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5 things the best designers always do for their clients

4 min read
Bartek Bialek
  •  May 4, 2020
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As the design team manager at Netguru, I manage an amazing team of 60 talented designers. Together, we help companies design beautiful software that meets their business goals. In my career, and through supporting and mentoring my team, I’ve found that designers are masters of their crafts. All can create beautiful designs that attract the design community’s attention and sometimes even potential clients.

But the outstanding designers are the ones who bring more to the table. For these individuals, long term success doesn’t stem from their designs, but their relationships. All throughout the design process, they communicate, empathize, and partner with clients on both a business and human level. They understand the risk a project operates under and will tailor the design process to manage it. They never hesitate to speak about the flaws of their solution or ask questions when in doubt.

What separates a good designer from a great one is easier said than done. But that doesn’t mean all designers can’t learn from the best. In my career, I’ve found that great designers all do five things with their clients. And to those who are looking to level up, I’ve compiled them here:

1. Understand what’s at stake

Illustration by Iryna Korshak, Netguru

Designers often have the least to lose if a project fails. Clients, on the other hand, put a huge investment into building a product. They often have just one shot to impress investors or their audience and keep the project alive. The last thing they need is to leave their business future to your gut feeling.

I’ve seen that the most successful designers communicate how their solutions connect to their client’s business goals. While you may be a UI/UX expert, you’re not an expert at your client’s business. You’ll have to ask your client a few questions for context. I recommend starting with these:

  • How do you make money?
  • What’s your overall business strategy?
  • What’s your go-to market strategy?
  • What is your company’s internal operations like? What is your capacity for change?
  • What do your competitors do well? What do they do poorly?
  • What is the overall market condition?

The best designers use these questions to help shift the conversation away from designing for mythical users and towards a satisfying solution for the users a client wants to reach.

Knowing the stakes also helps you assess the risks your client is willing to take. Sometimes, the best design solution can create problems for other teams, like engineering or operations. It’s your responsibility to communicate these risks and rethink solutions if needed.

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Find out how they work

Illustration by Iryna Korshak, Netguru

A client isn’t just an employee, manager, or boss with budgets and deadlines to meet. They’re also a person with their own goals and limitations. They have their own ways of working and expectations of progress.

You can only do this through leading by example—letting a client see how you work. This will demand regular and open communication. Whether it’s a daily/weekly email, a weekly video call, or a regular meeting is up for you and your client to decide. The goal is to make your client aware of all the hard work that goes into your designs, and give them as opportunity to respond.

I’d recommend doing the following:

  • Provide regular status updates on whether the work is on or off track
  • Propose measurable goals and track them
  • Show real/test user session recordings, present heat maps and flows

Understand the client’s worldview

Illustration by Iryna Korshak, Netguru

Your client might not be a design expert, but they are experts in their field. To gain their respect, you must make them feel respected. Listen to what they have to say, make them part of the design process, and allow them to share their technical expertise whenever possible.

But know that there may be some things that will need translating. The best designers know it’s their job to educate clients on design basics. They don’t force anything or expect a leap of faith.

You can help work towards a common understanding by defining design terminology and asking about their vocabulary as well. Also explain not only the design importance of your solutions, but also how it relates to your client’s goals.

Define what success looks like

Illustration by Iryna Korshak, Netguru

Ask your client how they expect the project to affect their traffic goals and overall go-to-market strategy. What metrics will they use to define a successful project? The best designers use this information to correctly gauge a design element’s value. Those who do not end up spending time (and money) on needless animations, microinteractions, and flashy UIs that don’t move the needle.

Keep costs in mind

Illustration by Iryna Korshak, Netguru

Speaking of money: There are technological, organizational and personal costs of designing digital products. Remember that every new feature or tool you design will need to be built, maintained, and supported. While you may want to introduce a new tool because it’s easier for you to work with, it may create problems for your clients. Not only could it generate more costs at the beginning, it could also cause issues down the line. Staff may need to be trained to operate and maintain it for years to come.

Changes equate to different costs in different companies, too. For example, changing a logo will have a marginal effect in small companies. But in a developed enterprise, a lot of money and effort could be expended while altering all bits of brand exposure. The best designers keep their client’s affairs in mind and focus on what has the biggest impact at an acceptable cost.

Looking at every decision and argument from your client’s perspective requires courage, self-criticism, and humility. But I’ve found it’s what makes a big difference in designer-client relationships. Showing that you’re an owner of your client’s success makes them feel they’ve done the right thing in hiring your firm. All the best designers know that trust is something that can’t be created just through a beautiful design.