Stop being a Designer from Hell

There’s more to being a professional designer than pushing around pixels. I realise the truth behind this more and more every day. I’d estimate I spend somewhere between 10–25% of my week interacting with clients. This relationship dictates everything I do in my job. If I want to enjoy it and produce design to be proud of I should be focusing on this, right? For design meetings to go well and to avoid being a “Designer from Hell” I set myself a few targets:

1. Instill confidence

The client is paying you because they can’t do the job themselves. They want to know that you can deliver. Help them understand your design process and relieve them of any concerns. I’ve wrote more about some of the techniques I use in strategy meetings in this post: Finding the right style. I’d be interesting in what you do, so leave a comment!

2. Focus on an end-user perspective

As designers we have grown up with an artistic mind. We look at the world differently and understand how people react to visual things. On top of that we have a design education. We know what works in different situations and for different types of people. The client knows better than anyone who their end-users are. Get these two areas of knowledge flowing in conversation and you have all the criteria you need for design critique and you’ll both be confident of the design direction.

3. Ask questions, then ask them again

Have you ever walked into a small DIY store and asked where the nails are? The owner will ask you “what type of nail are you after?”. When you stare blankly at him he’ll smile and ask “what do you plan to do with the nail?”. Notice how he changed the question to one you can answer? In doing so he gets the information he needs to help you.

These type of people have a wealth of experience in their trade. They also tend to be common folk like me! Down to earth and friendly. When they establish you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing they know how to take a different approach. If a client isn’t giving you feedback it’s because you aren’t asking the right questions. Never assume they’re happy or unhappy with a design if your first question falls on deaf ears.

Missing the targets

Designers are a different breed. Most of us are egotistical stuck-up artistes. See Clients from Hell for example - many of those snippets would fit better on a blog called “Designers from Hell”. I’d take a wild guess that 90% of these situations occur because the designer failed to aim for any of the targets above. What results is the client feeling lost with no confidence in the designer and process. The client has a responsibility for the project and feels they must take authoritative control. Frustration is served up to everyone involved and eventually shit design is delivered. The designer then bitches about the client.

See the problem here? It is very rarely (if ever) the clients fault a project ends in disappointment. As designers it is part of our job to understand and manage that client-designer relationship. Get it right from the start and this situation is avoided.

These are by no means the only targets you need to consider but they definitely get me on the right track. With ongoing experience they start to become second nature and you can think beyond them to other techniques. I’ve heard mountains of buffet and champaign works well too.

I’d love to hear how you approach the client-designer relationship! Leave a comment below.

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