“It is important that clients perceive you as the expert, otherwise you risk being walked all over- not very much fun, and bad news for your professional image.” – Design Informer.
One of the most difficult obstacles designers face today is how to educate their clients to say yes to their designs. Paul Boag’s lecture at the 2008 Future of Web Design Conference discusses how to do exactly that.
As a California based website design firm, we understand that advertising and design is ubiquitous in the daily lives of most Americans. This unfortunately, gives people a false sense of “what looks good.” However, our goal is to create design that not only looks pretty, but is effective. Here’s Paul’s advice on how to deal with clients:
Be the Expert
Clients who buy your services are just as unsure about it as they are with any other purchase. Our job is to make them feel like they made the right choice by choosing us. This is why we need to be confident about taking the lead and establishing ourselves as design professionals who are experts in our field. We understand rules of usability, hierarchy, formatting and layout that cannot be as easily identified by the untrained eye. Fully explain to them the design process in a positive way and conduct lots of research that you can reference later on to support your design choices.
Even though you might be cringing inside at their comments (“Let’s make the entire site lime green”) it’s very important to stay positive. Don’t reject every single suggestion they have in a condescending way- that’s not only rude, it’s terrible customer service. Instead, validate their suggestions and offer an alternative. Boag phrases this quite nicely by saying, “Yes that’s a good idea, but then, keep in mind this would…! But hey, here’s an alternative, why don’t we do this instead.”This will make your client feel as though they’re being listened to while being guided in the right direction with your expertise.
Shape the Client’s Role
Most people are unfamiliar with how the design industry works and with what role they play in the process. It is crucial that we educate them right off the bat and focus on what will help their business succeed. This would be their problems, their business and their users.
Boag states that clients too often concentrate their energy on the solution rather than the problem. Meaning they will often offer suggestions as to what they want the design to look like such as, “I don’t like how it’s left justified, let’s move everything to the middle.” Instead of continuing the discussion down that route you should redirect it by saying “I’m not sure center justifying it will be effective in reaching your target audience.”
When we say focus on the business this means that you should remind your client what his or her original business objectives are- not what he or she feels looks the best. The main reason we design for people is to help them effectively achieve their goals by providing them with visual material that will market their products and services.
This consequently leads into what their users will like- not them. Instead of asking your client “Let me know what you think of this design” you should be asking, “How do you think your user will react to this?”
Ultimately, our goal isn’t to take complete charge of every project and exclude the client from the process. We see each design piece as an opportunity to collaborate with our clients and guide them through it in a way that makes them feel respected and heard. As a result, this will create a win-win situation for everyone; the client will come away with a wildly creative, effective design and we will be able to continue to build our brand without compromising our integrity as designers. We would love for you to do the same!