What Your Client Actually Wants

What Your Clients Actually Wants

As funny as this is, it can be avoided. Really the client isn’t sure what he/she needs. They aren’t experts at design, which is why they’re hiring you.

We start every project with a creative brief. This is our way of establishing guidelines for the design process. Not just for us, but for the client too. It helps educate them so they know how to communicate their needs without trying to be a designer.

To avoid comments like “make it pop” and “jazz it up,” we create something called brand principles. Even if you don’t have a creative brief process, I recommend at least doing this one small exercise with your client:

Review this list of words. In each row, ask your client which word best describes his/her brand.

  • | – —|— Masculine | Feminine Mature | Young Economical | Luxury Classic | Modern Serious | Playful Quiet | Loud Complex | Simple Obvious | Subtle

If you at least do this, you will have established rules for the design. If they client gives you feedback later that contradicts any of these brand principles, you can kindly remind them, or acknowledge that they have changed their mind (change order!).

Right now I freelance full time for two different Marketing companies. They send me work on a semi-frequent basis. And I pick up clients here and there through word of mouth or dumb luck, really.

I mostly offer design and development services but I’m pretty well versed all-around in sys admin work, full stack, etc. Not very well versed in marketing though, I just know the basic SEO stuff and follow directions from my (marketing) clients well enough haha.

Basically what would be really interesting to learn from you or anyone else, really, would be that extra level of experience that you have managing projects and clients. Obviously from your previous post you have a good deal of experience in getting the client to better express what they want and how to get an idea of what your job is going to require, etc. I think that would help me out a lot along with many others here.

It might make for a really popular Medium article if you have a Medium account! Otherwise, here is good too. I’ll take any tips you’re willing to dish out.

I haven’t come across many clients that are that contradictory about their messaging. Exercises like these can give us a foundation to either get to the next phase of discovery (moodboards, style tiles, concepting), or their contradictions can fuel your questioning to them to help further hone a direction.

The good thing is that these insights are not necessarily law. I wouldn’t weigh every adjective combination up there equally. Every designer would interpret this client feedback in slightly a different way. We just need enough information to provide a solution or recommendation. If they are paying us to be brand experts, we need to be able to establish a relationship of trust where we can say… “I don’t think having a Modern, Loud, Complex site makes sense for your audience.”

This can get tricky though, because some of those things very subtly don’t mesh well. Say a client selects: “Masculine, Economical, Serious?” Masculine and economical might be a direction that something like “Dollar Shave Club” hits right on the head, but it’s hardly serious. And it’s far from complex. As much as this empowers you, it can also give clients an unrealistic expectation of an implementation that is “perfect.” And if you aren’t able to nail an “Mature, loud” implementation, it empowers clients – even perfectly reasonable clients – to nitpick.

To me, it seems one of the best ways to avoid this is to just swap out the word “rules” for “guidelines” so that the client is under no delusion that you’ll be able to deliver some perfect implementation. After all, what happens if a client, when asked to choose between “serious and playful,” says something like, “both is fine thanks.” Hahah.

Typically it starts as normal: a strategy and planning phase wherein we understand the goals of the project and its intended audience. That informs not only structure and layout but style. Add that all together and you have the makings for a site design.

During that style portion (inspiration, mood board, UI concepts, etc) the “I’ll know it when I see it” line is 100% a red flag. It just means the client cannot or is unwilling to respond to the strategy and concepts you are presenting. It means they do not know how to articulate what they truly want. Worse, it probably means that what they want is in discord with what they need, and there’s too much dissonance for them to clearly express their feedback

“you mean you’d like me to make multiple designs for the price of one and keep going until I hit what you want by coincidence?” That sounds like a bad deal.

This is an asinine approach to design. Sorry, I’m going to be way too serious about what is supposed to be a funny image.

First of, the conclusions that are drawn based on the clients feedback are likely not accurate for a large amount of clients and condensing them to these types of recommendations is rather simplistic.

