Tips To Bridge The Gap Between Clients And Designers
It seems that one of the most difficult gaps to bridge is the language barrier between designers and clients. Yet I am certain that if one could build that bridge and birth a method of interpretation the two very different species could not only coexist peacefully but would unite in exuberant harmony and exultation. Designers would have a clear understanding of what their clients want, enabling them to produce spectacularly pleasing projects with efficiency and prowess. Clients would be confident that their designer caught the vision and would be ecstatic to discover that the completed design was even better than what they had dreamed.
As a freelance designer, this utopia is one I want to live in.
Far too often I have witnessed designers berating their client’s failure to grasp the complexities of what goes into a design. I have also had numerous experiences with clients who have shared their nightmarish stories of a previous designer’s failure to provide quality work, satisfactory results and decent customer service.
The reality is that clients hire designers because they don’t know how to design it themselves. So why in the world would a client have a full understanding of design concepts, software, processes and the like? How can a client be expected to be fluent in design speak? Why should they know the questions to ask and have answers at the ready?
On the flip side, designers are an interesting and unique breed all their own. At our foundation, we are artists. That fact alone can make us difficult to work with, to understand, to communicate clearly with. As beings with typically more progressive and possibly esoteric creative leanings, we seldom want to work “inside the box” of what is considered to be normal society and methodology, which can frustrate the corporate client to no end. As artists, each design we create has the potential to become our next masterpiece, and although that sounds like a positive it can breed negative implications such as ownership, perfectionism and more.
How can the two come together? I don’t believe a single blog post such as this one can provide all the answers, compelling designers and clients to skip hand-in-hand off into the sunset. But hopefully I can provide a few insights that will contribute to the building of the bridge. So here are some thoughts and tips for clients to better equip them as they enter into a project partnership with a designer.
FINDING YOUR DESIGNER: RESEARCH
I can’t necessarily give you resources to find the best designers (besides, you’re already here!) but I can encourage you to look at more than the portfolio. Get a resume. Meet and talk to your prospective designers. Get to know their design philosophy. Understand their process. Find out everything you can that relates to how they will approach your project. Talk to other clients they have. Get references.
I believe one of the most important elements you can focus on when choosing a designer is their attitude toward clients in general. Listen to how they talk about other clients. Do they bad-mouth or complain about them? If they do, it’s quite possible they will treat you the same way. Keep in mind it is pretty much guaranteed that every designer has at least one client horror story, and scars to show for it. But any good designer is profusely aware of their need for clients in order to exist and learns to refrain from stereotyping all clients in the negative.
Look for designers who are more than designers. Look for designers who know how to treat and interact with people with a level of respect, humility, selflessness and gratitude for the opportunity to serve you.
STARTING THE PROJECT: PREPARE
The more details you can provide about the project, the smoother the process will be. Good designers will usually have a standard questionnaire they use to get general and specific ideas about the project. This is an invaluable tool that you should answer with extreme detail. But try going beyond the standard questions. Provide the story that brings the design to life for you. Why is this project happening? What was the first spark that ignited the fire within you to pursue the design? What are your hopes and dreams for the design and what it will accomplish for you or your organization?
The more the designer can feel what you feel about it (or at least identify with your passion), the more the potential that it will become not just a logo or a website or a brochure, but a piece of art. Why is this important? Because in the end the designer will embrace your vision at the core, rather than on the surface. And isn’t that what a GREAT design should capture and express?
Good design should not just look good. It should speak. It should express. It should attract. It should engage. It should compel.
Give your designer the best possible chance to create your design to do these things. The most extensive preparations and communications will aid them in accomplishing this. Ultimately this should be what you both want.
DURING THE PROCESS: TRUST
I don’t think this point can be accomplished successfully without the previous two, but it may be the single most important key to a successful client/designer relationship: trust your designer.
It is obvious to all involved parties that if you possess the ability to create your own design work, you wouldn’t hire someone else to do it. Sometimes designers grab ahold of this concept and horde it over their clients with messiah complex condescension. Hopefully at this point in the process you have already eliminated that possibility in your selection process. That being said, I do not know anyone who enjoys being told they don’t know what they’re doing or that the person who hired them to do it has better skills or ideas than they have – in any context.
While the project is underway I believe it is vital that you trust the skills, abilities, ideas and processes of your designer. The more you believe in their ability to accomplish your vision, the more they will delight in producing design that exceeds your wildest hopes and dreams.
By trust I don’t mean that you should blindly let them create whatever they want without discussion or interaction. It is the responsibility of all good designers to communicate with the client throughout the process and get their approval and input along the way. But I do believe you should give the designer freedom to experiment and explore what they are best at: creating good design. Sometimes along the way you may not see the final result the designer is envisioning, but it is more likely than not you will be pleased when you arrive there together.
Here is an example of what I’m talking about. I have several tattoos. Most of them I designed or came up with the foundational concept. But my favorite piece is one where I trusted the artist to create what he believed would be the right design and style for the space I gave him. I gave him a blank canvas and he hand drew a unique piece that fit the space on my arm and adapted to the curves and intricacies. In the end he created a piece of art that I could never have conceived because I trusted him to fulfill my vision in the best way he could utilize his abilities. Both designer and client were overjoyed with the results!
FINISH LINE: REWARD
Obviously you will already have an agreed financial reward/payment in place. But how about something more substantial and lasting than final payment for services rendered?
My best client experiences have a common ingredient: they continue. The client returns for any and all design services, but even more importantly, they make a point of recommending me to others. Almost all of my business comes from word of mouth, and there is no better advertisement than a satisfied customer.
To put the final touch on building a successful client/designer relationship, make the extra effort to recommend your designer to others in any context you can. Use social media networks to brag about their design and give them credit whenever someone compliments their work. Keep their contact info and website address handy so you can pass it on to your colleagues and friends. Bring them more business and they are likely to give you more for your money when you require their services again. Everyone wins and the gap between the designers and clients decreases with every conquest.
I realize there are certainly countless more things that can be done to build this bridge, so please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below. The more that clients and designers can communicate and learn from each other, the more we will together create great design. Maybe Utopia is near!