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What if your design client doesn’t get it?

I think we’ve all run into this at some point – a project that stalls out because the client doesn’t understand what we are showing them. Have you ever been on the receiving end of something new, overwhelming and confusing? Sometimes, your client’s objection is a call for help. Before your frustration gets the better…

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I think we’ve all run into this at some point – a project that stalls out because the client doesn’t understand what we are showing them.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of something new, overwhelming and confusing? Sometimes, your client’s objection is a call for help. Before your frustration gets the better of you, do a quick review of your design process and look for these common communication faux paus.

Are you setting the expectations in every message?

I’ve had the clients that provide feedback in 14 different responses. They skip back and forth between your project management tool and email. Some even try to text. As you are wrapping up a project, there’s nothing more frustrating than little tiny nagging changes, trickling in so that nothing ever feels finished.

This type of client behavior is YOUR fault. Yep, and mine too. Client communication that feels scattered everywhere is a direct result of designers not setting expectations in EVERY SINGLE MESSAGE.

If this is a consistent problem for you, try this instead: When you create messages for clients, think about the outcome or result YOU really need as a result of the message. Work at staying one step ahead of your client.

Anticipate potential communication disasters and ASSUME NOTHING.

When we assume, we leave the response open to our client’s interpretation, which will be helpful and well-meaning but not what we need. In the above example, notice how I set expectations, anticipate objections and give instruction for what to do next.

  • HOW should they provide changes back to me? Please give me one bulleted list of changes.
  • What kind of changes can they have at this point? No big design, structural or content changes.
  • You might also notice that I anticipated the objection of the site not being mobile-ready yet.

Think about your desired outcome for every single communication, so you have what you need to take the next step (without drama).

Are you communicating too much?

I’ve made this mistake before – both in blasting clients with every bit of communication related to the project and in showing them concepts in bits and pieces. The former because it made me feel efficient. The latter because I’ve missed a deadline or was excited to show them progress.

When there’s no clear cut milestone, clients will be confused as to which messages they should really pay attention to, they’ll give random feedback that’s too easy to lose track of.

Try this instead: Focus on decreasing the number of messages and increasing the significance of each milestone.

Are you using too much technical jargon?

I remember a pre-project consult I had with a client a while back where I mentioned what theme I used. Her reply was, “that means absolutely nothing to me”. I lol when I think about this. I loved her candidness. It got me thinking about all the times I completely miss the mark in my communication.

Your client wants a website that accurately represents his or her brand, furthers sales goals and is a solid foundation for growth. That’s really all there is to it.

Try this instead: Focus on connecting with clients over features and goals and leave the technical implementation out of the the conversation.

Once you’ve ruled out these 3 common designer faux paus, take a closer look at your client. Do any of these descriptions fit?

They trust your judgment and don’t want to be bothered with the design details.
Ask yourself: Do I like working this way?

If yes, make sure you’ve been clear that future design changes after XX point will incur an additional fee – so they don’t come back at the tail end of the project and want something different. This kind of client can be a dream, if they truly trust you – or a nightmare when you hear, I know what I want now that I’ve seen it and that isn’t it.

They aren’t “creative” or visual but they still want a say in the outcome.
Again, ask yourself: Do I like working this way?

Or do you like a more collaborative client? I personally do, but not every designer is the same. A non-visual client who still wants a say in the design will likely require a few extra steps in discovery to find that perfect starting point. Make sure you are charging for it. For instance, rather than collaborating on Pinterest, you might need to curate some preliminary sites for them to give their likes/dislikes in order to find your starting point. You’ll be doing a little more reading between the lines.

They aren’t paying attention or refuse to give productive feedback.
Ask yourself: Did I ignore my gut when I initially took on this client?

How do I know to even ask this? because I’ve BTDT. If your potential client is in a hurry or refuses to follow the steps in your onboarding process, they won’t respect the process later. This is a big red flag. Learn to trust your intuition.

So, what does all of this have to do with good design? Well, a lot.

Designing with poor communication and assessment skills is like exercising to lose weight without adjusting what you eat. It plain doesn’t work.

Want some additional help with creating client communication that really works? Download my free Client Feedback Scripts. Start using them today – take control of your design process and eliminate unproductive revision cycles.

Author: Christine Thatcher

Christine Thatcher is the founder of Christine Marie Studio, a boutique design agency dedicated to helping visionary entrepreneurs infuse their personalities into profitable virtual platforms. She combines 27 years of design experience to guide her clients through the web design process. Also the creator of Designing to Delight, a brand dedicated to teaching designers how to build collaborative client relationships so they can charge more for their work.

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