I’ve been working in the design industry for almost 16 years now. When I started back in 2002, websites were made with tables and web designers were in charge of both UX, UI and front-end coding.
I started to be in daily contact with clients since my very first job as a designer in a small design studio in northern Italy. After that, I had the opportunity to run my own design business, work within a large multinational corporation and in a renowned digital agency in Switzerland.
During all these years a lot of things have changed in our industry: technology evolved at a fast pace, tools enabled an impressive production capability, communication became instantaneous. But one thing have not changed: people are people.
Working side by side with managers of small, medium and large corporations taught me a couple of things on how to successfully maintain a healthy relationship with clients and stakeholders.
1. Listen (and listen)
One of the most powerful design tools is your ears. Listening to your client’s needs, objectives, hopes, expectations, tastes, preferences are all valuable insights to drive you in the right direction. As Epictetus told:
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”.
It is great to have clients capable to talk a lot so that you can soak up the company culture, tone, voice and propose something great. The problem is when your client is not very loquacious, and that’s where the second most powerful design tool comes into action…
2. Ask questions (lot of questions)
I am never afraid of asking questions. You know what? Questions are the ultimate tool to get answers. Is as simple as that. Starting from the simplest question: why? A great example is the iterative interrogative technique of the 5 whys, formally developed by Taiichi Ohno of Toyota where each answer is the basis of the next question. If you are more comfortable you can prepare a checklist of questions to address objectives, customer needs, brand positioning, tone of voice, competitors…
3. Propose several solutions (to push the one you believe in)
You want to buy a t-shirt, imagine to enter a store where you only have 1 model, in 1 color. Wouldn’t you be deceived? I was once called from a client to find a solution to a navigation bar. The client wanted absolutely a horizontal navigation but, due to the high number of items, a vertical solution was more adapted. What to do in this case? We proposed several solutions with the final objective of making the client understand that the vertical solution was perfect for their case. And that has been the choice. Corporate people do great stuff with figures but when it comes to imagination they need to see it. So design the solution you do not want, to push the one in which you believe in.
4. Be remarkable (and overdeliver)
You will often be facing other agencies competing for the same project. When is it the case I ask myself: “How can we stand out and impress our (potential) client, be remarkable?”. The answer is: promise 100 deliver 200. Entering the presentation room with much more than asked will put you in a competitive advantage position. And show the client how engaged you and your company are.
5. Meet final consumer needs (and your client objectives)
As designers, we pretty much all work in b2b. But is the final customer who determines the success of our work. I have been involved in several works were the client was mildly satisfied for a project that was a true success from a customer point of view… and contrariwise a big fail for customers for a project where initially the client was pretty convinced. That’s why it is really important to get final customer insights to exclude from the designer-client discussion all possible personal opinions when taking design decisions.
Being a designer is not always easy. Supporting a constructive conversation with a client can be: use data, facts and exclude all personal opinions… surprise, delight, be proactive and you will be a rock star designer that your clients will remember.