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The perfect marriage of designer & client

Your client isn’t the boss, and neither are you. It’s a symbiotic partnership that leads to the most successful projects. But does your client know their role?

My favourite thing I read this week was A no-BS guide to getting cheaper, faster, better design (etc.) by Michu Benaim Steiner. It feels like she pulled those thoughts directly from my head, only articulated them far better than I could have — and it instantly resonated with me as something so critical to design success, yet so rarely discussed.

Michu writes:

Great clients get better work, they get it faster and they pay less for it. Great clients are great because they do the work that keeps the process smooth. And it’s cheaper-better-faster not because of favoritism, but because of the effort it takes to get stuff done.

Most clients want the best possible result for their design project. Many will go out of their way to work with just the right people who they believe will deliver that ultimate results. But only a small percentage of those most astute clients fully realise the commitment they should be making to be the perfect client-partner.

There’s a big range of client commitments — from very passive, to fully engaged. Just like any other relationship, it takes complete commitment from both sides to achieve the highest level of success. The very real and delightful byproduct of being a good client is that your project will run smoother, go faster, cost less, and deliver better results. That’s a win-win for everyone. Yet despite every client’s best intentions it doesn’t always happen. Most often because they aren’t even aware of what you need from them. Maybe you’re not even aware.

It’s our job as designers to set the right expectations for our clients, so they know what’s expected of them just as thoroughly as we know what’s expected of us. So while you’re caught up finalising budgets, timeframes and deliverables, don’t forget that equally important to laying a project’s foundation of success is training your client how to be the perfect partner.

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Being a good client isn’t easy!

But it’s worth it.

The more organised you are, the less extra time I have to spend taking up the slack.

The more clear you are, the faster I’ll arrive at our desired design solution.

The more engaged you are, the more committed I will become. Your passion is infectious.

You want things done cheaply? Sure. You can trim 20% off this total budget if you do the legwork to make things run that much more smoothly.

Want design done quickly? No problem. You can accelerate or derail progress based on how effectively you facilitate design feedback and iterations.

When the ball’s in your court, show me how much this project means to you. Let that ball start deflating in the corner, and the same poor level of service is what will be mirrored back at you.

All good relationships take work. Ours is no different. Just because I’m providing the service and you’re paying for it, doesn’t mean you’re absolved from your end of the bargain. It’s your money after all. If you want to get the most from it, grease those wheels baby.

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Benek Lisefski

Hi, I'm Benek Lisefski. Since 2001 I've run my own independent design business. Join me as I unfold 20 years of freelance business knowledge: honest advice and practical tips to help you take your indie career from good to great.

MediumTop writer in Design, Business, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship.