Working collaboratively with clients is an essential skill for any SEO agency or web design agency that want to succeed. Yet many of us treat client relations as a secondary concern. Even worse, some agencies are missing the opportunity to make their design clients partners in the creative process. Let’s look at some of the reasons that this phenomenon occurs, and how the design community can help make this situation better for everyone involved.
Because the client and the designer both see the design strategy from different perspectives, there is always going to be a bit of friction over design strategy. What we should be doing as designers is getting a good understanding of the problems we are being hired to solve. Most of us know to do research on the various conditions involved in each job. Where our design strategies break down is in our communication with our clients.
Clients come to us with their design projects, trusting us to take care of the processes of which we are more knowledgeable than they are. Let’s take a minute to think about what this means from the client’s perspective. If we have a legal problem, we would hire a lawyer, because they are familiar with the law, and if we tried to tackle our problem on our own, we might end up in a worse place than where we began. Similarly, if we have a medical condition, we would consult with a doctor, because they are the experts, and they can help solve a serious problem that directly affects us.
Now just imagine for a minute that your doctor or lawyer are making critical decisions, but not explaining why they were making those decisions. You would probably be highly upset and now, instead of only being stressed out about the original situation, you would now also be stressed out about the developer you hired to solve your problem in the first place. If we want to take our design services to the next level, we need to live by a new philosophy. We’re not in the business of design, we’re in the business of client services.
Our job is not to add more stress to the client’s load, but to take it away. When we disagree with the direction that the project is taking because the client disagrees with us, we really need to ask ourselves if the lines of communication have been open during the entire process. We need to involve the client in the process of design, for a couple of good reasons. As designers, we tend to think of our client’s problems in terms of how we would solve them, anticipating a certain set of problems that we are trying to solve. The client’s best needs might be something entirely different, but we might never know that unless we communicate effectively with them.
The second reason for involving clients in the design process is to make sure that we can explain our design decisions adequately, and let the client know exactly why we are choosing one design element over another. The real danger is that both client and designer come in, each with a preconceived notion of how the problem must be solved, or how the page must look, without properly considering the actual goal that must be met. Without proper communication, our time and effort, and the client’s money, may be going in the wrong direction.
It is imperative that we keep clear and frequent lines of communication open with our client, so that they know why we are suggesting the solutions that we are putting forth. Good designers understand that they aren’t being paid only for designing and coding the project, but also for selling their design choices to the client. The most important thing we are being paid for is for the overall experience of buying design and giving the client peace of mind.
There’s one more crucial reason that the client needs to be part of our team: they are the foremost experts on their project. We cannot possibly hope to know how to approach the client’s particular design problem without their valuable input. They will be able to warn you of the risks of their project, tell you who the target audience is, and inform you of the overall scope of the project.
The client relationship is the very heart of our business, not the projects that we build. Projects are the easy part. Code may be poetry, but the relationships that we establish and maintain with our clients are going the difference maker in our design business.