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How to get clients to say yes to your designs

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Yes - Photo courtesy of (Michelle)

Paul Boag, a famous web designer and host of one of the coolest web design podcasts out there, Boagworld, did a great presentation on how to get clients to say yes to your designs at the 2008 Future of Web Design Conference.

Paul talks about how to make clients understand what we do, while giving us some tips on how can we make them approve our work. I highly recommend you to watch the video below, but for those who do not have 35 minutes spare, the video is summarised below.

NB: In the video you can not see the slides on the projector but you can see the slides here. I suggest you have a look at the slides before watching the video.

So, how do we get clients to say yes?

Paul kept stressing that the designer’s relationship with clients is fundamentally flawed.

We have to face the fact that a big part of our job is to nurture our client relationship. In many ways, we treat the clients like Monarchy and see ourselves as their servants. Often times we follow their leads, in a submissive way, and are afraid to express our opinion.

It’s time for us to change, moving from a master/servant mentality to a peer to peer mentality. We have to take the role of an expert and make them perceive us that way. But how?

Change The Relationship: Be the expert

Be The Expert

Have a methodology. A methodology puts you in control. It enables you to set expectations with the client and lets them know what is coming.

Clients want to have a sense of what is coming next. Explain the process, the stages the project will go through. Have a design process. This way you’re setting yourself up to be the person who’s in charge of the relationship. Put yourself in your clients shoes: They are nervous & unsure if they did the right decision to go with you. Make them feel confident in the situation. Make them feel confident that picking you, your studio was the right choice.

When kicking off a project, make sure that there’s a thorough research phase (depending on your process this can entail: success criteria, business objectives, competitive analysis, priorities, user personas, user expectations, site personas) All of this research will help you explain WHY you are doing what you’re doing later on. You need to prove that you are the expert by justifying your decisions. You will have to constantly refer back to the information you gathered in the research phase.

Justify it also by referring to third party experts. People love facts and figures. By referring to other experts, you become an expert by association. Write down everything a client has agreed to, that way you can refer back to it.

Be positive

Be Positive

We need to stop blocking the ideas our clients have. Paul says yes to anything what his clients say but then goes ahead and explains the consequences. “Yes, that’s a good idea, but then, keep in mind that this would…! But hey, here’s an alternative, why don’t we do this instead.” It’s all about being positive. It’s about offering smart alternatives. Be enthusiastic and caring.

Clients are not stupid, they are intelligent clever people. Just because they don’t understand the web, it doesn’t mean they’re not clever. They will pick up on your condescending attitude very quickly. We need to give them credit for what they’re good at. They know their target audience. They know their business. They might have a hard time trying to communicate it in a way that we understand, but we have to help them do so. Always keep in mind that the client will most probably have to live with the design that we’ve built for them for a long time. If it was your portfolio site, wouldn’t you probably hesitate a few times? Haven’t we all been there?

We have to stop excluding the client from the process. Designers have this fear of showing work that we haven’t finished. We need to be better than that, we need to get over this fear and include our client often. By getting the client involved in the early stages of the design process, they feel part of it and therefore feel valued. They are much more likely to sign off a design that they’ve been an actual part of. This may not be appropriate for all designs but in web design it is appropriate.

Shape the client’s role

clients-role

We need to look at shaping the client’s role. When starting a new project, have a kick-off meeting to explain the overall process but also explain what’s required of the client. They might have never worked on a site, have never worked with you and simply don’t know the process. We have to educate the client, and explain what their role is, which will help them understand each step and also constrain them. By educating the client you can set boundaries.

When educating your client:

Focus on problems
Too often we talk about solutions and not problems. “I don’t like that blue, I want it to be pink”. That won’t do anything for you. You need to find out what the underlying issue is. Always focus the client on a problem, not a solution. The client should instead say “I am not sure the blue is going to appeal to the target audience”.

Focus the client on the business
Concentrate on business objectives. Don’t let the client get caught up in the small details. Focus them on the business objectives of the site. We need to keep the client away from the knitty gritty.

Focus the client on users

What Do You Think?

