It’s always frustrating when you and your client don’t see eye-to-eye. It’s even more frustrating when you put in hard work and ﬁnd that your proof is way off the mark.
Even the best designs can be shot down by a client if it’s not what they have in mind. Avoid the heartache: Learn what to ask your client to ensure a smooth collaboration.
Step 1. Establish expectations
Before you even start working on a client’s project, ensure that you have a detailed brief and scope of work. Laying this out ahead of time will show your professionalism and help prevent the dreaded scope creep. If the client isn’t sure what all they need, propose what you can accomplish at this time, then clearly communicate that to them. Remind them that you can always set new milestones later.
Assess how often the client will want to hear from you and how feedback will be delivered. Some clients may want you to join their project management system or Slack. Be sure that you agree upon a means of communication so that neither of you is looking in the wrong place for messages.
Most importantly, make sure that you and the client agree on a timeframe for revisions and ﬁnal deliverables. Ask when they need the project, then give them accurate estimates of when you can send ﬁles. It’s helpful to get all of this in writing.
Step 2. Understand their needs
It’s always a good idea to understand who your client is and what makes them — and their company — tick. Just as you would in a job interview, ask about their mission and company culture. Try to get a sense of what motivates them. You’ll ﬁnd that their passion will help you ﬁnd a winning design.
Ask them to list their goals and desired outcomes for the project. Are they hoping that your design will build their brand? Get them more customers? Establish their expertise? What do they think about their current and past designs? See if they want a fresh look, a heavily branded design, or something in-between.
Most importantly, get to know their competitors and their designs. As part of your research of a client, you should know what their competitors are doing. Ensure that your design gives them a competitive edge — that’s likely why they hired you.
Step 3. Get the project details
Although the client has likely reviewed your previous work and knows your style, they might expect something very different from you. Nothing derails a project quite like a failure to communicate one’s preferred style. To help prevent this, ask lots of questions before getting started. It’s a good idea to ask the client to provide samples of what they like.
If the client isn’t sure, start asking questions to help them make decisions. Ask them about the mood they want the design to evoke, or if there are particular colors or symbolism they want to include.
This conversation will help you reﬁne your approach and probably save you some time as well. Be sure that you know what the project is for and how it will be used. Your client’s target audience, intended medium and dimensions, printing technique, and other factors all affect your design process. Clients may not remember to tell you this information, so it’s up to you to ﬁnd it out. Again, if they aren’t sure, use your design expertise to ask the right questions.
Once you’ve delivered a proof, stick to your established feedback channels and revision deadlines. A good client relationship is a two-way street. When possible, over-communicate to help prevent misunderstandings or scope creep from arising. Just as a great design is a conversation among visual elements, so should the design process entail regular conversation between you and the client.
Remember, it’s never a good policy to make assumptions, so when in doubt, always ask questions. With clear expectations in place, you can collaborate on the project with less anxiety and frustration. This, in turn, leads to a better design that more closely aligns with the client’s needs. Plus, you’ll establish yourself as a seasoned professional — and likely be invited back for the client’s next project.