Advice #39: How Do I Determine What My Clients Want?

ask nubby advice

ask nubby advice


How do you create something that your client will love? Especially when they don’t know what they want at all? Their answers to my questionnaires are vague and their feedback on my designs are all over the place! What is your process to help clients that don’t have a clear direction?

When designing for clients, it’s important to remember that not everyone has a strong design sensibility. They are expecting you as the designer to be a voice on what’s relevant and appropriate for their brand. Remember that you’re being hired for your skillset and knowledge. Though, of course not everything should fall squarely on your shoulders. After all, you’re not a mind reader! The good news is that when pushed and prodded, most people do have an opinion. Perhaps they just don’t know where to start. Sometimes, formulating what you want into words for the first time isn’t that easy — maybe all a client needs a healthy dose of visual inspiration and an explanation of a few terms to get the ball rolling.

It might take a little work to get the responses that you’re looking for but think of it this way: as an example, most people don’t walk into the hairdresser and say, “Oh, do whatever you want. Any cut is fine!” To determine what exactly a client is looking for, here are a few strategies that you can employ.

1. Keep using the questionnaire.

Firstly, you are doing the right thing by implementing a questionnaire. I recently came up with my own version and it’s meant to serve as the equivalent of a quick coffee date. In basic terms, it’s saying, “Tell me about your business. What do you want to accomplish with your branding? Who do you want to reach? And finally, what inspires you?” A questionnaire is great because often, clients don’t know how much or how little information to supply to you about their brand. These questions get the ball rolling and provide a guide of where they need to open up their dialogue. If your current questionnaire isn’t working, step back and re-read your questions. Are they more of a statement than a question? Are they too wordy? Are they focusing on too many unknown factors?

2. Ask your clients for examples of what they like.

Yes, this is broad, but inspiration comes from everywhere. Perhaps they have a penchant for branding that they’ve seen somewhere else, an editorial layout from their favorite magazine, a movie still, an album cover, etc. Together, a collection of images can provide obvious visual cues for a designer to pull from. If they don’t know where to start, I provide a list of relevant inspiration sites. You’d be surprised at how well this can work — often by the next day, I’ll have an email loaded with twenty great images!

3. Always do your own visual research.

No matter how much information a client provides for me, I always do my own visual research before starting the design process. In the initial presentation, there are two sections. The first features a handful of design concepts and the second contains visual research. This serves two purposes; it shows them ‘what’s out there’ and also, if they aren’t connecting with the options that you’ve provided, they can hopefully pinpoint something in the research that does resonate. That way, you have a starting point for the next round. I should mention that at the agencies I’ve worked at, the research decks are much more extensive. But for a logo especially, I try to keep it simple by presenting my ideas, backing them up not overwhelming the recipient in the process!

4. A little explanation goes a long way.

How do your visual solutions relate to the client’s business? If any of your ideas are more abstract, take the time to include a few sentences. And remember, the more confidence that you have in your outcomes, the more confidence the client will have in you.

5. Don’t Overwhelm.

It’s good to show a variety of options in the first round but if you show too many, clients may feel overwhelmed. Remember that quality is much more important than quantity. Save your energy to really branch out on the options they show an interest in after the first round. Otherwise, you run the risk of showing all your cards and wasting way too much time only to have nothing chosen!

Finally, Don’t Stress.

All clients are different. And let’s face it — we’ve all had times where we thought we knew what we wanted but once it was fleshed out and sitting in front of us, it just didin’t feel right. It’s hard to believe but sometimes you’ll nail a concept in the first round and other times, you’ll hit round three without a final solution in sight. Overall, what I’ve noticed is that the easy and hard jobs tend to balance out. Being a designer isn’t all about designing — often, it’s just as much about the process which includes listening to your client and doing your research. Hopefully, these tips will help you reach a conclusion that makes both sides happy.

Designers, do you have any suggestions about how to handle client uncertainty?

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