The face of the moon was in shadow
Original question: Graphic designers, how do you handle a project where the client dictated at every step along the way what he wanted, but then disliked the final result?
So, how do I handle the design process with a typical client? (Just kidding, kinda)
I’m a UI designer and UX Architect with a degree in art and design. Throughout my career, it’s felt like I’ve needed to advocate and sell my work. The presentation and explanations have always been just as important as the task. The burden of selling likability is purely on you, the designer, or getting buy in from people like account managers to let you sell your own stuff.
Many clients have an opinion, ok scratch that, everyone has opinions. It’s up to you to direct the process if you want good end results. Start by setting the tone at the beginning of the project.
Setting the tone
Ask questions AND listen. Take notes (so many of my mentees show up, barely listen, then next meeting ask the same damn questions, it’s exhausting and rude).
Set goals. I try to start every meeting by setting a purpose and trying to keep on track to that purpose. By listening, you can ask about the clients goals, why they are goals, and what their timeline is. My favorite goal methodology is SMART goals. Really, you’re trying to get a deadline, to know if the deadline is flexible (doable), what they want, why, and if they know (roughly) the style they like. Leave the meeting asking your client to find inspiration and send it to you.
Write it down. Once a client has set goals, put it in writing. Create a written proposal or task list. Ideally have them sign off on this as part of your contract or at least email it to them with enough questions that they reply so it’s obvious they read it. Your contract doesn’t have to be super rigid unless it’s a big expensive project with hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars at stake. Just make it obvious what was asked for, what you intend to do, and clarify anything that comes up that’s unclear. Talk them the client through the contract.
Find inspiration. After the goals meeting, if you followed my advice, you asked the client to find inspiration. This doesn’t need to be similar designs, it can be anything.
Get a good idea of the colors they like/dislike and why they want to use them. Figure out a complimentary color palette by engaging your knowledge of color theory.
Create a design board based on the client designs.
Get examples of layouts they like.
Get their branding documentation and guidelines. These exist for a reason, follow them if they exist.
Get access to their style guide if one exists. Follow these strictly.
This inspiration should paint a picture for you. The picture of what the client wants but is unable to articulate. Ask them to explain what they like and dislike. Listen and take notes. Send them a meeting follow up with an overview of your notes and a design board so they can provide feedback if you’re off track.
After you have gathered requirements and brainstorming is complete you’re ready to design.
Start designing but get feedback regularly. The more you meet with your stakeholder, the more opportunity you create for feedback and buy-in. A beautiful design is useless if you can’t get sign off.
If you charge for revisions be clear about this. Get feedback documented.
Wrap it up in a nice bow with a final review. Walk them through their original goals & requests. Show initial designs and revision requests then reveal the final project.
As you’re designing if the client defeats from the contractor originally set goals, it’s your responsibility to set realistic expectations. You may be willing to work out of scope but should be clear on how those tasks effect timelines and cost.
This type of process and clear cut expectations should help clear up issues with your client hating the final product. I also recommend getting final sign off. You could add your logo to designs to watermark it and charge them to remove that. Explain after sign off and final payment that they will receive a document handing off limited intellectual property rights. Until then you own the designs and all revisions. After they will own the final design only, unless otherwise agreed upon or you work full time for the company. This should encourage them to move along with sign off or maybe you do one more round of final revisions that result in a significantly happier client who brags about you going the extra mile.