Working with clients can be tough. There can be a lot of back and forth communication and many requirements. Every client has their different level of standards and can make bouncing from project to project a bit difficult. One client’s idea of good is another’s idea of average and they’ll want more.
Some of us make our living off doing client work and accepting new projects. While all of us are different in the amount of work we can do and handle, it’s no secret that we don’t want to spend lots of unnecessary time stuck doing revisions and trying different designs. It’s always nice to have a client that can at least see the potential in a design instead of throwing it out to the wolves.
Having a design looked at and immediately disproved can be crushing. Providing the best design the first time around is often rare. However, providing a design the client likes and can see the potential in is obtainable. There’s no such thing as an immaculate, “perfect” design, but there is an idea that a design has “perfect” potential, no matter the client or the project. Below are a few things you can do to help make better designs for your clients.
Know the brand
This is the single most important and also most over-looked thing when it comes to creating designs, especially if you don’t use design briefs. When I first started designing as a freelancer, I asked clients what type of design they needed and mainly what colors they liked. I usually knew the business industry, but past that, I didn’t really concern myself. I felt like it didn’t matter with what I was doing. After sending my concept to the business, they typically had tons of revisions or wanted me to give it another try.
I thought that was normal until I started to actually concern myself with the business I was working for. Asking questions about the business and what they actually do gives a better and deeper understanding to their needs. Once you grasp the actual need, then you have to find out the types of things they like. Once you know that, it’s easier to move on and create something specifically for that brand.
There’s no limit to the amount you can know about a brand you work for. Some think it’s frivolous, but I even know the start dates of some of my clients. It lets me understand their brand and who they want to attract. All these things are extremely important in making a design for them. Design should solve a problem, so you must be very well familiar with every aspect of the problem so that you can pose the right solution. In math, you can’t correctly solve an equation if you don’t understand the numbers. Design is the same thing. Know as much as possible.
Research the industry
The second most important and over-looked thing for some freelancers is researching the client’s industry. Once we know the needs of the client, we are ready and prepared to design what we think should be designed. It’s great to be anxious and ready but it is extremely important to know what is going on in the client’s industry.
Firstly, we know how trendy design can be. There are going to be certain trends in one industry that are and are not acceptable in another. In a big corporate lawyer firm, I’m not going to find a ton of watercolor logos. It’s not about finding ways to blend in, but it is about making sure you don’t negatively poke out like a sore thumb. There has to be a balance. You don’t want to make your client the laughing stock of their peers and you don’t want them to confuse potential customers and clients.
Secondly, you research to find out what is and is not popular with the consumers. You are honestly designing for them more than the client that is paying you. You’ve got to make sure you understand the industry’s consumers so you create something that gets them excited and ready to move. Perhaps you’ve noticed things they respond to well and things they don’t. You’ve got to try to use that to the strength of the company. Even in creating brochures and flyers, you must know what makes them excited and present it in a manner to do so.
The best part about researching the industry is the ability to notice areas that need improvement. If there is an opportunity in an area that your client is interested in, they’d be foolish not to tap into that industry. If consumers are begging for new features or designs, you can use that to your benefit and eventually to your client’s.
What do we all do when we’re ready to create something? We probably get online and go through hundreds of pages of design inspiration. When we’re tapped out on the blog, we then go to our favorite showcases and rinse and repeat. You can find inspiration anywhere online and it’s almost endless.
I love inspiration and tell designers as well as clients to look at some things to see what they like. However, after finding something you love, many end up copying rather than being creative. Someone can make a design and say it’s merely inspired by another design, yet it looks similar. Someone else can do the same, and the designs will look completely different. I’d tell you the latter was truly inspired while the former mimicked a design.
The difference is inspiration is really a feeling that taps into a certain corner of your creativity. It wakes that area up and pushes it to do new things. The interpretation of that inspiration should solely be yours. Perhaps you’ve incorporated an element or two from the original design—that’s cool, too, but true creativity isn’t work that’s been borrowed.
The benefits of being creative and trying new things is the affect it has on the design and who sees the design. Good creativity and good design can often lend itself to the beginnings of innovation. Re-inventing and re-designing the norm in order to provide the same purpose has had a great effect on our modern lives. Changing the norm to provide a better purpose creates great effects as well, many of which can start with a good, innovative design. Why? Creativity and innovation are contagious and can create new outlooks for your client as well as others who see the design.
Pay attention to detail
I did something so embarassing once: I sent a client a design concept and completely misspelled the name of the company. While they didn’t make a big deal out of it, I was beyond upset at myself for letting that one slip. Something like that could have cost me the job with any other client. That’s why paying attention to detail is extremely important.
Why did I make such a stupid mistake? I was actually rushing through the process as I was trying to meet a personal deadline. I’ve found myself and other designers often rushing and cutting corners with designs in order to get things done faster. The design outcomes are fair, but the risk of messing up the details are not.
Clients and consumers look at everything, so it’s best to be as detailed as possible. Take your time when creating and try to think everything through. Don’t always use your designer brain, but step back and look at the design and say, “Would I purchase this if I were a consumer? Would I remember this? Does this make sense?” These questions will keep you from making stupid mistakes like the one I made. It also helps you notice things you normally wouldn’t when designing.
Explain your design
While this idea has less to do with the creation of a design, it’s still helpful. As designers, we love and understand our designs and why we did it. For us, everything makes sense and goes together cohesively. Unfortunately, we don’t always communicate these things when we send off design for approval.
Sending an explanation of a design with a design (rather than in defense of a design) is helpful because the client has a chance to understand your design right there. For example, with my logo design concepts, I often write a small paragraph in the design that explains what my design is doing. Some believe the design should speak for itself, but in our first stages, it doesn’t always happen. Why not give them the immediate opportunity to understand it the way you get it?
Doing this gives the client less time to develop negative feelings towards the design, because they typically understand it better. Even if it is disliked (which it shouldn’t be if you followed the previous steps), there’s a chance that they’ll stick with and see and understand the potential.
Don’t be afraid of revisions, because again, they come with the territory. A quick hint here: always try what the client asks for. If you hate the idea, when you try it out, they’ll probably hate it, too or you may end up liking it. Either way, there should be open lines of communication between both parties so that explanations along with revisions can be clearly understood and accepted.
Again, there is no such thing as making a design that needs no revisions at all. Creating a design often gives whomever sees it some new ideas and they’re going to want to add to or take away from what you have. The idea here is to create something the client will actually like.
Using these ideas is helpful not only to the design, but also to your rapport. Asking clients lots of questions actually builds trust, plus who doesn’t like talking about themselves? They understand and respect that you really desire to create something for them and not just a general design for whomever.
Many amateur freelancers don’t hit all the above points and end up wasting a lot of time. Hitting all these points not only creates a better design for the client, but also starts to make you a better designer. We should all strive to be as great as we can in the positions we’re in.