, of course, but every client we’ve been specific with has been happy with this approach. Don’t forget, the client is nervous too. They want to make you happy, so make their job easy!
Client Concern: Making Everyone Happy
Kelvin, an instructor over at STM Hockey Academy in Edmonton, had this concern during the website design and print design work Paper Leaf created for them. He wanted to make us happy and give us an enjoyable project, but he also had to make sure his boss was happy – with deadlines, created work and the like.
Solution: Laying out a project timeline first thing, either rough or strict, will help all parties involved with regards to expectations. I’d suggest the designer create the initial draft of the timeline, and if necessary, the client can help revise (for example, if they have an event coming up that will interfere with their ability to hit a turnaround time of 3 days for something). As we create websites/business identities/posters etc for a living, we should have a better understanding of how long it takes to complete stages of a project.
If the client does come back to you with unreasonable deadlines or requests, do your best to articulate why you can’t hit that deadline or why you shouldn’t add a rainbow unicorn chasing the cursor around the screen. Make sure to mention that these unreasonable deadlines/requests will hinder the performance of the designed piece; clients care about how well their business runs and how well it is perceived by their customers.
While this writing definitely does not cover any and all concerns ever had in the history of graphic design, it does cover quite a few common ones. By applying the solutions listed above, you can make sure your next project has a more easy-going vibe to it. Why? Because you understand and empathize with where the client is coming from, and you’re prepared to answer their questions and alleviate their concerns.
Reading back over this article, you’ll notice that many of these concerns boil down to communication. Man, do I ever harp on communication. But by maintaining clear lines of communication and being a personable designer, the project will run smoothly.
As well, many of the concerns regarding deadlines, habits and cost can be alleviated by using a design brief. This document will immediately involve the client in the process, give you a standardized way of obtaining the information you need to do a proper job, and give both yourself and the client a document to refer back to. Of course, you don’t always have to use a formal design brief process either. Quite often, we gather the same information from the client and answer the same questions through an informal sit-down. Whether or not you use a brief or a sit-down conversation over coffee depends both on your style and the personality of your client.
One Last Thing
Finally, one interesting tidbit Anna mentioned was that a big reason that she decided to choose Paper Leaf for their web design project is because… we are small. By picking a small design studio – as opposed to a multi-level design firm – they felt comforted in the fact they could pick up the phone and speak directly to the person designing their site. They wouldn’t have to speak to a secretary, who would relay the message to the Project Manager, who would relay it to the Creative Director, who would then pass it down to the Designer. I found this to be immensely important; it gave us another selling feature as a small business that I hadn’t thought of. So fellow small design firms/freelancers, articulate this benefit to your potential clients!
Hopefully you’ve found this article helpful. What about you? What have you learned from your clients, and how do you make their lives easier?