Shifting the client’s view on users, moves them away from personal opinion. They usually say “I don’t like“… Get them to say “I don’t think our users will like…”

When you send a client an email with a link to designs, say: “How do you think your user will react to this?” instead of “Let me know what you think!”

Managing Feedback

We need to accept the fact that when dealing with clients, politics will get involved. Even if you work on small business websites, where you talk to the company owner, he’ll show his wife, or his 10 year old nephew. With bigger clients, they have whole committees. Politics are a big part of our day to day work and we have to learn to deal with it. What Paul suggests is to find out who these people are and, if possible, talk to them directly. If you can make them feel listened to, and talk to them directly, then they come on board. They feel listened to and valued. They will end up defending you and your designs.

Design By Committee

Committees

In the real world, there is going to be design by committees. The sheep mentality is the danger. Try avoid them getting all in one room. Have separate conversations with them.

  • Benefit 1 : You’ll avoid the alpha male dominating the discussion.
  • Benefit 2: You’ll avoid the sheep effect and the ‘design on the fly’ problem.
  • Benefit 3: You’ll be the only one that knows the overall picture. You can draw the information together and you can refer back to decisions they have made and justify.

But most of all, try to control the type of feedback you get. Again, focus on the user. When dealing with large committees Paul issues a questionnaire to ask specific questions to focus the client on the right way of thinking. We have to make sure they focus on the issues they should be really focusing on.

Types of clients and how to deal with them

Clients

Paul explains that there are four types of clients and you must deal with them each in their own way.

The Difficult Existing Client
Become the positive person. Be pro-active, Be excited. Quote experts and become an expert by association.

The No Clue Client
You need to take control of the relationship and tell them what to do. “This is the right decision and I really believe that…”. You need to be reassuring.

The Micro Manager Client
Refocus them on their role. The really powerful thing with micro mangers is the question of asking why? Focus them on problems and not solutions. “What are you trying to achieve by increasing the logo size by 20pixels?” And with this you might come up with an even better solution. You will have to constantly refer the Micro Manager Client to stuff they previously agreed on.

The Marketeer Clients:
With marketeer clients you will have to explain the difference between print and web based design. They speak a special language all on their own which you will need to adopt. Don’t talk grid, colours, white space, etc. You will have to talk selling points, call to actions, etc.

More Paul

Paul Boag is also behind a nice web service called GetSignOff that is exactly about that, getting your design approved. You may present your site designs, manage feedback and also organise multiple versions of your designs in a clear way.

You can follow Paul on Twitter & listen to his podcasts on Boag World.

Sources: Future Of Web Design Conference, Swiss Miss (Original Author), Abduzeedo, SlideShare

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44 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Brian Hoff Reply

    Great video isn’t it! The points Paul makes are extremely valid and I took much away for it after watching this. Glad you summed it up… it was a long watch! :)

  • Web Design Adelaide Reply

    Just went through the slides, and it makes sense. Will have to set aside some time to go through the video, will probably save me a lot of time in the long run. thanks for that.

    Great summary of it too thanks.
    “how will your clients react” really is the way we should go about it.
    Too many times you hear, I like this color or that color.
    Problem usually is that the industry of theirs doesnt suit that color or design, and wont convert to sales, so trying to nudge them to go with a type of design is hard, because they think of what they like not what will make them sales.

  • Ryan Reply

    You can use this for any client – creator project, not just web design! He has a lot of good points and the slides just further back it all up! The only thing I don’t understand is the America comments. English people don’t all have bad teeth and know the queen, just as we don’t all have extra padded seats due to being fat & we don’t all drive around in monster trucks listening to country music while praising bush. We love design and have a passion for it just like the rest of the world. With that aside paul does great & you can’t help but giggle when you hear him talk about something you can personally relate to (ie.. why can’t you just give me lime green on my website, thats what I want!!!)

  • Ann Reply

    Thanks for sharing! Really, really usefull, an eyeopener!!

  • milano Reply

    I’m pretty impressed about how Paul Boag explained handling clients.

    What I do is pretty similar and can be summarized in 3 key points:

    1) Explain client what my design do from business point of view, not design point of view, in terms how my design accomplish clients’ goals.

