Talking to clients: It's discussion, not dictation.

by Carlo Carino in , , ,

How to talk to clients: Speak. Listen. Speak some more, listen some more. Reach understandings and then spark new ideas together.

Whether you're working for freelance clients, or fulfilling in-house design jobs, remember that you are never working alone. This is true even if you're the only one drawing, compositing, doing layouts, and all actual work of designing.

Take that to heart. Especially during the important in the first phase of a project.

All too often, this is where the client describes what they need to a designer. Then the designer gets the job details, (deadline, pay, dimensions, scope), and goes away to toil alone. He/she then returns a week later and presents the work for approval or revisions.

The scenario described above shows a missed opportunity. It seems mercenary and cold.

Just Talk

When you're in the first stages of any project, the chance is great that neither you or the client have a fully formed grasp on the best way to execute the thing.

This is the ideal time to make your clients into collaborators. Slow down and start engaging them about their thoughts, hopes, and goals for their project. Find a deeper understanding so you can offer suggestions and get feedback about your own ideas. This usually results in the best possible project and higher satisfaction overall.

A dialogue like this does a few more things:

  • It helps both of you pull the project into sharper focus
  • It gives you an understanding of your client's personality
  • It shows them that you are interested and enthusiastic about them and their needs
  • It gives them insight into your own thought process
  • It grows a kind of partnership in your mutual success

I've used client/project questionnaires in the past, like this excellent one from Ivan Raszl for indentity projects.

As Ivan says:

"A good brief is half success with an identity project. If you have all the information and an in depth understanding of your client's brand you will have the basis for a great logo and striking identity.

Without it you're just shooting in the dark and can only rely on your luck to find the right solution. " (Emphasis mine).

That questionnaire is one of my favorites.

Still, I've found that nothing beats a good long discussion. Make it casual, but active and focused. Don't be overbearing. Take plenty of notes, and feel free to sketch and present your rough ideas.

I've gotten great feedback about this way of working. I highly recommend it.