As a designer, you’ve probably wished you could know exactly what your clients were thinking at one point or another. Maybe it was when they were vaguely describing how they wanted their design to “pop”. Or maybe when they were trying to express exactly why the fifteenth revision still wasn’t quite right. Or maybe it was after they refused to do a customer testimonial despite insisting they loved everything about the final product. Whatever it was, you probably left the interaction feeling you had no idea how to communicate with your clients.
When you consider that 64% of clients cite poor communication as the worst part of working with their designer, it’s clear that the feeling is mutual.
But that’s far from the only issue standing in the way of designers and clients getting along. To get to the bottom of the biggest problems in the client-designer relationship, we surveyed 100 users on their experiences working with designers.
The big question: What’s the worst part of working with a designer?
Who Are These Designers Anyway?
Now you might be looking at that 64% and saying, “No way that includes me; I’m not one of those designers.” But it’s more likely than you’d like to think.
To get some context on who these communication-challenged designers were, we also asked respondents about how they found their designer. Here’s a breakdown of the results:
As you can see online marketplaces are the main source of designers, at 34%, which could explain some of the complaints clients had. Online marketplaces are a notorious gamble for clients, since anyone can create an account, upload a portfolio, and start looking for design jobs.
But, between referrals from friends and family members and friends and family members themselves, personal connections win out as the main source of designers for this survey, accounting for almost 45% of the designers discussed by respondents.
What does this tell us? Two things:
- Even with the rise of online marketplaces, like Upwork or Freelancer, referrals and network connections are still the most popular way for designers and clients to find each other;
- Just because designers have a personal connection to their clients doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to work together without issue, poor communication isn’t something a personal connection can solve.
The Worst Parts About Working With a Designer
To give customers adequate room to air their designer grievances, we left the response field to this question completely open, allowing them to write as much (or as little) as they wanted. After reviewing the responses, we found that complaints typically fell within one or more of these seven categories.
Or, as we like to call them, the seven deadly designer sins:
- Poor communication;
- Missed deadlines;
- Difficulty trusting the designer;
- Limited revisions;
- Business needs not taken into account;
- Not feeling like a priority.
Due to the free-form nature of the responses, many responses fit into multiple categories. Here’s how those issues add up:
At 64%, poor communication is overwhelmingly the biggest complaint clients have about their designer. Now, we’ve brought this figure up before, but when you consider other communication-related complaints clients had, the true number is much worse.
Taking into account adjacent categories like “Business needs not taking into account” (15%), “Difficulty trusting the designer” (15%), and “Not feeling like a priority” (6%), issues that could be resolved with better communication begin to dominate the conversation.
While “Missed deadlines” (17%), “Limited revisions” (15%), and “Cost” (14%) are important for many respondents, focusing on how fast, often, and cheap you can deliver work won’t fix everything.
The biggest problem clients have with designers has little to do with their technical skills—and everything to do with their people skills.
This might almost seem a little too intuitive to be groundbreaking. After all, any designer who’s had a few years in the industry is familiar with the endless email chains over small changes and vague directions clients often give. But even though these complaints have become commonplace, designers can’t afford to ignore them anymore—because of the rise of AI-powered design.
Designers vs. Artificial Intelligence
In the past few years, AI-powered or Computer Assisted Design has been making advances in designing everything golf clubs to websites.
There are some aspects of AI-powered design that human designers won’t be able to outcompete. Things like a lower cost, unlimited revisions, and never missing a deadline aren’t the most practical selling points for a human who has to pay rent and sleep.
But those are only a small part of the complaints clients have.
If you’re a designer looking to compete against an increasing array of AI-powered design options, it’s time to start taking client relations seriously. When you’re competing against AI, your humanity is your selling point.
Becoming a Better Designer (Without Learning Any New Design Skills)
If you need any more convincing before you roll up your sleeves and start improving your communication skills, here’s another response from our survey, this time to the question: What’s the most important thing about working with a designer?
There it is, straight from the client’s mouth: communication is more important than skill when working with designers.
But let’s go back to the worst parts about working with a designer. After analyzing customer answers, we found a few common communication-related issues that designers can easily remedy.
Practicing Better Communication
Complaint: “It is difficult to accurately express one’s thoughts so that they can understand as needed to create a logo that works and meets our needs and desires.”
Solution: When you’re first trying to get an idea of what your client wants, don’t rush. They typically don’t have the same design vocabulary you do, so take your time to explain the ways that you can bring their vision to life. Focus on closing the communication gap early on and keep clients in the loop with regular updates. The more you communicate what you’re doing, the more they’ll feel connected to the final product.
Complaint: “Building the trust to allow the designer to do his thing. Letting someone outside make decisions independently was hard for us and we had to learn to accept outside advice and decisions.”
Solution: For most clients, trust comes down to communication. Can you demonstrate that you understand their needs and goals for this project? Can you show them that you care about producing great work for them?
Demonstrate a deeper connection to your client’s business and how your design fits into their goals. While you might not be on their payroll, you should show the same kind of commitment to the company an employee would have. The more you can invest yourself in a project beyond just collecting your payment, the more likely clients are to trust your judgment when you need to make a difficult design call.
Taking Business Needs Into Account
Complaint: “It felt he was more focused on what would look good on his portfolio rather than what was appropriate for our business needs.”
Solution: We all want to produce work that will look good in our portfolios, but you need to remember you’re designing for your clients—not yourself. Put the effort into understanding the context of a project, what a client is looking to accomplish, any trends in their industry, the audience they want to attract, and the metrics they want to achieve. As AI-powered design becomes more powerful, your capacity to act both as a consultant and a designer for your clients will give you an edge.
Making Every Client Feel Like a Priority
Complaint: “My designer had more than one project on the go so we were not always his priority.”
Solution: You’re likely always going to have a few projects on the go at the same time, but your clients don’t need to know that. When you’re on a call, in a meeting, or even just responding to their emails, give them your full attention. While you won’t be able to be at their beck and call 24/7 (however much they might want you to be), showing attention and enthusiasm during your interactions will help clients to feel like you care about them and their project.
Moving Past Your Design Sins
If you’ve made it to the bottom of this article, it’s fair to say you’re ready to remedy some of your designer sins to better serve your clients. But even if you do everything right, you’re still bound to get a few client complaints—and that’s okay. As much as you can improve your designer-client relations by being more human, it’s also human nature for clients to find something to complain about. As long as you’re continuously working on your communication, you’ll be able to stay one step ahead of other designers—both human and AI.
Featured image via Unsplash.
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Author: Dawson Whitfield