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Build Something Beautiful: The Client/Designer Relationship

By Ali Nagy

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There are few things that I feel are really, truly, honest-to-goodness sacred. One at the top of my list, you ask?  Building happy, healthy client relationships that produce amazing work.

But how do you get to that point?  Magic? Rain dancing? The power of prayer?  The simple answer is communicating properly. As designers, we occasionally experience immense frustration when something like this happens:

Now, in cases like these, its easy to point the blame at the client. Truth be told, however, both parties may be at fault. Below are some easy ways to avoid situations like these and get a little bit closer to that something beautiful.

1. Ask questions. 

Pepper your client or designer in questions if you need to. It may be an old, deeply imbedded fear of raising your hand in class and looking stupid, but failure to ask questions, even “dumb” ones, only leads to time, money, and frustration down the line for both parties.

The designer and the client are responsible for setting expectations. The designer should clue you in on their process, timeline, and capabilities, and the client should tell you about the goals of their company, previous challenges, and any strong feelings they may already have regarding design.

The more questions you can answer in the preliminary rounds of design, the smoother the whole process will go. That said, you should never feel afraid to hit the keys or pick up the phone if a question comes to mind at any point during your relationship.

2. Trust in your designer’s skill set

Light colors automatically remind you of Easter?  Do serif fonts make you cringe because of a poster you once saw at summer camp? A client’s personal opinions and associations regarding design are deeply valued, but shouldn’t shut down a potentially perfect solution offered up by the designer.

Screen Shot 2013-06-13 at 10.16.06 AMRemember: a designer is a professional trained to make your vision of your company come to fruition.

Designers are highly educated in color theory, typography, how to draw attention to your most vital information, how to predict what will appeal to your target audience-the list goes on and on, but the point is that we are immersed in this world every single day. We don’t expect you to be an expert-that’s why you hire us. Now trust us.

3. Give Actionable Feedback

As a client, when a design is initially presented, its easy to feel overwhelmed.  You tell them, “I don’t like it. Keep going. I’ll know what I like when I see it.”  Unfortunately, it’s comments like this that typically end up blowing the budget.

Instead of going through endless (and expensive) rounds of design, take time to sit back and think before you deliver your feedback. You’re not required to have all of the answers on hand as soon as you see something. You don’t like the design? That’s perfectly fine.  Now, tell us why. Is the layout you dislike, or is it that we aren’t highlighting the right piece of information? Does the font feel too traditional? Would the color of the sign contrast with the color of your building?

While our skill set is broad, telepathy is not something we’re proficient in. Our goal is to make you happy. The more adjectives you use, the greater our ability to take action and reach your perfect design solution.

4. Be Timely

When a schedule is set, do your best to follow it.

When you are a day off schedule in responding to your designer, it creates a ripple effect. Every client occupies a time slot in a schedule. By being one day late, the designer may need two days to catch up because they’ve had to move on to fulfill other obligations for other clients. You are now three days behind schedule.

5. Be Excited!

This last one has a lot of pull. Without enthusiasm, even the most interesting project falls flat. With it, even the smallest can yield huge rewards.

Clients, be excited that you are enlisting the services of a team of professionals to take your business to the next level. These are the people who will help you create a brand that looks as good as your products and services make people feel.

To my fellow design compadres-don’t forget to be proud of the work you do. Every cog is a part of a whole. By creating something that is not only “pretty” but also functional, you are making an impact on the lives of others.

Go forth, clients and designers. Build something beautiful.

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