    2) When client really wants to go in direction that I find wrong, I do two things:
    a) Give arguments about why proposed direction is bad with examples from clients’ industry
    b) Explain client that he/she is giving me a lot of money for what I do, letting client know what I think and asking for final decision.

    3) Being positive. Clients are never stupid. Being a freelancer allows me to choose who I’ll be working with. If someone decide to work with stupid people that fact tells a lot about himself. In 99.9% of the cases if you use arguments to explain client why something is good or bad client will go in the direction that you lead.

  • George - LogoDesign.org Reply

    I only watched about 10 minutes of it, I’ll have to finish it later. Fascinating stuff! I don’t know why the audience wasn’t laughing more, that guy is hysterically funny as well as being very informative!

  • Franklin Bishop Reply

    I am always scared the client won’t accept it. Thanks for the tips.

  • Melek Reply

    this phrasing is brilliant: “How do you think your user will react to this?”

    I never thought to put it that way, but I will be from now on!

    Great article!

  • Annya A. Uslonseva Reply

    I love this: “When you send client an email with a link to designs, say: “How do you think your user will react to this?” instead of “Let me know what you think!”

    How many times have asked the client what do they think of the design only to hear that they don’t like the blue.

    SO, I will definitely implement this strategy.
    Over all a great post. Loads of useful information. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Annya

  • Jacob Cass Reply

    Brian,
    After watching I just had to share it with my readers… I didn’t think sharing it on Twitter was enough. Most of the summary was actually written by Swiss Miss however I edited it and prettied the article up.

    WDA,
    Yeah it is a video I highly recommend watching. Yeah that was probably the best point made in the video.

    Ryan,
    Yes of course, not just web design… I never said it was just for web design! I don’t believe the references to Americans was any serious, it was pretty light hearted. Funny, I actually just designed a lime green website for a client.

    Milano,
    When you suggest arguments (2a), I believe this is quite negative… I believe what Paul suggested about being ‘positive’ is a better way to deal with it. And for 2b, referring to an expert would also support this.

    George,
    Don’t forget to watch it! I don’t think the mic was pointed towards the audience so you couldn’t hear as much as what was probably there.

    Annya,
    I agree, this is a brilliant strategy that I am also now going to implement. Not sure why I didn’t earlier.

  • Nikki - Logo Design Guru Reply

    This is very interesting and has a lot of great points, not only from a designing perspective, but from a complete business perspective. Dealing with clients is basically an art which has been around for most of civilization and those who have developed the art are those who are most successful. Sharing ideas on how to be better artists in sales is always appreciated. Thanks for posting such great information.

  • Amanda Vlahakis Reply

    Yeak, I hate micro manager clients. They are rare but they really do suck the enjoyment out of a project and often ruin the results.

    Great advice on how to deal with them – when they make (another) suggestion that seems to be a pointless change find out what the motivation is behind the change and perhaps then you can make it less of a pointless change.

    I find that there is another type of common client also and that is the ‘indecisive client’ – they are heavily swayed by the opinions of those around them and change their mind depending on who they have been talking to most recently and what ‘their’ opinion is!

    They struggle to form firm opinions of their own and therefore you are at the mercy of the people around them if they seek opinion on designs from many different people.

    Each time they seek opinion, their actions will be dictated by whatever the ‘last person’ has said as they are so easily swayed by others.

    I find these clients need a firm hand also just like the ‘no clue client’, who they have a lot in common with.

    It’s easy to persuade them to go along with what you think is best because they are so malleable, but the downside is that as soon as they are out of your sight they agree with the next person they speak to instead.

    I much prefer a client that knows ‘their own’ mind as it results in a more focused and hence profitable project.

  • Irene Demetri Reply

    Great tip to ask the client what the user might think of the design! I’m sure I ll put that in practise.

  • Dainis Graveris Reply

    very inspiring conference, however not always it’s possible so easy to persuade clients, but we always should keep trying :)

  • Carl Gillman Reply

    Have you seen http://www.linktogether.com? They have these SmartGuides that are written specifically for clients on technical things like Joomla and WordPress. All free, pretty cool.

