The design process is fundamentally a creative process. Unfortunately, clients who hire a designer for whatever reason (a logo, graphic, website, etc.), often want it to be a straightforward mechanical project, rather than the creative process it is. This often creates a bit of a communication gap/lag between designer and client, which leads all too often to miscommunication.
There are thousands of horror stories surrounding the design industry concerning both terrible designers who didn’t listen to their client and ignorant clients who were unaware of the infeasibility of what they were asking or had unrealistic design goals. There are cases where each side is at fault, but in the end it all breaks down to communication. And, since the client is paying the designer, the onus is on the designer to assure healthy communication. This is why the design process needs to be interactive.
Here is what can be gained by ensuring strong communication and interaction in the design process.
1) Better understand client needs
When first starting a design project it’s common to only have an outline, markup, brief, or general description of just what the client wants and needs. However, this is hardly ever truly enough to understand the base concept. This is the first trap designers often get caught in. The designer either believes they have enough information to move forward, or they believe they know what’s best and the client will be pleased once the client sees their accomplishment. Really, this is how it should work:
- The client offers forward an idea, brief, or outline
This is but the first step. This is where the designer makes an honest assessment of whether they think they can complete the given task.
- The designer has a conversation with the client, asking relevant questions to better understand and refine (or further create) the design. At the end, when the designer feels they have a solid grasp of the concept, they quote a price.
Always make an honest offer. If you undersell yourself you will later have hard feelings after putting in long hours of work. If you oversell yourself the client will be prone to hard feelings, and be less than satisfied.
- Once the client accepts, write a contract.
The importance of this can’t be overstated. Written documentation showing the agreed upon terms of both parties helps prevent any misunderstanding down the road. Not to mention helps the designer receive full reimbursement for their work.
Make sure both parties have a copy of the contract, and when further discussing the design down the road don’t be afraid to refer to the contract. The contract serves as a guideline of rules and understanding between both parties.
- Design a visual markup or concept of what the overall product will look like, and then share it with the client.
Don’t just email or fax it over. Make sure you send over a detailed report when first sharing your concept of the client’s concept. If possible it’s best to meet in person. Your concept will almost never fully match the clients, so communication is key. This is natural when trying to share an idea. This is because ideas are ephemeral and so subjective to perspective.
- Renegotiate the contract as needed, as further discussion and evolution of design happens. Make sure both parties agree to the terms and everyone understands why the renegotiations are happening.
One of the biggest complaints freelance (or small company) designers have is clients asking for additions or tightening deadlines. This is simply a part of life, but when falling outside of reason refer to the contract, and suggest it might be time to renegotiate.
By following these general guidelines designers can make sure they’re not only creating work the client will be happy with, but fostering strong relationships as well.
2) Outside perspective helps you create a better product
An integral part of the design process should be feedback. From our clients, target audiences, friends and family. Designers can at times place too much emphasis on their own opinion. This is natural, as they are the professional, and those who’re unfamiliar with design can give vague and generally impractical feedback at times. Not to mention that designing is often more of an art form than a science. However, because design is made to serve a specific purpose—as well as an audience—it is extremely important to incorporate feedback. In my experience, feedback has helped in the following ways:
- Feedback gives me a focus point
There are times when my design process can stall out. This happens for various reasons, and nearly without fail getting advice or feedback from an outside point gives me another jumping off point. It gives me that crucial point of focus to revive my project and build the momentum I need to launch back into the project.
- It lets me know where I’m falling short
Let’s face it. There’s times where a project is just missing that certain something. The extra oomph that makes us as designers proud. But this can be hard to quantify. Getting an extra set of eyes on the project can help with this. Sometimes an outside perspective can help poke holes in a project you’ve gotten too close to. And, while this can be frustrating, if you want the best design possible than you should always welcome quality outside feedback, even if it results in more work.
- Helps me gauge the effects of my design
Understanding the impact of your design is every bit as important as the overall aesthetic look of the design. This is important to take into account, and nearly impossible to gauge without an interactive design process. There are hundreds of famous design stories where the design unintentionally resembled something inappropriate, thereby ruining the entire project. Adding interaction to your design process can help save you from this.
3) Not only improves your current design, but your skills as a designer.
Your skills as a designer will only improve if you regularly take in feedback and costumer and client interaction. It will allow you grow to better understand client needs, appreciate the impact of your overall design, and generally be more effective.
Researching and understanding the viability of different design methods, techniques and processes should be a vital point of any design professional. It helps you learn and grow, which is the only way to stay ahead in such a progressive and competitive field. Every project should help you further your skills and focus your innate talents as a designer. The only way to maximize this is by making sure plenty of interaction is involved in each and every design project.
The more communication happening, the happier everyone tends to be. There’s no miscommunication or confusion regarding the design concept, process, and goals. That way neither designer nor client will feel as if they’ve been led astray and wronged. So remember to use interaction and communication at all steps of design, and ask for feedback whenever applicable.
Fred Richards is a custom designer and online publisher for Logo Snap who enjoys blogging about all things design including the process, tips, and tricks.