Client management and rapport has historically been the weakness of many design professionals. Social media networks are full of memes that parody this reality. Regardless of the field, clients are usually treated as a necessary evil for the execution of a job. The incomprehension and lack of appreciation of our work in many circles can be frustrating. However, far from blaming the client for this, we are certain that it’s our job to make them understand our value and utility. Together, we must build relationships based on trust in order to serve a greater good, be it a business, the state of an industry, an entrepreneur or someone who trusts us to solve their problems.
Respect, whether it’s towards people or towards the institutions we work with, must be evident. In the studio, we had and have the opportunity to work hand in hand with great professionals and entrepreneurs who we can learn from and share with. They have helped us improve, become more self-demanding and create fantastic things. This means a great deal to us, and it is the result of continuous hard work made with intention and critical innovation.
In order to lay these solid foundations of mutual respect, it’s crucial to know how to choose clients that best suit our value proposition. However, not every project will appear interesting at first. This doesn´t mean that we consider some clients unfit for our studio. It means that we must approach a project with a good attitude and dedication to discover the attractive qualities of the project.
When dealing with a client, we must assume the role that is expected of us. This doesn’t mean we should put on a mask that we don’t identify with, but rather practise active listening, from a place of empathy. Being open to detect what is important, leading the conversation towards a healthy and constructive discussion and setting up a trustworthy and respectful environment will lay the foundations for a new project.
It’s essential to remember that any big project starts, without a doubt, with one of these conversations. The atmosphere and the conditions we create will be key to the future working relationship that we have with clients.
Asking questions shows our clients that we are interested. Questions make them feel confident that they’re in safe hands with a company that cares about addressing their concerns. In turn this gives the client greater confidence in expressing their concerns. For us as designers, a great way to avoid preconceived ideas or wrong solutions is to follow the client’s premise.
Nevertheless, it’s natural to interpret what someone says or does. It’s part of our essence to sift through reality and identify the simple ideas that allow us to understand the client’s proposition. The problem comes when we fail to recognise assumptions we have made that aren’t necessarily true or relevant. The truth is that this can then influence every communication issue we come up against.
Before we get carried away with our own perception of reality, it’s better to erase our preconceived ideas and try to simplify things. This way we will have a more accurate point of view.
As we gain experience as designers, it is more likely that we recognise familiar issues and immediately see potential solutions.
In mendesaltaren, we define ourselves as “decipherers”. We give accurate solutions to complex problems, and we transform reality to fulfil specific needs. Naturally, we are not afraid of conceptualisation or creating ideas, but in our value proposition, this isn’t completed until we have a functioning product.
We are aware that it’s natural to try and be intelligent and shrewd and offer a solution too soon, but we must control that impulse at all cost. There will be a time to offer solutions, but it will be after having taken all the appropriate steps to eliminate the problem properly.
Something that is very clear to us is that our clients don’t hire us because we are capable of giving prefabricated solutions, but rather because of our mentality when it comes to empathising with their issues and their business needs. We offer an accurate intervention, perfectly tailored, that fits their situation completely. In order to get to this point, we need to practise being patient and not get too attached to our ideas. This way, we can develop the right ideas slowly and carefully, which will lead to something valuable.
First of all, the client is risking their money, their resources or their livelihood. We must be responsible and take on the weight of this responsibility without letting it hold us back. We must recognise the amount of trust that person has placed in us and the fears they may be facing during the process. In the case of a big-scale company, like a big corporation, the context is different. The person within that company who has chosen to partner with us isn’t risking their own money, but they are risking their reputation, their ability to advance within the business, or even their job.
Understanding the objectives of the person you are working with, as well as everyone else involved in the project, will help us be more efficient and empathetic as we generate and communicate ideas and projects with them.
It doesn’t matter how tedious our client’s questioning is. Our certainty about our decisions comes from our knowledge, our analysis and our collaboration, as well as mendesaltaren’s expertise.
Our clients don’t usually question our abilities but rather whether a solution or approach is ideal. Therefore, presenting the reasoning that has led to a specific outcome and showing confidence in it doesn’t mean we are being difficult. On the contrary, it implies that we are freeing our ideas. Remember: once they are out there, our ideas don’t belong to us anymore. Ideas have to go through rigorous examination before we can confirm their suitability.
Being certain of our views, keeping an open, rigorous and critical attitude at all times, will be the best way to ensure our clients trust us. We are kind, genuine people, we exude confidence and our clients can see it. Always remember that confidence never means close mindedness or stubbornness, but self-assurance, resilience, professionalism and the ability to let go.
For better or worse, being part of a studio that provides these kinds of services means getting used to constant questioning. In relation to our previous point, it’s inevitable, in certain projects, to have some difficult or uncomfortable conversations with clients. Especially those that involve negotiations or setting priorities for a product’s functionality list.
This mustn’t stop us from questioning our clients in a healthy way. In the same way that we must be open to listening and understanding, it’s also useful to create space for questioning. Our aim must always be to look after the project and its goals, even if it means negotiating or doubting the approach we are being given.
One of the qualities that makes us an efficient team is that we reduce our client’s uncertainty levels to a minimum, saving them from unnecessary surprises. If a client goes to bed wondering how their project is going, that is a small failure on our part. Our clients should always be able to see a tangible horizon. We therefore must always offer clear action and set deadlines (even if these are flexible and may be modified).
Oftentimes, our clients give us a sense of urgency that isn’t real. Our experience has shown us that on certain occasions we are dealing with deadline anxiety rather than a specific need. In order for work procedures to be appropriately valued, we must be in constant communication with our clients, sending updates every couple of days, sharing ideas with them and opening our Notion and Figma files (when appropriate). If we show transparency, the client will be more at ease (even if they don’t end up looking at the files).
If during a project we offer an uneasy and stressful experience to our client, it doesn’t matter how great the result is, they won’t have had a good experience. In these cases, the product can simply be considered the result of one good decision or a coincidence. However, if the result is not as good, but the general experience has been easy, uncomplicated, and free from uncertainty, the final assessment of the process will be, without a doubt, much better.
Little by little you will develop a sixth sense to read both the people you work with and their texts. Until then, following these recommendations will make you a better designer and a better professional in many different ways.