What Makes a Productive Designer and Client Relationship?

Over the last decade, I've had some incredible opportunities to do design projects with incredible clients from around the world. While every client is different and has their own nuances, there are some common elements that I've found to be tremendous to building a successful partnership.

Let’s talk about them.

The Big One: Trust

Trust is the main ingredient in any successful relationship, and client projects are no different. Without that element of trust, everything else will be more challenging and negative things like micromanagement can creep in. That trust comes from a solid foundation and building a good back-and-forth during the early stages of planning out the project.

It’s pretty simple overall. If you show you know what you’re doing and you give a damn, others will naturally put that faith in your ability. It’s then just a case of maintaining that relationship and keeping things on course.

To keep that trust in tact, always take the time to step into the other person’s shoes before you communicate, send work or even take on board feedback. This consideration is the key to maintaining the trust that everything else is built upon. Also make sure not to make any rash decisions during the project. You’ve got to be constantly switched on and be using your emotional intelligence to think through things from both sides before diving in. This will prevent any mistakes that could lead to broken trust. And you absolutely don’t want that. Breaking trust is a one-way street. It’s nearly impossible to fix.

With that in mind, let’s talk about some other elements that can build and cement that trust further.

Regular Discussion

While initial trust is given through you showing your knowledge and skill; it is further grown by continuing to show your value over and over again.

Set up a regular time (I would recommend weekly) to talk through what’s being worked on and why the decisions have been made. This gives an excellent opportunity to show your thinking and explain the path that is being worked down. Frequent meetings like this also open the floor to new perspectives and ideas in the form of feedback; an important element in the success of any project. Yet another bonus of regular communication that is often overlooked is the building of a rapport that speeds things up in future. As you spend more time together in these discussions, you gain a greater understanding of one another through the friendship you build.

While I suggest weekly catch-ups as a great building point for keeping updates regular and the feedback flowing; that doesn’t mean you should completely vanish for the other 6 days of the week. Use a tool like Slack to ask any small questions that come up and to check in and make sure things are on track.

A Clear Roadmap

All great work first starts with a well thought out plan charting the course you’re going to follow. Not only does this manage expectations well, but it also gives you the blueprint for the step-by-step tasks you need to complete to make the project a success.

Take the time needed early on in the project to research and map out options; then discuss and confirm them with the client that the direction you plan to head in is the right one. Then you can use your regular meetings to make sure you're on course.

Keep Users At The Heart of Things

The main thing you and your client will always have in common is that everything you do is for the benefit of the end-user of what you're making.

By keeping the audience at the centre of every discussion, there's always a lens to view important decisions through. And with each choice, you learn more about those current and potential users you seek to delight. This knowledge is what guide your iterations and experimentations and eventually to a perfect fit.

Wrapping Up

When you're working with clients make sure to always be going the extra mile to build up trust and show you care about the problem being solved, along with who it's being solved for. The rapport you grow will lead to incredible results in the work you create together.

Keep these short, to the point tips in mind during your own projects in future.

Speak soon,

Jamie ✌️