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
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.
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
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
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!”
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
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
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.
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.