Graphic design—you may think the profession is all about art, but the reality is much different. All professional graphic designers have at least one story about a “hellish” client. Client demands can get in the way of a designer’s creative process, making things complicated. It might be unpleasant, but putting up with difficult clients and delivering as ordered is part of the job. Graphic designers, thus, should master the art of compromise.
When a business relationship goes sour, you can’t always blame the client alone. As difficult as it might be to hear, the graphic designer could be a part of the problem too. Managing client relations is a crucial aspect of your job. If a graphic designer is no good at it, then a freelance business may never get off the ground.
If you want your partnership with a client to be successful, you need to be ready to negotiate and compromise. Read below to learn more about working effectively with clients and meeting their demands to complete a project successfully:
Be Ready to Negotiate from the Beginning
As artists, graphic designers might think they have full control over the creative aspect of a project. However, don’t assume the client shares this sentiment. Clients won’t see you as an artist. You will only be considered a third-party contractor hired to carry out their work. For graphic designers, this means putting up with a lot of demands during any project.
Try not to feel dispirited by client demands, even if they seem unreasonable at best. You can mitigate these to a large extent by learning how to negotiate. Also, don’t take on a project without being open to negotiating. You might design a project exactly as a client has requested on paper. However, you are likely to get requests for changes during the last stage of the project. This usually stems from clients not really knowing what they want, or their priorities changing as the projects goes on.
Being a skilled negotiator would certainly help you navigate these demanding situations and complete a project. Keep in mind that angry clients may not pay you in the end. Therefore, you need to take a diplomatic stance from the start.
The aim of your project negotiations should be to accommodate client demand as reasonably as possible without going over the budget. You will need to exchange emails with the client to get all the details right. If something cannot be done as requested, be as professional as you can when conveying this to a client. Being an excellent communicator certainly helps.
Master the Craft of Communicating in “Client speak”
You can only be a great negotiator if you communicate well. “Client speaks” refers to communicating with a client in a language they can understand. For example, a client may want you to create a design that “hits the competition right out of the ballpark.” When you reply, don’t use phrases such as “I’ll do my best.” Pay attention to the tone the client is using, which in this case is aggressive. When you reply, match their tone to indicate that you are on the same page.
Never use technical jargon when communicating with a client. Always use simple, everyday terms so there is no misunderstanding. You need to be as clear as possible on your end. Remember that clients may not read long emails or written requests. Therefore, be as concise as possible when you express something.
Most clients tend to be informal and rather vague when communicating. Remember, they are not artists. They hail from a range of professions that are not remotely related to art. In other words, your clients might make requests that sound absurd to you. As a professional, you need to tolerate these demands and look at them from the client’s perspective.
Consider this scenario: a client wants you to make a food item look “fun.” As a designer, you may think that it needs to look edible. When this happens, don’t pick an argument. Clients use terms like “fun,” “premium,” “luxury,” or “casual” to indicate the type of emotions they want the graphic to invoke. It’s the graphic designer’s job to translate these into visual forms. Don’t lash back at clients who say things that sound rather crazy. Read between the lines and try to understand what they mean.
There are several ways to deal with a scenario as described above. First, you could ask the client to further clarify what they mean. A better option would be to go back and review the purpose of the project and see if the client’s instructions align with their request. If possible, make some suggestions and get the client’s feedback before making changes. You may lose some elements of the creative license in the process. But you will get the job done and receive your payment.
Show Them that You Do Know What You are Doing
Obviously, you can’t compromise on everything during a project, no matter what the client demands. To manage these situations, put on a professional front and let the client know you are an expert at what you do.
Client demands can get particularly annoying when the client undermines your abilities. Don’t hesitate to use your credentials and experience to prove them wrong. However, try not to come off as arrogant. Your aim should be to get your clients to trust you.
Clients would trust you more if you matched their idea of a professional graphic designer. Don’t feel annoyed if they ask you questions about the design equipment or the software programs you use to create designs. They are just measuring you up and you need to do your best to showcase your professionalism.
When your clients trust you, they will be more willing to make compromises according to your wishes, rather than the other way around. They would be more likely to go with your judgment in certain situations. Clients will not do everything you ask either. But you can certainly gain more ground by flaunting your expertise.
Ask about the Fine Details
A lot of back and forth between clients and graphic designers stem from the lack of understanding about the overall project. As they say, the devil is in the details. You can avoid conflict by asking detailed questions from the start. It’s standard to inquire about the target audience, display location, and other uses for the design. Such information should help you meet the client’s needs as much as possible.
Sometimes, though, clients may not be helpful in providing much detail. They may offer a very generic group as the target audience, for example. When this happens, don’t prod the client for more information because you won’t get any. Use what you have right now and do the best you can.
Discuss the Budget from the Beginning
The design you want to create would be heavily dependent on the client’s budget. This would always be a point of compromise between the two. The client’s demands may even exceed their budget for the project.
As a professional, avoid taking up bad deals where you get paid less for more work. Budget discussions are where you should stand your ground. Compromise on the creative aspects, but with the budget, make sure that your payment is delivered by the client. Being obstinate won’t help here. Rather, talking about the budget with the client from the start would eliminate any potential misunderstandings about finance later.
Never Lose Your Temper
The golden rule of client management is keeping a cool head. Clients might be annoying and frustrating at times. However, you should never lose your temper. Always be highly professional, reasonable, and level-headed. Even if the client loses his or her temper, you should not.
If you receive an angry reply from a client, don’t feel disheartened. Don’t reply right away either. If possible, wait a day to send a reply. A day should be enough for the client to cool off. Make sure that your reply offers solutions without exacerbating the situation even further. Be understanding in the face of an angry rant. Being professional on your part should help you move ahead with client negotiations.
Know Your Client
It’s not all about the designer bending to suit the client, that’s not how it works its a two-way system, and the client needs to be a good fit for the designer. Its good for designers to learn how to handle different types of clients and be sure you can learn how to spot red flags of bad clients.
Andrew the owner and founder here at The Logo Creative explains:
“Not every client or project will be a good fit for the designer or business as a whole be mindful of who you’re working with If you don’t like the client or the project and something seems like a red flag say no! and move on!. The outcome of the work is not only dependent on the designer but also how the client is during the project. Working with good clients really does help you produce your best work that is not only fit for purpose and solves a creative and business issue but both you and your client can be proud of the end result.
Spot those clients that want to micromanage and design direct the whole project. You’re the designer! client input is important but as designers and business owners we don’t need managing or directed in our profession. With the right amount of client information and input, research and planning we can solve the creative issue that’s been presented!”
Dealing with difficult clients is part of being a graphic designer. While creative misunderstandings are to be expected, practical issues such as budget problems will often arise as well. The key to solving these is good communication.
Practice and perfect the art of talking to clients using the kind of language and tone that will appeal to them. Knowing as much as possible about a project can help you deliver what the client wants. Compromising is necessary when demands fly left and right. Know that compromise also goes both ways.
In essence, try to give clients what they expect in the creative department. It will end up being their design after all. However, when it comes to budget and finances, fight for what you want. Be ready to negotiate your payment and funds for any costly designs a client may ask for.
Use this advice to become a better negotiator and to polish up your client management skills. When you learn how to effectively communicate with clients, your business will become as successful as you want it to be.
Ollie Mercer is a freelancer based in California. He frequently blogs about tech and career topics for notable publications. When not blogging, Ollie loves to travel.
Also published on Medium.