We know all too well the common and frustrating design scenarios clients present us with, such as wanting us to stretch images disproportionally, cramming as much information as possible in a small space so that you need a magnifying glass to read the text, or brushing off design best practices. Yet we seem to always have the same flat rebuttals to throw back, and furthermore, we repeat them time and time again.
I’d like to share with you two quotes that have helped me deal with getting my ideas across to clients.
"Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand."
– Chinese Proverb
"You only need three guiding principles: show up, tell the truth and be on time."
– Brian Matt, Founder/CEO, Altitude, Inc.
I’ve come to realize that in order to drive the point home, you have to evolve your method of communication. From the two quotes above, I have narrowed down four key points that we should always keep in mind when briefing and dealing clients.
Be Honest, Brief and Direct
Your relationship with a client can be compared to any other relationship: if there is no trust, you will not be able to communicate effectively. I urge you to let clients know before signing a contract that–as a professional designer–you have boundaries, that you will be very candid in your responses, and most importantly, that you are offering design consulting as a service, not as a thoughtless product factory.
Say something like this:
"I don’t believe this will be effective to reach your goal, it will actually hinder it – I’ll tell you why, and then show you how we can improve on your concept."
Instead of humoring your client like this:
"Um… yeah that won’t be a problem, I’m sure I can get it to work…oops, no it didn’t work, let’s go back and maybe try something else?"
You grab their attention by stating your point first, elaborating on it briefly, and then summing it up with a positive note. By doing this, you get your main concern or idea across without wasting your breath on details or redoing a mock-up because you were too passive.
Identify a problem and present alternative solutions and ideas.
Involve and Engage the Client
Wearing the hat of an expert in anything almost always doubles as that of an educator. You have to be meticulous when showing what you mean, you want to make sparks fly.
Here are three scenarios to illustrate:
Let’s say, for example, that you’re designing an email campaign and you want to show the client why it’s better to use eblast software X over eblast software Y. The best way to answer the question of "Why this?" is by setting up trial accounts for software X and software Y and having them try each software.
By letting the client experience first hand the difference between ‘cheap but bulky‘ vs. ‘user-friendly but slightly more expensive‘ (for example), they will appreciate you for being candid and for engaging them in the decision-making process regardless of what eventually ends up being the choice of software.
Show and Tell
Recently I was stuck recreating a corporate board presentation modeled after an outdated design. During proofs, I made two versions of the presentation: one version adapted to my standards, and one version that was quite literally what they asked for.
That way, I covered my bases by giving them what they want, but I also managed to put in my two cents; I’m able to show the pros and cons of their concept versus my concept in a way that they can actually see.
This approach works well when it doesn’t take too much time and effort to do so.
In Another’s Shoe
How about the "horribly stretched and pixelated photo" scenario? Clients might not be able to notice the issues with pixelated images as easily as you or me, but they would definitely react to them if they were to see a photo of their own face being stretched out and pixelated. Wouldn’t they?
The point here is not to frustrate or embarrass your client, but to figure out a way to relate the goal to them personally so that it makes more of an impression.
The key is to make a connection to reduce the chances of clients ignoring your advice and bridging the gap of understanding between a creative mind and an end-user.
As a designer, you need to be creative not only while creating the design, but also when you’re presenting it to the client.
Be the Professional that You Are
This usually goes without saying, but it doesn’t hurt to state it again once in a while – you’re a professional, so look and act like it.
Dress the Part
Being professional not only means that you know your profession inside and out and that you make a living out of your expertise, but it also means you put in effort to present yourself as such when meeting with a client. This can be anywhere from dressing up in a suit and tie or wearing an attire that will impress your clients.
Preparation and being resourceful will more than likely gain you respect and leverage with your clients. You will find yourself less nervous, and you’ll have more current and cognizant examples handy during your discussions.
In turn, you will find that clients will listen and be more responsive to you because you are showing that you care enough to prep yourself and that you know what you’re doing.
Utilize Effective Communication Techniques
Psychology plays a big part in how you communicate with your clients (or anybody for that matter). I’ll briefly mention a couple of techniques that have worked for me in the past.
Smiling on the Phone
Smile when talking to a client over the phone — they can hear it. How you react when answering the phone resonates a vibe. Ever call someone while they’re running late or when they’re fuming because they’re stuck in traffic? The vibe you give out will either encourage the client to be more receptive and at ease, or more defensive and guarded.
Mirroring is a psychological method that works for me when sitting face to face with a client. By reflecting your clients’ movements and gestures, you can show a sense of empathy and understanding. Doing a little bit of homework on effective communication methods will really help in improving your interaction with clients. Here are some resources you should check out:
- Theories about persuasion
- Do you make these 10 mistakes in a conversation?
- A Simple Guide on How to Effectively Talk to Clients
Any scenario of briefing a client will be unique based several factors such as the personalities during the meeting, how effective you are at communication, and the messages you’re trying to share. However, patiently tuning into the correct wavelength and adopting positive practices never fails.
Using these four key concepts gives me the confidence and leverage to break through to many people, especially with my clients.
What methods have worked for you? Are they similar, different? Care to share a scenario where communication methodology got you through? Join the discussion in the comments.