There is as fine a line between confidence and cockiness as there is between being a professional and being a tyrant. In each case, the latter is a sure way to make not only the clients hate you but the people who work with you hate you too. As a designer, it is your job to help bring the client’s dream to reality. It is also your job to help guide them in a manner that will ensure the success of the project. What some designers and agencies fail to remember is that your client’s project isn’t about you and it should not be about you.
It is understandable that you will have opinions but in such a field one must learn how to remove the hat of biases and replace it with the dual hat of professionalism and helper. Most clients are looking for a person who will actually help them and suggest ideas and concepts that might be beneficial. Clients are not looking for a designer or agency that will criticize their every choice, redirect the project to fulfill their own selfish wants or hijack the entire project altogether. Today this article covers three ways you should never treat your clients—unless you are looking to ruin both your relationship and reputation.
Think You Know Everything
It’s only natural that those who are seasoned in the field will hold more experience than those who are self-taught or students in the field of design. It is also only natural that those who have had multiple clients and projects will hold more tricks up their sleeves than a novice, though this isn’t always the case. Whether you are new to the world of design or have been doing it for five years or more you should know that just like in life being a “know it all” is a great way to make people not like you. This isn’t to say that you should not share your experience and knowledge but it does mean that you must find a way to properly communicate these things to both your clients and your co-workers, if there are other people on the team. The rule of thumb here is to operate with tact.
When a client comes in with their project in mind you should never disregard what they are saying in favor of what you supposedly know. You never know what a person is privy to so don’t go in thinking your client knows nothing just because their ideas don’t attract you. The client you think knows nothing may very well be the spouse or relative of a notable designer who has been working in the industry for 20 years compared to your eight. Other than thinking that you know how the project should be you should never have or exhibit the notion that you know what is best for the client or you know the client better than anyone else. Of course you have one-on-ones but that doesn’t mean you have an automatic connection to everything in their mind to satisfy their wants and needs on a project. Conferring with a client on every single matter in regards to a project is not just a necessity: it should be mandatory. You should never think that your years in the field translate to you knowing what’s best. Always ask the client and if you don’t you might find yourself with a client who not only feels like you have disregarded everything that they wanted for the project but a client who doesn’t want to work with you ever again.
Criticize the Client
We all have an opinion but as our mothers would always say “if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all”. Believe it or not there are designers and agencies who will publicly criticize a client simply because they don’t like their idea. If your initial inclination is to act in such a manner then you need to simply and politely decline the project. Stomping all over a client’s ideas is not only disrespectful but also unprofessional. Should you however not decline the project yet still feel the need to let your voice be heard then vocalize your concerns with moderation. In other words politely give your input and then offer a few suggestions to substitute the element or elements. Telling a client you don’t like their design, concept, images or what have you is the equivalent of telling them that they are ugly. That is something you just don’t do. Even if your client asks for your honest opinion you must still learn how to bite your tongue and be respectful.
Criticizing your client to your teammates is also a negative. Speaking out to your teammates about your opinion on the client’s intelligence and project is not only unprofessional but just plain tacky. This can ultimately set you up as being portrayed as a jerk among your co-workers. Not only this, but chances are what you said will get back around to your clients and they will be quick to send you packing. In most cases this is the precursor to a ruined reputation. Not to mention it could and probably will make the people you work with wary of you. If you talk badly about your clients to your teammates who is to say you don’t badmouth your teammates to your clients. This is one of the many areas that being a professional is completely necessary. You don’t have to be a prude but knowing how to balance casual banter and professional etiquette is an important asset to have especially when working with people. Remember that everyone has feelings so don’t think because of your status that you have the right to be rude and demeaning about and to your clients.
Be Completely Biased
Clients come to designers because they have an idea or multiple ideas that they wish to have executed in exchange for money; that’s the way it usually works. The project belongs to the client not the designer or the agency. There are too many times where designers and agencies take on a project and completely change it to what they want or what they see it becoming. This goes back to being a know it all and thinking that you’re right and the client is wrong. Yes designers and agencies want to deliver a project that they are proud of but when the attitude of “it has to be how I want it” and “I get final say” then there starts being a problem. The client should be the one with the final say. A client should never be disregarded because of the biased opinions and attitudes the designer or agency has developed. Like the other two topics this is also unprofessional.
Furthermore, it is unacceptable for a designer or agency to make a project about them and about what they want to happen and want to see. If at the end of the day when the project is finished and you don’t like it but the client does, you have the option to not include it in your portfolio. It really is as simple as that. You don’t, however, add in what you like especially when the client has already picked out elements they want to use or has given you layout plans that they want their projects to have. Any changes made should be those that the client has sanctioned. Once again this is where one must place on the hat of professionalism. As a designer or agency you should never take on a project that you personally have a problem with or that you cannot look pass your own personal bias because this just leads to trouble in the long run. It also will hold up production and when you are working with people, clients and teammates this can leave a bitter taste in both clients’ and project members’ mouths. You are there to help not be an inhibitor.
There is a clear difference between helping and hurting. If you are a designer or agency who has committed the aforementioned behavior toward your clients: it isn’t too late to change. As a designer or agency you want to earn respect, but the only way to do so is to respect your clients. Helping manage and execute your client’s projects is completely different to hijacking it and making it a personal project. It doesn’t take that much to ruin a relationship with your client so remember to mind your Ps and Qs. You’ll find success in most cases if you do.
Have you ever had a designer or agency completely hijack your project? If you have a horror story in regards to trying to get your project finished feel free to share it.
Gabrielle is a freelance graphic designer, animator, photographer and filmmaker who has taken on various projects including creating logos for clients, animating commercials for film festivals, working as a character and background designer and animating music videos for an international music artist.