The Perfect Client

October 30, 2008

As a designer, I’ve struggled a lot with balancing the requests of the client with my own personal ideas about how a project should be executed. And I’m sure many other designers can relate when I say: Nothing is more painful than having to back down when you know you’re right. Sometimes we come across those clients who won’t budge, won’t reason, and won’t compromise no matter what we say. And it really makes us appreciate those perfect clients. So, for the benefit of both client and designer, I’m going to outline what it is that makes the ideal client.

1. The customer is always rarely right.

Unlike the old sales adage, in the world of design, the clients are almost never right. And the best of them come to the first meeting already knowing that. Sure, they’ll always be the most knowledgeable person about the product, company, or individual they’re representing. But when it comes down to it, they’re coming to us for our expertise. Because we do know best. We know how to captivate the targeted userbase. We know that the font doesn’t need to be bolder. And we know that making the logo any larger will change the tone of the entire site from tasteful to downright obnoxious.

That’s why the best clients listen to their designers and respond with positive concern for the outcome of the final product, instead of demanding “The paragraph font must be larger! That’s final!” However, this doesn’t mean we designers should have carte blanche over our clients’ requests. But instead, we should listen to them when they say, “The font should be bigger,” and then find out the reasoning behind it. It may just be that the typeface is hard for them to read, or maybe there is not enough contrast. Get them to describe the problem instead of letting them just offer the solution.

Remember, our goal as designers, isn’t to just make things look pretty. Our goal is to help our clients succeed. Because when they look good, we look good.

Advice to clients: Trust us. We’re here for you. Your designer is your problem-solver, so describe how you think the design falls short instead of only offering your ideas for improvement. After all, that’s what you’re paying a professional to do!

Advice to designers: Develop that trust with your client. Walk them through your process, and show them how they’ll be involved. And also, be prepared to compromise. Because even though our clients aren’t always right, neither are we.

2. Content is everything.

My favorite clients are the ones who know exactly what kind of message they want to deliver. The ones that come to the opening meeting and tell me, “Here’s what I want to say.” The most crucial part of any website is its content. Without good information to deliver to users, most websites are DOA. Unfortunately, with some clients, it’s impossible to stress the importance of generating quality content. As a result, the site’s design and bounce rate both suffer tremendously. The biggest question is, “If you don’t have anything to say, why did you want a website in the first place?”

It’s imperative to remember that users aren’t coming to websites to look at a nice-looking layout. They’re coming for information. And if there’s no information to be had, that visitor is gone. Probably forever.

Advice to clients: Figure out what it is you want your site to do for you. Decide what words you’d like to say. And we can put those words to good use. We need to know your message before we can show your message.

Advice to designers: Encourage your clients to create more content than is needed. Help them understand why it’s so important to their success. If you have to, show them examples of well populated sites with rich, meaningful content.

3. The user is more important than you.

The very best clients (and designers!) understand that concept above all else. When I design a site, I’m doing it for the users. I think about the most effective ways to display information, how to direct users from one page to another, and how to attract them back to the site in the future. It’s my greatest concern. So when my clients don’t share the same philosophy, it’s a big let down. 🙁

The perfect client is willing to compromise when their designers suggest, “I think it’d be better for the user if…”, and they never let ego get in the way of creating an effective user experience. Meanwhile, the best designers need to keep their egos in check, too. Remember, it’s the client’s site. Not yours.

The thing to remember is this: The Client-Designer relationship needs to be a cohesive unit. Effective design comes from teamwork, collaboration, and shared ideals. So, all you clients and designers out there, remember to listen, challenge, and work together. Because in the end, you both need each other.

Side Note: Thanks go out to all the perfect clients we’ve had. You know who you are.