  • SocialGO Templates Reply

    I think persuading clients IS the work. Designing should be easy and fun.

  • Bryan D. Hughes Reply

    I love this post! Very well said and I agree completely. I am absolutely sick of the maxim of many of my peers, who constantly complain about their ‘bad clients’ as if they are equal parts evil and stupid. A cook can’t blame the oven for burnt food any more than a creative can blame the client for bad results. Take control, be the expert! Thanks again for the post.

  • Shawn Reply

    Jacob, thanks for a great summary and recap of this presentation.

    I had read this originally back when you 1st posted it, but I rediscovered this when talking with another designer who was dealing with a ‘difficult’ client and I wanted to thank you.

  • Ashutosh Reply

    I always believed in the monarch/servant relationship but now its time to change I guess.

  • Dean Reply

    I recently came across your blog. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Very informative and nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  • Miracle Studios Reply

    Jacob, thanks for a great summary and recap of this presentation.

  • soma Reply

    We can see why he has to make his clients say yes. All the sites his company have designed are terrible. I’d be trying to say no if he did my site for me.

  • website design Reply

    this phrasing is brilliant: “How do you think your user will react to this?”

    I never thought to put it that way, but I will be from now on!

    Great article!
    Thanks

  • Melissa Bird Reply

    What an interesting article on designer’s relationship with clients. I agree that we can no longer play the role of client being the royalty and designers as the servant. Designers need to take control of the situation, be it demanding clients, difficult or clueless ones. That’s the way to get your message and objective across effectively. If designers know their job well, communicate with clients and get them involve, keep them well inform and show them what you got to keep them happy. I have been happy with every project and have never disappointed by the services provided by Logo Design Creation. Great service great support and even better prices. Can’t find a better deal for design work. I have used the site for a number of logo (static and animated) and website (simple 5 page – complicated 10 page sites) projects. Each time the Logo Design Creation staff have been creative and imaginative in the design phase, and fast, accurate and professional in the revision phase – no matter how long it takes. And they are patient, helpful and more than accommodating with changes, upgrades and other special requests.

    I highly recommend Logo Design Creation for their cost effective approach to web related design and creation services.

  • black and decker spacemaker coffee maker Reply

    very inspiring conference however not always its possible to persuade clients, but we always should keep trying.

  • dimin.m6.net Reply

    HI,

    Say Yes to the design in the first time is very rare one. We can satisfy our customer by implementing their ideas. All the best

    Ahsima

  • orchids Reply

    Design as a noun informally refers to a plan for the construction of an object (as in architectural blueprints, circuit diagrams and sewing patterns) while “to design” (verb) refers to making this plan.No generally-accepted definition of “design” exists,and the term has different connotations in different fields (see design disciplines below). However, one can also design by directly constructing an object (as in pottery, engineering, cowboy coding and graphic design).

  • Ricky Ponting Reply

    Web design involves the structure of the website including the information architecture (navigation schemes and naming conventions), the layout or the pages (wireframes or page schematics are created to show consistent placement of items including functional features), and the conceptual design with branding.

  • Logo Reviews Reply

    Man from Delmonte – YES! :)

    Good going Jacob, exploring all of your posts. Am loving it.

  • Kenn Schroder Reply

    TWO POINTS TO ADD

    WOW, well written, fantastic point Paul.

    Two great points “having a process” and “doing research” at the start of a project.

    I make these two things apparent BEFORE kicking off a project as well as it helps sell me as someone who knows what they are doing.

    Kenn Schroder

  • Ray Creations Reply

    This is one of the best articles I have ever come across. Dealing with day to day issues that a web design company faces with clients. This is one of the rare articles I bookmarked.

  • Andrew Reply

    Taking a look around your site, very nice

  • Hipolito M. Wiseman Reply

    Many thanks you enormously for this great and seriously valuable limited short article. Any individual may possibly get wonderful information from this helpful short article.excellent perform preserve it up. I’m heading to bookmark this internet web page for arrived back again once more in approaching.


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