The Importance Of Creating a Positive Design Experience For Clients
Design Experience: Two Meanings. Both Important
When someone says, “design experience,” you’re more likely to think of how much experience a designer has under their belt.
Traditional understanding of "design experience"
Design experience defined this way can be counted in any number of ways. You can count the years they have in the industry. You can count the raw number of jobs they’ve completed. Maybe you add weight to the special types of jobs they’ve done. Have they worked with especially large, demanding, or discerning clients? Have they worked in particularly competitive areas of the industry or in a highly competitive market?
But “design experience” can be understood in a second, completely different but equally important way. If you ask a client, “What was your design experience” with so-and-so graphic designer, you’ll get an entirely different answer.
what "design experience" are you offering your clients
What I’m referring to here is the experience a client has from beginning to end with a given designer. And that’s the sort of information that is as important if not more important than knowing how long a designer has been at it. A bad design experience can come in any form but in my experience, they fall into two categories: Mis-Fitting and Hit-and-Run.
The Mis-fitting design experience
A bad design experience often is the result of going with a designer who just shouldn’t be doing unsupervised work yet. There are many a starry-eyed designer out there, fresh on the scene and energized. They may have a pretty good school portfolio.
Or a bad design experience can arise from chosing the wrong type of skilled professional. Maybe you’ve met a guy who has “built lots of apps and websites.” While it sounds like you’re in good hands, a good programmer does not a good designer make. While they can probably run circles around a designer on the technical side of things, the design is basic and/or poorly-targeted. It’s almost always an afterthought.
Or maybe you’re just too nice. So many bad design experiences come from hiring a friend or family member to do their work. They’re a great person, so they’d never leave you high and dry. Going with family and friends can be a mistake in a couple of ways. Like above, they usually lack quite the right skill set. But it’s almost always because, even if they’re exactly the right person for the job, “family discounts” incentivize designers to under-prioritize your work, or to work on it half-heartedly.
At the very least, none of these scenarios is driven by ill-intention. If only that were always the case.
The Hit-and-Run design experience
By far the more damaging type of bad design experience is where the designer is fully aware of what they are doing.
In my 20+ year graphic design career, I’ve personally run across my fair share of unethical graphic designers. More often, however, I encounter the damage they’ve wrought on unsuspecting clients. These individuals looked, sounded, and acted the part of a graphic designer. They show a strong portfolio, assure you you’re in good hands, and they may even provide good work at first.
Until they don’t.
And that’s when you starting having a hard time getting hold of them. They’re not as responsive to your emails or calls. If you do reach them, they’re right in the middle of something or just heading out the door. Of course, they’ll call you back as soon as whatever is done.
This turn usually coincides with your first conflict with them or your first criticism of their grand work. All of a sudden, you’re working with a designer who doesn’t look, sound, or act like the individual you sat with at your first meeting. It’s not too long after this change in attitude that many clients find themselves ghosted by the designer.
These individuals love the thrill of the chase, the sale, the deal. That, or they love the money and are ethically challenged enough to do only whatever it takes to get that first check. After that, it’s on to the next conquest.
Such a poor design experience can leave you bitter and discouraged. It can leave you doubting whether you can trust the next designer, as well it should.
If you've had a bad design experience
10+ years of experience rescuing Bad Design Experiences
Too often, a client contacts me, their voice conveying their hesitancy and caution, having paid in full or in advance for a bad design. Whoever they’ve worked with has abandoned them, cheated them, and/or they can’t or won’t make very necessary changes or corrections.
An Example Of a Good Design Experience
HiveHub hit the ground running, with clients in hand even before they had a company name. So they were able to approached me at the very birth of their company. This is always a good thing for branding since an experienced designer can build a strong corporate identity foundation from which to build everything that will follow.
They needed a logo right away, and they couldn’t afford a lot of hand-holding since they were already neck-deep in producing work for those first clients. Fortunately, I was able to put them at ease, letting them know what I had done for other clients and showing them my vast corporate logo design portfolio.
Here, if you are a careful reader, you may recognize that those assurances sound a lot like the hit-and-run assurances above. And you’d be right. On their own, those are good things: it’s what the designer does afterward that differentiates the good guys from the crooks.
Here are a few practices to establish a good design experience
1: I gathered information quickly and efficiently. I asked for examples of logos they liked and disliked. I learned the personality of the company and its decision-makers. I listened to who they were targeting and how they wanted to be perceived. Admittedly, this can be tricky with a new company and there’s always the chance that their business direction can change over time, so it’s essential that a designer foresee those pitfalls and design in a fashion that won’t paint a company into a corner.
2: I established and communicated to the client a specific deadline for producing work. I told them that I would provide them two logo directions by the end of work the next day. This let them concentrate fully on their own work rather than ever wonder if or when is that designer going to get back with us.
3: I did what I said I was going to do. As simple and logical as it sounds, following through on delivering on expectations is hugely important for establishing trust in a client. And that includes, communicating when expectations need to change due to unexpected circumstances. That’s better avoided at the beginning of relationships, but that communication has a trust-building strength of its own.
4: I listened to feedback with no personal attachment to the work. You’ve heard, “The customer is always right.” Well, they are. If they don’t like the work at any stage, trust that:
- The rejection of the work is accurate, even if they can’t articulate what it is about it that doesn’t work, they’re right.
- A rejection is rejecting the work, not the designer.
- A rejection is always an opportunity to push your design thinking further than you might push yourself with easy approvals.
- A rejection is an opportunity to learn nuances about the client’s needs that you didn’t pick up or that didn’t emerge in the first interview and information gathering session.
5: I wasn’t a “Yes Man.” You’re probably thinking, but you JUST said that the client is always right. I did and they still are. However, that doesn’t mean you as a designer will abdicate your role as their design advocate.
Say they’re married to a certain name, but I know from experience that the name has a double meaning they may not have been aware of. Or maybe, they didn’t know that there’s already a company out there with a very similar name that doesn’t have a very good reputation, so they should consider avoiding that connection in prospective customers’ minds. There are all sorts of value-added suggestions a designer can offer to better inform a client.
As long as you’re coming from a position of helping the client and not of defending your design out of a sense of personal insult, you should do so.
6: I gave them a valuable final product. Once they approved the logo design, I provided them with a fill logo set, including raster files in three different sizes; in full color, grayscale, all-black, and all-white; in JPG and PNG formats; as well as AI, EPS, SWF, and PDF vector files. This let them know that I understood what they may need down the road as their business grows.
7: Finally, I billed them ethically when I said I would. Again, keeping true to my word, I billed them the amount and at the agreed-to time. The second worst possible time to erode trust is at the end of a project. No matter how well the design is received, if the client gets an unwelcome large bill or has to keep wondering where the bill is, they start to associate bad feelings with it. And it’s not a big jump from there to them not calling you again for work.
A good design experience results in return work
Because the design work was a good first design experience, HiveHub soon relied on me to create a segment version of their corporate logo, one specific to their mobile app division. But it didn’t stop there. Because THAT work was also a good design experience, they then asked me to design their corporate website.
Why all of this matters
So you see how it goes. Every invitation to design is an opportunity for building a good design experience. Every chance is precious. Similarly, every bad design experience is fatal.
Remember, you’re developing a good design experience for the client so they can trust you with more and different work going forward. That’s called a work relationship. Plus, if their design experience is good, you’d better believe your name will come up when they are asked, “Do you know any good designers.”
Well, to be clear, it would come up if you gave them a bad design experience, too, but not in the way you’d want.