There are few things that I believe are, truly sacred. One of those things happens to be building happy, healthy client-designer relationships that produce amazing design results. And like any other well-heeled relationship, there should be a mutual understanding of desired goals, principles, and aesthetic vision. Here are my 3 pillars that we use at Demac to achieve amazing results through healthy working relationships:
Maximize the benefits + achieve amazing design results from client-designer relationships
1. Define Each Role within The Design Process
In the simplest of projects, the roles can be broken down into the following: client and designer.
The client is the one that needs design services for their business
The designer is the one who learns about this business and then offers their unique perspective.
Sounds rather simple, right? Not necessarily. These lines do and can get a little blurry over the course of a project– largely due to the fact that the roles never clearly defined in the beginning.
Designers rely on clients to provide in-depth knowledge about their industry, their business, their target market, and their competitors. The client needs to expose problems; not propose design solutions.
A client’s main job on a design project is to point to the right issues, explain them to the best of their ability and provide as much information as possible for the designer to solve them.
How the Client-Designer Relationship Can Sour
As a designer I find it difficult at times, to manage client expectations and stay true to my creative side. I must remind myself that the client isn’t necessarily always the end user and since design is heavily subjective, designing strictly to the personal requirements of anyone can be very dangerous ground.
I believe any good designer will research, plan and then provide solid rationale for their choices. When the client starts making design solution suggestions, however, as opposed to design problem suggestions, it is then possible that a subpar idea is settled on and the relationship inevitably sours.
On the flip side, the designer needs to realize and respect the fact that the client knows their business and has a pretty firm grasp of their consumers’ needs. If the client has an issue with a design draft because they don’t feel it will effectively speak to their target market, we as designers need to listen to that, respect it, and see how we can improve our work.
When both the client and the designer respect and understand one another’s role, it opens the door for that coveted “effective communication”.
2. Open and Honest Communication
Constant communication on both sides is essential. When each party is absolutely transparent and aware of the progress of the project at hand, there is little to no room for any tension, doubt or unnecessary surprises. It can be very upsetting for both parties if a project has fallen short of its potential because either has been too reluctant to speak openly about the work.
I’m a firm believer that nothing ever reaches its full potential if the people involved aren’t truly open with each other. If you think your client’s idea is a little out of sorts and could result in negative results, then explain that to them in plain language.
Think long term – if you are certain that this concept will not be effective and that the client will not be happy down the road- it is in your best interest to speak up as soon as possible.
Likewise, encourage your client to be specific in their feedback when it comes to design concepts & drafts. Be careful to know the boundaries of one another’s roles, as mentioned before, but a client who feels they can speak openly will be a satisfied client.
Designers can sometimes get caught up in a concept and lose our “eyes” – when showing the concept to a rather fresh-eyed client, that honest feedback might very well be the key to catching an ineffective concept. Having this pipeline between client and designer will not only lead to better designs, it will lead to establishing a mutual respect.
3. High-Performing Teams Trust Each Other!
Trust is an integral part of the client-designer working partnership.
Trust also happens to the hardest element in any relationship to earn and maintain, and rightfully so. There’s an enormous amount of responsibility being placed into each side’s hands, and this starts at the very beginning of the relationship.
Enable your designer to get to know the industry they are dealing with – help them do that – then allow them to take that knowledge away to successfully execute the project. Trust, too, that they are presenting to you designs and concepts that they also feel good about.
Designing for a client who trusts you is pretty much the holy grail– when you both reach this stage, you probably won’t want to let go. Chances are this relationship will be a fruitful one for both parties.
Check Your Ego at the Door
Neither side should let personal preferences or ego impact project-related decisions.
All project efforts should be aimed toward success for the business, not for one individual. These three tips can help solidify a healthy relationship!
You should never be thinking in terms of one vs. the other. This is a shared commitment, a joint exploration, and something to be excited about! Without enthusiasm, even the most interesting and innovative project can fall flat. With it, the smallest can surprisingly yield huge rewards.