Good client communication doesn’t always happen, and I’m sure we’ve all had a situation where we have been given a project to work on and we’ve worked through the brief and crafted a wonderful piece of creative. Sent it off to the client for feedback, to then have it returned back to us with numerous changes marked up.
As a graphic designer you get used to this and you take it on the chin. It’s part of the creative process. Thoughts go through your head: have I followed the brief? Did I understand what was required? Did I miss something?
Perhaps the client has been too busy and missed some vital piece of information. Or even forgotten to send you a logo or graphic that needs to be incorporated into the design. This happened to me today in fact. A client did forget to mention that these same two items needed to be added to my carefully crafted brochure cover design. I rolled my eyes, but did what I had to do to make the piece work. That’s what I’m here for.
But it does demonstrate that good communication is vital to any working relationship. Whether it’s between you and your client, or as a manager within a team. This is probably one of the biggest bug-bears of mine and it can really effect how you work with someone.
So what is the secret to good client communication?
Always ask the right questions
It may seem obvious but this is an important one. Collate all the information you need to complete the job from day one. Sure, there may be the odd query along the way, but in essence you need to know the full picture. Otherwise you may get to the end of that logo design project to find you’ve missed a vital piece of information.
Listen and listen some more
Some people may say this is the most important thing. I would tend to agree. There are so many people I’ve met who don’t seem to be able to do this, yet it’s easy to implement. Sometimes your brain is so focused on the project, or even the next, and you can easily miss things. Or you are so eager to comment on what the other person just said, that you switch off until you can say what you want to say.
“Looks good, but the logo is too large. Please make it 100% smaller.”
The devil is in the detail
I’ve often be given a creative job brief that consists of one sentence, maybe two on a good day. The client may know what they want but it can be challenging when you don’t have all the details. It sometimes helps to write the brief with the client, or at least call them and chat through the sketchy parts. This goes back to my point about asking the right questions.
The client may not be aware of some basic technical terms or worked with a graphic designer before, so it’s your job to walk them through anything that isn’t clear.
Client: Can you email me that logo?
Me: Sure, what file format would you like?
Client: Oh, I don’t know. Nothing fancy.
Get things in writing
Now this hasn’t happened to me personally but I have heard it can. Your discussing a job brief, and a client tells you that they like your idea and can you just add this new paragraph and re-colour the diagram. You implement as instructed. Then later you learn that the client didn’t agree to that change in the first place.
In some instances it may be useful to outline any changes to the plan in an email, just so everyone involved knows exactly what to expect. Even if I speak to the client on the phone, I always get them to email the instructions through just to make sure I haven’t missed anything.
Always get typed amendments rather than hand written
Occasionally I work with old-school client’s who insist on hand writing changes all over a scanned version of the project. This can be a nightmare if the hand writing is illegible, too small or if the scan hasn’t picked up some of the elements. “But I wrote the changes in red pen.” I get a black and white scan… sigh.
I try and insist that it is imperative to have any changes notated in an email or even better on a PDF. This makes it super clear and provides a reference in-case anything is missed.
A client dropped off some changes for his mailer and all of his hand written notes were pretty much scribbles and jagged lines. Just to make sure it wasn’t just me who couldn’t make out his mumbo jumbo, I asked a couple of my co-workers if they could read what he wrote and none of them could translate.
I scanned and emailed him his original in case he didn’t make a copy for himself, and then I called the client and asked him if it was possible to retype his changes/notes in an email, or come by and rewrite his notes legibly.
Client: I don’t understand….so you can’t read any of it?
Client: (letting out an ugly sigh) ….I can’t believe this…
Me: Can you pull up the scans I sent you? You can dictate the changes to me over the phone if you like.
Client: Yeah OK, I have it pulled up.
Me: Ready when you are.
Client: Yeah, I wrote these late last night after knocking back a couple. I’ll get back to you later.
Provide a clear schedule and outline deadlines
The last thing you want is to suddenly find out that the leaflet you have been designing has to go to press at the end of the day, and it’s 4 pm! If the client doesn’t specify a timeline, then create your own. When do they want the first concepts? When does the job need to be printed by? Are there any other assets needed and when?
It is also good practice to be clear when you need feedback by. This avoids last minute changes that can cause you a lot of stress and potentially effects the deadline.
Leave a day or two as a buffer
If you are in control of the dates for delivery of artwork, I’d recommend allowing a day or two as a buffer. This allows for any last minute problems or changes. Let’s face it , no one likes the added pressure of missing a deadline.
So I’m sure most of the points I’ve talked about here are fairly obvious, but it’s always good to remind yourself what both you and your clients should be doing. And remember there are many factors to conquering the secret to good client communication.
Note: client conversation examples taken from Clients From Hell