Communicating Better With Your Clients

If you’ve been on the internet for some time, you’ve probably read a client from hell story. While some clients are just that impossible to work for, I sometimes look at the stories and wonder how often it was communication that sent things off the rails.

I’ve been in this position before, and it isn’t fun. It sucks when you’re getting in a fight with your client. It’s not fun when they’re tearing your work to shreds because they were expecting something different than what you delivered.

Through the years I’ve learned that communication is the biggest thing I continually have to work on as a designer. Its like keeping up to date with new software or design trends. 

Its important to remember that every client is different. Every product or expectation is different. It’s easy to throw in the towel and get frustrated trying to get better at communicating.

I recently took a job working in-house with a bunch of attorneys. And I realized more than ever, that if I’m going to get more than 200 people to agree — or 200 attorneys — to agree with something that I had to up my game.

It’s one of those things that as you work at it more and more, it gets easier. I want to get that out of the way, because for some it can feel like a giant uphill battle. It’s easy to get frustrated, but keep at it.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you have to be upfront with your clients. We can’t assume that they know what a design process looks like or what kind of steps you need to get to a finished product.

When I was working at an agency, I had a client come to me after I didn’t outline much of a process at all. They explained that the design that I was showing them looked like something they could have done in five minutes. It stung. And I know a lot of designers, including myself, cringe when we hear that. 

The client feels thats a resonable response though — they don’t understand the work or the process that went into that finished piece.

You can control the reaction a little more by including your client in your process. They can see how you get to that final result, even if it does look simple.”

When you do include them in your process, never assume that your client knows what you know.

We’re often professionals at feeling caught in a case of imposter syndrome. I’ve heard many times how someone feels like designing is too easy” and that it feels like anyone could do their job. This isn’t the case though.

If someone doesn’t have the basic skillset of a designer, the choices we make aren’t as obvious. Its important to step a client through what you did. Anytime you start to assume the client knows more than they do, they fill in the blank space with their own assumptions.

When you’re filling them in, make sure you’re using plain language. 

Its easy to fall into a trap of technical jargon when we get excited about something. Words, phrases or ideas that are common knowledge to us aren’t necessarily known to the rest of the world. This is why your client hired you. They don’t know these things.

Anytime that you’re able to break things down into a simpler way for them to understand, and quickly grasp what you’re doing, the easier it is to move forward.

Last, but the most important thing: listen!

You should always be listening to your clients no matter how crazy their ideas sound. Listening to them and making them feel like they’re heard is crucial. I don’t think this one takes too much practice at all. As long as you’re taking an interest and not just dismissing their ideas or their thoughts right away, it always makes for a better relationship and a happier client.

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