Determine a Good Designer and Client Match

by Terry Lee Stone

Great design requires great designer /client collaboration. If you are a graphic designer, then you know all too well that one of the hard, yet fascinating, things about design is that it requires so many kinds of knowledge and thought—from conceptual to technical.

If you are a client, it can be very difficult to discern one designer’s expertise over another’s. Choosing the right design consultant when so many designers seem to use the same language to explain the advantages of hiring them over another firm can make it tough for clients. Plus few designers speak of their expertise in terms of being a strategic business investment with measurable results.

Because of this conflict and confusion, you can see how choosing a designer often becomes simply a beauty contest. Which designer has the body of work that appeals to the client the most? Or perhaps, the selection is based on the designer’s client roster; which designer has the most dazzling client list? Or maybe it all comes down to money; whose bid meets the client’s budget? So many clients fail to conduct a hiring interview for a designer in a way that helps them discern who has the best track record on problems like theirs as well as who is a good fit temperamentally for their organization.

The following tips are key indicators for both clients and designers to use to determine compatibility and competence.

1. Background:
Research them. Do your homework and visit their website. Who are they? What do they make? How do they present themselves?

2. Expertise:
Is the designer’s previous experience relevant to the project at hand? What kind of projects is the designer capable of handling? Are they a problem solver?
For clients, how much control do they need/want over the design process?

3. Professionalism:
How do they conduct themselves? Do they have references? What is their attitude? Do they have good communication skills? Are they well connected to supplementary team members or experts required on the project?

4. Chemistry:
Do you like this person? Would you have a meal with them? Who exactly will be working on this project?

5. Parameters:
Does the time frame and budget work? Can you come to basic terms? Will this project be a priority or one of many?

Terry Lee Stone is a writer, manager, producer, and creative strategist in Los Angeles.

Good design is often the result of good client/designer relationships. But choosing the right designer can often prove difficult for clients. Many designers use the same language to describe their services, and few frame their service offerings in ways that showcase their strategic abilities or return on investment.

Quick Tips
Once you think you’ve made a good match, there are still a lot of details and variables in the design process that can go awry. Maintaining client satisfaction should be an ongoing goal. A happy client is a repeat customer, so it pays to keep them happy. Here are some things a designer can do to help insure that:

  • Understand the client’s communication style and speak to them in a way they prefer.
  • Clarify the design process including what a client needs to do and when they need to do it.
  • Encourage client feedback at appropriate times in the development process, and respond to it—either by doing what they suggest, or not doing it, but convincing the client that that is okay.
  • Corral the client into a specific number of revisions at specific, logical points in the process. Avoid unnecessary and costly scope creep, i.e., expansion of the assignment beyond what has been contracted. This is a huge source of dissatisfaction for both clients and designers.
  • Avoid unnecessary confrontations. Essentially, pick your battles with a client, but know when to graciously admit defeat and move on without holding a grudge.

Dig Deeper!
1. Get Terry Lee Stone’s books Managing The Design Process: Concept Development and Managing The Design Process: Implementing Design.

2. Harvard Business Review on Making Relationships Work

3. Entrepreneur magazine on Building Client Relationships

4. David C. Baker on Qualifying Prospective Clients. The original is here for downloading (scroll down)

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