10 Tips on Being a Better Design Client

Being a good design client can be difficult. Perhaps the hardest thing of all is maintaining a clear separation between the role of the client and the designer.

Chances are the client will have many design ideas and will want to see these come to fruition. This can put the designer in a difficult place, after all the designer has to listen to the client, but the client is not in a position where they have to listen to the designer. This often leads to communication breakdown, scope creep and many unresolved design tasks.

To make matters worse, the client may not possess design understanding or vocabulary to communicate what they need.

“The page doesn’t look quite right, can you try something else.”
“Can you make that button POP!”
“This section needs more flair.”

Like most people I don’t consider myself a bad designer and that makes it all too easy to inject too much of my own ideas into the design process. It took me a while to understand when to let go. Embarrassing as it is, I have also used variations on the quotes above to try to communicate my thoughts.

If you are looking for design consistency, faster turn-around times and a more enjoyable and rewarding design process then I hope the tips below will help you, as they have done for me.

  1. Set clear objectives: All too often we jump on designers with loose objectives without first understanding what we actually want to achieve. This often leads to scope creep and getting too far into the weeds on design decisions. If you understand the objective then you can avoid needless tasks that don’t get you closer to that goal. Avoid saying things like “I want this page to look good.”, which is highly subjective and will likely be an open-ended objective with no clear end point.
  2. Task list items: Objectives are not actionable tasks, they are what we hope to accomplish when the actionable tasks are complete. Break down the objective into a task list of things for the designer can achieve. Get the designer involved in this process to help break down these tasks and give estimates. I highly recommend using a task tracking tool for this process. At the office we use Asana for our design tasking, Cage and Droplr for design review, and JIRA for development and QA.
  3. Don’t be a designer: You have hired a designer to do the design work, so leave the design work to them. No matter how proficient you think you are at that role, your goal should not be to become the designer. Without this understanding you will only stand to get in the way of progress and inject too much into the design. The Oatmeal has a funny design hell comic that highlights this struggle.
  4. Understand the fundamentals of design: There is a big difference between thoughts and feelings, you need to understand the reason something does or doesn’t work. Remember, this doesn’t mean your goal is to become a designer, just understand the design decisions being made and have thoughtful conversation on how design can better serve the goal.
  5. Build up your design vocabulary: Not only do you need to understand the above but you need the right language to explain it. Avoid “POP”, “flair” , “edgy”, “modern” type of language at all costs. I like to read sites that have a lot of design discussion like the StackExchange UX threads and blog sites like UX Movement.
  6. Trust and listen to design choices:  It is the job of the designer to make the design choices and their job to communicate the reason for these choices. Be all means challenge these assumptions, but only if you have constructive and thoughtful commentary.
  7. Avoid scope creep: It is easy in the design process to get into scope creep. The scope of the project should be the same, don’t deviate too far from what you asked for. The designer can quickly become confused with what you actually want. Tasking appropriately can help with this.
  8. Watch your negative communication: Designers have a strong personal connection to the work. A professional designer will be open to critique of their work, but even professional designers can be sensitive to negative feedback. Avoid overly negative words and communicate your thoughts professionally. Avoid saying things like “this is really bad, I don’t like it”.
  9. Close out on tasks: Don’t bite off an entire page, or worse an entire website. Focus on individual page elements and have a healthy balance of things that you can quickly agree on with things that need challenging discussion. We all need some quick wins to feel progress.
  10. Complete the job: The biggest point here is to know when to call the job complete. This can be incredibly difficult as we always want bigger and better. Stop yourself and ask what changing the design would do, does changing a font size or a color really get you closer to the goal, or is it just needless perfection. Close the design task, come back to the design at a later date.

Bonus Tip – Build a lasting relationship: A good designer can be incredibly hard to find, not to mention designers who really understand your product. Experience in your product is incredibly valuable, even if they are an incredible designer this talent can be wasted if they simply do not get your product. There is nothing that will bring a designer or team of designers together better than a successfully accomplished goal. Celebrate these wins with them and then embark on the next challenge as a team.

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