The first email or phone call you receive to notify you of a project is also the first indirect contact between you and the client. This initial step includes basic information about the project that you may need to know to continue the conversation with the client and start the project consequently or simply decline with a gentle apology.
The input you receive from the client is the most important piece of information you depend on to create a design that meets with their requirements. Clever designers don’t just take what the client tells them and gets started; instead he or she should seek what is behind the product information or the content that will need to be added to the project. To gain a bigger picture of the project, you should learn how to understand the client and what is behind their words and expressions. In most cases, clients do not have experience in the design business so the project owner will struggle to express what he or she really needs such as using specific style or colors and in many cases the customer does not know the best solution for the design, this will require you to provide advice and options to serve the project marketing and end users needs.
Since collecting data is the first step in the design process, it is important to gather every necessary piece of information regarding the project before you put your designs on paper. This initial meeting with the customer can decide if the project will flow smoothly with less time and budget waste in doing major modifications as well as a lot of comments, especially when it is the first time dealing with the client.
Designing like a marketing person
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At this early stage in the project, you jump from your main career area to the marketing side and play the role of the marketing person for the project. Even if the company is too large and prevents you from meeting with the client directly, it would be an initial meeting where you meet with the project manager, marketing manager or a person who has direct contact with the customer.
While your design plays an important role in the products marketing, it is important to be involved in the marketing process and to make sure that your design won’t stand as a hard rock in the face of success of the project and meet with its requirements. At this point, you are acting like a marketing person who determines the creative direction for the design that will meet with the projects market.
In the first meeting with the client, it is important to listen to the client, what are the ideas running through his or her head before starting to steer the conversation to get more information.
Although this is not a real design step as you’re still getting the information, I would consider it a part of the design because it’s important for putting the design together. You have to meet the client with two faces, you approach the client with the marketing face that would like to convince the client to follow specific design styles or get a better idea as to whether the client has one in mind and how he envisions it.
In many cases, the client may spoil the creative idea because of their lack of design skills and creative vision. While the design may flow just perfectly, some suggestions or ideas can flip the design to become an ugly experience instead of a creative one. This happens mostly when the client is new and does not depend entirely on the designer’s vision.
Reading your client
While understanding your client is a matter of time and experience, you can read what is behind the client’s words and understand what is required, even if he or she did not know how to express these needs in the designer’s language.
Reading your client involves many issues such as listening carefully to the project requirements and the ideas and thoughts, learning from the client’s information and the background you have such as the business type, scale, previous artwork done for the business and the customer as well. In addition to this data, you will get more information by simply asking the contact person questions to educate your talent and start thinking of ideas for the project.
Questions you should ask
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There are some questions that you should ask the project owner or manager about the design expectations and requirements. These questions depend on the project type, end-user, output and the client.
The following examples show some information you may ask about to get a better idea about the project:
- The company logo, color scheme, design style on the website, corporate identity, and if the client wants to follow it or change the colors and the design style from the existing one.
- The type of business and how to choose the design style that meets with the business field
- The project output. Will the project be a website, brochure, desktop application, etc…
- If the client would like to have a similar design style to an existing one such as an existing site.
- The functions that the need to be added to the project
- The marketing concept behind the project
- The audience, this helps to create a design that meets with the audiences’ needs and becomes user friendly.
Although there are common questions that you need to ask the customer, there are other questions that are more related to the project type and change based on each project’s circumstances.
Questions you should NOT ask
While asking questions is an important step to get more information about the design process, they should be asked wisely because some questions may cause instead of a helpful meeting with precise steps to follow the design.
Unwanted questions can be similar to giving more options after setting one of the topics such as color examples after determining the color scheme of the design. On the other hand, some questions may get the customer involved more than usual in the design process, this ends up with either a conflict between the designer and the client or ends up with a design that isn’t compatible with the creative direction of the project or the end-users’ needs.
Therefore, it is important to be careful about the questions you ask the client, it should be directed and useful in the design process.
Client feedback checklist
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One of the most important documents that you can depend on to summarize the client’s feedback about the project or even take with you to let the client fill in is the design feedback checklist. This checklist organizes the design input and thoughts about the design and how he or she expects the design to look. Although you can directly give it to the client to fill in, it is important to fill it in by yourself as a designer to better understand what it reflects.
The feedback checklist is also helpful to transfer the creative vision when you have a team of designers that are working on the same project; it makes sure that everyone is following the correct information with a unified style and output.
Similar to the question list, the checklist can include the following information:
- The Project type, it can be website, printing project, logo design …etc.
- The color scheme of the project.
- The target audience, they can be business people, kids or young girls …etc.
- The corporate identity and design style
- The required design style
- An example of a similar project
- Examples of the competitors designs
- The number of mock-ups and options
- The project content, text, images and video
- The functions that will be added visualized in the design
- The number of designs required for the project
- The technology that will be used in the project and its versions
- The output format and restrictions such as the image sizes for the website design.
- The project timing and delivery
How the client meeting affects the design process
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Gathering this information builds knowledge about how the design and creative process will flow based on the client type and the project requirements. For example, the client may require different design mock-ups before choosing the best fit, in this case, you will need to either create two design mock-ups or let two designers with different styles work on creating the mock-up.
Also, in some projects, the client may like to see a drafted version with only outline for how the design is constructed. However, it is important to analyze the data collected through the meeting and in the feedback checklist to determine the best design process workflow that compliments these requirements.
Understanding the client is the most important step in your design workflow as it determines the success of the project and prevents a lot of wasted time and money through going in wrong creative directions. Therefore it is useful to have good skills to gather all the possible information from the client or the contact person to be able to ensure the success of the design project. Having some marking skills such as how to negotiate with the client, asking the right questions and getting organized feedback are required to serve the creative process.
Although experience is very important in this, you can still get the most out of the client meeting through the guidelines above and using the feedback checklist.