How To Win Your Designer's Eternal Love

photo via http://www.kopozky.net/not-bad-at-all

by Sarah Semark of Triggers & Sparks

Bad clients are noto­rious among designers. We com­plain about them con­stantly, we’ve devoted a hilarious, yet-heartbreaking web­site to them, and we swap horror sto­ries like badges of honour, rolling our eyes in empathy and disgust.

We spend so much time com­plaining about the bad clients that it’s some­times easy to over­look the good clients. Lately, I’ve been working with a few really great clients, and I’ve been so happy because of it. Where a bad client can make you feel as though you’re losing your soul, a good client reminds you of why you fell in love with design in the first place and makes you feel as though you’re doing a good job. It’s the sort of warm-fuzzy feeling I asso­ciate with boys who bring me flowers and strangers com­plimenting me on my shoes.

Win­ning your designer’s love, regard­less of any other fac­tors, will mean that you will receive a level of ser­vice and quality that sur­passes that most Trou­ble­some Clients receive. When I love a client and feel that my client respects me as a pro­fes­sional, I invest more of my mental energy into their project. A good client makes you want to do an amazing job, whereas a bad client expe­ri­ence will often just make you want to finish as fast as pos­sible and get the heck out.

So, how do you go about making sure you’re the greatest client ever, and ensuring your designer feels as pas­sionate about your project as you do? Here, a few tips culled directly from my Dream Clients:

1. PAY YOUR BILLS AS FAST AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE

Nothing says “you’re not worth much to me” like a leisurely bill pay­ment. Free­lance designers suffer so much stress about unpaid bills and cash flow, it’s hard when you don’t have a reg­ular stream of income, that late-paid bills are a major problem.

I have one client in par­tic­ular who sends me a full pay­ment, via elec­tronic means, within 24 hours of receiving an invoice. Every time it hap­pens, I am utterly delighted. The rapid work-reward cycle means that I feel more compelled to finish work rapidly, knowing that I’ll be rewarded imme­di­ately upon com­ple­tion. If, on the other hand, it takes more than a month to put a cheque in the mail (there is a due date on there, you know!), I’m going to feel much less inclined to speed through the project.

Free­lance designers are not the power company—if you don’t pay us, we can’t eat (or buy pretty shoes)! Pay your bills promptly, please.

2. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT

It’s your designer’s job to gently guide you and to help you figure out what you want, then create a visual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of your needs. If you approach a project without knowing what you want, the whole process goes to hell. Essen­tially, if you don’t know what you want (you don’t need to have every detail planned out, but you do need a rough idea) I can’t figure out how to build it for you. It’s like if you were to hire an archi­tect to design you a house; you’d want to figure out how many bath­rooms you want before asking for blueprints.

Beware the phrase “you’re the designer”, as in “Well, you’re the designer, you figure it out!”. While this is usually used with good inten­tions it will make the vast majority of designers cringe. To us, it sounds like you’re saying “you’re the magi­cian!” (see also: “Can’t you just Pho­to­shop that?” Design is not magic; Pho­to­shop is not a magic button. It’s mostly work, training, and lots of patience).

3. UNDERSTAND THAT YOUR DESIGNER KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE DOING (and that’s why you hired them, right?)

This directly con­trasts the “well, you’re the designer!” mindset, and clients usu­ally tend towards one extreme or another, where a bal­ance is really prefer­able. A micro­managing client, how­ever, will almost always be less pop­ular than a hands-off client. This is an almost guar­an­teed way to make your designer want to throw him­self off the nearest bridge, sky­scraper, or touristy landmark.

Of course, there’s a fine line between giving feed­back and micro-managing. How to tell the dif­fer­ence? If you’re into the sixth round of revi­sions, and all the revi­sions read some­thing like so: “Make the logo 40% bigger, and move it 3 inches to the right. Make the text all white, and the back­ground purple. Head­ings should be right-aligned and in 4pt red Comic Sans. Can we add a few ani­mated gifs throughout the page in order to make it ‘pop’?” (Please note: often these sorts of phrases are then fol­lowed by “Well, you’re the designer! Can’t you just make it look better?”).

Remember: you hired your designer (I hope!) because you think they do great work and know what they’re doing. They’ve prob­ably been building web­sites longer than you. While ulti­mately the final judge­ment call is yours, realize that a good designer will work with you to give you a final product that both suits you and your busi­ness and also looks good. Remember that we have your best inter­ests in mind and give us enough freedom to create some­thing beau­tiful for you.

4. COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY

The client-designer rela­tion­ship is much like any other rela­tion­ship: emotions are involved, everyone’s a little ner­vous to begin with, you need to make sure everyone’s happy and nobody’s being taken for granted, etc. This is why, of course, good designer-client rela­tion­ships gen­erate bril­liant work, and bad ones leave all par­ties unhappy. So, like with any other rela­tion­ship, good com­mu­ni­ca­tion is vital. Make sure you’re being clear about how you feel and what you want, and treat your designer with respect and con­sid­er­ation (this means no phone calls at 2am, no matter how dire you think the emer­gency is. In theory, I am sleeping then.) Your designer needs your feed­back in order to know that they’re on the right track—make sure that you can give useful, con­struc­tive feed­back in a timely manner.

And when all else fails, sending presents works, too. I once had a client who mailed me a box of choco­late brownies when my com­puter died in order to “aid the recovery process”, and another client who made me a heart-shaped choco­late cake. Choco­late gen­er­ally engen­ders love and loy­alty, but really, all that’s required is a polite thank you for a won­derful job, and I’ll move moun­tains for you.

Editors Note: I work with Sarah and her company Triggers & Sparks as a marketing consultant and I thought that this post was a perfect complement to Jacqui Miyabayashi’s post earlier this month about working with a designer and wanted to share with you all!

3 comments

  1. As a freelance web designer, thank you for this post! All of these are really great points, but I want to specifically support what you said about the power of a polite thank you… It’s those little positive signs and feedback that can honestly make all the difference for me on a project. It’s so nice to see a sign that the client is pleased and appreciates your hard work — fuels me and makes me much more enthusiastic about the project.

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