For instance, the term “Luxury” may mean something entirely different for a company like Rolex vs a company like BMW. For Rolex, luxury may describe of feeling of owning something age old and intentional or hand crafted, while for BMW it could mean spacious, or powerful. What’s the feeling when you get into a BMW? How do we translate that feeling into design and brand messaging?

While people love griping on the term “Make it Pop” there can be something clearly learned from the comment. One component on the page has less contrast from the other components than the client wants. Why does the client want this component to stand out? Is their purpose valid? How can we implement their change while staying true to the brand concepts we’ve established?

“The logo looks like a font” – Adding a shape to a client’s brand because they’ve seen it on trendy logos is a pretty bad approach. What does having a mark mean to your brand? I would want to explain how our design translates positively to a lot of different mediums, and how we need to be intentional and careful if we’re bringing a geometric shape into our design. Does the shape just follow hip trends or can this mark be used in multiple applications for a very long period of time? What shapes or symbols make sense if any?

“I’ll know what I want when I see it.” – We need to a design solution that meets your needs and budget. This requires us to understand your company, brand and audience.

We simply can’t give recommendations without having understanding the client’s direction.

It needs to look friendlier – I recently worked on an sex application (that’s all I really want to say) that was geared towards being friendly and playful. The context of the word friendly is key, and we need to understand why the client has an affinity for that word. I would probably give them some moodboards or do additional design discovery in this instance to try and suss out their interpretation of this in the context of their brand and goals for their application.

“Make it look like Apple” – Yes! We love Apple here. What about Apple specifically do you feel would speak to your audience? Is it their design, their messaging, their voice, their products?

Make it look like “X” is a great design insight and it can be very useful in helping establish a direction for the company. If they like thin fonts, or a lot of white space, or their brand voice, we can play off of that without plagiarizing. Apple has their own thing, and if a company is enamored with Apple’s vision, perhaps some of the paths that Apple took in design may make sense for their company as well. Finding their own unique voice within or around that is the key.

“Can it be more retro?” – Of course it can. I’d want to make sure a retro feel would be applicable for their brand. What about retro specifically appeals to the client? Maybe they like the idea of conveying that they’ve been doing business for 60 years and they want to pay homage to that somehow in the design. Retro is even so broad that we would need to define it more. Is it a retro style like Art Deco that you would see in an old building, or is it the American retro design we saw in the 40s & 50s, or is it more like the German Bauhaus styling? Sure we could jump to the conclusion that it’s the hipster style and that’s what’s on every website, but those trends are the web 2.0 of 2010. As designers we need to always be asking about why we are putting a shape here. Why are these buttons rounded? Why did we choose that color? How do these decisions align with the client’s vision? Are they there simply for aesthetics? Is the trade off of giving more aesthetic complexity worth complicating the design or messaging?

“Make it look Classy” – Same as all the others above. Hurr durr.. trajan is a “Classy” font. Let’s use it on every website that needs to look classy. Trajan is a well drawn font, but at this point, it’s too over saturated. I think we can do better. There are a lot of fonts and font combinations out there.

Okay, all that ranting aside. Some clients do think this way, and they don’t give a damn about design research, and they may be expecting the answers provided in this image. They want it their way. They know what they like. I’d recommend every designer spends more time in the earlier phases of their projects researching and validating an aesthetic direction with their client before jumping into design concepting. If you get a job and the first thing you do is design a concept, well of course these are the comments you’re going to get back. You just took whatever shit trends you have in your back pocket and made a website that has no soul or connection to the clients brand or company. It’s your word versus theirs, and they don’t have a reason to view you as a professional at all at this point. (Hint: if that’s the case, they probably aren’t worth having as a client.) I’ve had clients question my education, throw away complete design research surveys from 100s of users, design over my shoulder… fuck ’em. Really. There are good clients out there that enjoy thought and care behind design… Immensely. You are worth it.

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