Web & Graphic Design

Lessons learned from working with my clients

As a designer working either on web or in print, dealing with clients can be truly frustrating at times. Without enough experience under your belt you won’t be able to spot those hopelessly troubled individuals you’re better off without, maintain the lines of communication open with the ones that don’t share your views or keep close those you’ve enjoyed working with. Just as everything in life, this type of jobs come and go, faster or slower, better or worse. Even more important than the money you’ve made or the stress you’ve incurred from them, are the lessons you’ve managed to learn in the process. Why? Simply because without firmly analyzing what went wrong or how it happened so effortlessly, you’re either bound to repeat those often costly mistakes or scratch your (unfortunately) balding head wondering why things aren’t working as they used to.

During the last few years, I’ve managed to meet quite a lot of people, some of whom became my clients. At this point, i can honestly say that I’ve left most, if not all of the grief behind and i am truly grateful for the incredible amount of knowledge this social interactions provided me with. I had to deal with almost anything and anyone ranging from the proverbial Scrooges, the know it all narcissists, to the charmingly positive attitude of knowledgeable and confident clients.

Because all of these experiences can take their toll on you, it’s best to have an objective view of the whole process. This way, chances are you’ll be able to pinpoint the exact cause of the problems that inevitably arise  and come up with (better) solutions. As much as we like to think that design is all about the creative process, every newcomer will be surprised to realize just how much time it’s spent doing anything but actual work: writing emails, talking on the phone, meeting with your client face to face, doing paperwork etc. Depending on the project, you’ll find yourself communicating with your client about the same amount of time or more, than you’ll be  designing or coding. Even so, there are moments when it is tough to identify who’s fault it is when things start to go haywire, and at the end of the day it’s certainly not as helpful as finding a solution to the problem. For this type of situations, try to see if things didn’t get lost in translation. You might be speaking the same language as your client but in reality, unless you’re working for a competitor, misunderstandings are more common than you think.

To avoid such cases, you should take it upon yourself to clear out any doubts. Unsure about what the client wants – why not ask again, maybe make them use an alternative means of explaining and have them agree at least in a written electronic document if not in an actual contractual document? For example, i was unpleasantly surprised to face similar issues when working with people who had a more than basic understanding of the whole process. That’s why i no longer build false hopes or assume anything.

As a rookie freelancer in graphic or web design, you might not have the luxury to impose working conditions and request a lot of things from your client. Often, they are either too busy or they simply didn’t have the chance to realize the difference between an amateur and a professional, which can easily turn into lack of respect. Unless they’re willing to learn how design services can improve their business and eventually their bottom line, they’ll be just as happy to see you as they are seeing their dentist.

Still, you should always insist on writing a thorough brief as part of the contract.  Go into as much detail as you can without sounding foolish, but never think in terms of “it’s obvious” or “that’s the only way it can be done”. You’ll be stunned just how big the differences can be between your point of view and your client’s. Miss discussing those things beforehand and you risk having to rewrite consistent parts of your application or redesign over and over again at your own cost. When you lack a clear description of your project, reaching a successful outcome before deadline becomes somewhat of a random event.

Because design is very much a subjective endeavor, it doesn’t hurt if you are able to identify from the get go those elements which are easily assessable as opposed to those which are subject to personal interpretation. Think about working on a website worth several thousand euros with much of the effort going into programming. If for some reason you can’t agree on the graphics and failed to mention an actual value for this part of the project, the situation can get a bit complicated.

Of course, these are all things which will seem strange and time consuming the first couple of times you do them. However, as they become habitual, you’ll realize just how much of a time saver they really are. In the long run it means better profits and more piece of mind.

Because just one blog post can hardly be enough, I’ll go into more detail complete with actual examples in the near future. Instead of making your own mistakes, I’ll tell you about mine, what went wrong, why and how i feel about handling the situation if i were to do it all over again. This is not intended to place blame on anyone, especially as no personal details will be provided, but to analyze real life scenarios. If this proves to be a useful tool for clients too, than that’s even better.

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