5 Tips for Healthy Designer/Client Relationships
As a designer, it can be tempting to feel superior when a client doesn’t know what they want or how to work effectively. However, it’s important to remember that this is exactly why they are coming to you. There is certainly a difference between a client who is unreasonable and demanding, versus one who is genuinely struggling to understand the process, but making a judgment call too soon could result in awkward tension, miscommunication, or even completely losing a client (and gaining a bad review in return).
On the other side, clients may be tempted to treat their designer as an assistant or on-demand service instead of another business professional. Whether it be complaining about prices, expecting after-hours service or communication, or acting as if the designer is now an employee, are sure-fire ways to make the relationship sour.
To keep things cordial and productive, check out my 5 tips for designers and clients (10 tips total, woo!)
- Be confident in your rates. If you have determined the value of your work and expressed this via a price sheet, quote, or in some way that ensures the client is clear on what you charge, you should not explain yourself or be intimidated into lowering your prices. If a client complains about your pricing after accepting you for the project, politely note that you will consider their feedback and move forward. Don’t get defensive and write a long email explaining why you charge what you do. If you cave and lower your prices, you are acknowledging that your work is not as valuable and that anyone can strong-arm you into dropping them. This is not only hurtful to you, but to an entire industry of designers trying to prove their worth.
- Be honest about your budget. Many designers would love to work with you even if your budget is small, but you need to be upfront. It is awkward when a client accepts a rate, only to not-so-subtly start mentioning how they have no money or how they wish design wasn’t so expensive. It’s also really frustrating when a client can afford the designer, but tries to push for lower rates anyway because they “don’t think” it should cost that much. Takeaway: accept the rate or politely negotiate; avoid passive-aggressive jabs or haggling.
- Designers: Establish a consistent pattern of communication and delivery. Your clients will begin to expect the level of productivity and updates you provide most often, so limit your responses to the hours you are willing to maintain. Feel free to work and reply at all hours, but realize that your clients will expect this going forward and may feel mislead if you get too busy or lose your drive for 2 AM dates with Adobe. Creating a stable workflow means balancing restraint and exertion, not letting yourself be controlled by motivation and laziness.
- Clients: Have reasonable expectations for services and communication. If you have a strict deadline, make this clear ASAP; don't assume the designer will immediately churn out your content. Keep email threads organized; this helps everyone stay clear on what is being discussed. Avoid starting the same conversation over more than one medium (ie: “Hey just wanted to send a quick text about XYZ even though I emailed you about it earlier and also left a voicemail five minutes ago. P.S. keep an eye out for my messenger bird.”) Keep the back-and-forth to a minimum, and know what you need to say so you can convey it in one email your designer can reference easily.
3. The “Vision”
- Designers: Remember that you might not hit the nail on the head with your first go at a project. It can be frustrating to create something you really like, only to have the client reject it. To avoid the blow of needing to start from scratch, make sure you have a general idea of what the client wants instead of assuming your idea for the project is correct. On the other hand, don’t create an absurd amount of low-effort options and expect your client to say which one is headed in the right direction. Start with your best interpretation of the client’s expectations and go from there. Explain why you left off or added certain elements to create a more effective final product.
- Clients: Develop a flexible vision for the end product and strive to fulfill it. While it might seem like a designer’s dream to be given full creative control, direction is essential. On the other hand, don't expect the designer to perfectly recreate everything in your imagination. Most likely, the finished product will be a mix of what you described and of your designer's style. Additionally, don't ask your designer to copy another brand. You may send examples that inspire you, but strive to develop a look that is unique.
4. The Revisions
- Designers: I believe the best way to handle revisions is to go with your gut. A client could go on with directionless changes forever if you don’t set some boundaries, or they may feel too restricted to be creative if you cap it at a certain number. Make changes unless you feel that they are no longer moving the project toward an endpoint, then meet with the client to reassess their goals.
- Clients: Consider the revision process to be like a funnel rather than a claw machine: your goal is to move toward something, not come across it by chance. Make strategic changes that both move the project closer to your needs and eliminate other possibilities. Avoid relying too much on the "I'll know it when I see it" mantra, and instead make an effort to thoroughly explain your ideas even if you can't find the right words. If you suddenly feel the need to start over or make drastic changes despite the design being nearly complete, assess whether your commitment issues are with the design itself or with the concept of finalizing it.
5. Stand on Even Ground
- Designers & Clients: My advice on this point is essentially the same for both parties. Understand that both designer and client are professionals in their own fields, and that success comes from combining the knowledge and skills of each side. Listen to the advice and concerns of the other party, and don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand a concept. Do not belittle or entertain negative thoughts of someone for not "getting it." At one point you did not understand your own profession either. If you're having legitimate issues with the person you're working with, consider calling it quits as civilly as possible.
That’s a wrap! As a final mini-tip, assume the other person has good intentions. Miscommunications and misunderstandings happen, and you risk ruining the relationship or making things super awkward by reacting before you know the details.
As always, stay updated with more tips and inspiration by following @alexjanedesigns on Instagram and Facebook! Until next time!