Client education is an important skill of any service job, but it seems especially so of designers. Graphic design, web design, digital design…all these can feel like abstract creative services that can confuse clients into thinking they’re logo shopping rather than brand-building. Client education partners designer and client. I always say, it’s the role of every designer to educate their clients. Here’s the why and how to educate your clients.
Why Educate Your Clients
Clarify Expectations between Designers & Clients
Client education opens the communication between designer and client. Rather than simply bossing each other around, client education allows each party to share expectations for each other.
Additionally, both clients and designers might make incorrect assumptions. Designers get upset when clients assume designers will work for free for experience or exposure. Clients are frustrated when designers assume clients will accept stocky or “one-size-fits-all” designs. Both sides find endless edits tedious.
Educate your clients to reduce assumptions and create clear goals for each other to meet during the creative process.
Jargon can easily be one obstacle to designer-client communication. For instance, designers frequently encounter helpful specs that accidentally switch bleed, trim, and/or live area sizes, or business terms specific to the client’s industry that are unfamiliar. Similarly, if a designer starts quoting industry jargon at clients—for example “front-end web edits” or “vector file format”—clients grow confused and frustrated. After all, clients pay designers to know this stuff, not themselves!
Client education allows both parties to establish a common language. It also allows both designers and clients to define jargon-sounding terms into basic concepts.
Answer Common Questions
Clients also commonly inquire about timelines, costs, specs, customization, emails vs. phone calls, how many edits can they make, etc. However, these inquiries might not come all at once, or even in a “language” the designer understands. (See misused jargon above.) Sometimes this information might even come “too late” into a creative process.
Back in my freelancing days, most of my clients had never worked with a professional designer before and honestly had no idea what to expect from me or what I’d expect from them. Educating my clients allowed me to guide my clients through the creative process. As a result, we experienced on-time deadlines, on-point costs, and creative concepts that went from “close” into “perfect!”
Educate your clients to build trust.
Client education allows designers to demonstrate the expertise clients and prospective clients want to see. For example, the ability to reduce jargon into layman’s terms shows a good understanding of both the topic and the target audience. This helps clients trust you’ll deliver a great design.
Additionally, client education lets clients contribute more and take more ownership in the creative process. They’ll understand the decision-making process better and appreciate what your designs offer.
Finally, involving the clients provides them autonomy to make more informed decisions and practice what they learn from you. Then, you can focus on the big, strategic design stuff. Educating your clients can really be productive!
How to Educate Clients
Lead Clients through a Thoughtful & Organized Creative Process
Firstly, begin every design job with a creative questionnaire. Give the client an opportunity to explain what pain point they need to fix and what sort of design(s) they want. By conducting this questionnaire, you’re also educating your clients how to sort through their business needs and your creative services.
Permit the client to not have every detail fleshed out at this point. Instead, look for clients who know what they want and allow you to lead with your expertise. (This client fit questionnaire is a helpful for designers to gauge what kinds of clients and projects are good matches for you.)
Next, and perhaps most importantly, provide a written record of your agreement with the client with a contract. This outlines who does what by when and sometimes the why’s and how’s. Consequently, this step educates your clients how to work with a designer to execute the creative process.
The basic elements of a creative contract include:
- Who represents each party
- How intellectual will be handled
- Copyrights re-assigned to the client after final payment
- Permissions and conditions for display and duplication of the design(s)
However, it’s best to not write these legally-binding agreements yourself. Instead, consider online tools or reach out to a legal advisor. For example,AIGA DC shares a wonderful standard contract for graphic designers that’s a great start.
Creative Brief / Design Proposal
Clients also appreciate helpful information such as the designer’s hours of availability (especially for freelancers), a description of the process in a creative brief, and the sorts of edits included within the project price versus what might incur additional charges. Therefore, creative briefs help educate clients by answering questions on how your services will turn into creative solutions for real-world business needs.
The basic elements of a creative brief (also called a design proposal) include:
- Executive summary
- Timelines, including project phases or interims
- Plans for revisions and/or maintenance
- List of deliverables the client will receive
- Preferred contact methods
- Payment schedule
Explain Your Creative Decision-Making
You should continue educating your clients through the project’s duration as well. Explain why you made the decisions you did. For instance: why that font? Why this layout? Why this particular format?
Most importantly, how does this design market the client and provide useful brand positioning for them?
You might find these resources helpful to describe your thought process:
- How to Research a Client During the Branding Process
- Branding with Peer Analysis & Competitor Analysis
- Designing Purposeful Imagery
- How to Plan Great Designs
A guide to design deliverables like wireframes, mood boards, site maps, and more.
- What You Get by Hiring a Designer Besides Someone with Adobe
Navigate Creative Disagreements
Clients are still partners with you, the designer. They offer ideas and different creative leads based on what they like, what they’ve seen, and what they know about their industry and target audience.
Hear Clients Out
Nevertheless, confident clients can push designers. They might insist on what the designer perceives to be a “bad idea.” Always hear the client out. While of course you’re the design expert, no one is likely to know the client’s product or service better than the clients themselves.
Explain Why Your Route Creates a Better Design
Yet you’re still the design expert too. Also elaborate why you think another choice can work better for the client. Budget impacts, security improvements, user experience, and more are helpful benefits to leverage. Embrace this opportunity for communication and education. Just like you explained earlier why you chose the things you did, explain now why you didn’t choose the things you didn’t. Both are insightful into your creative process. Both demonstrate to the client the business value your creative service provides.
When creative disagreements arise, there are two outcomes. On one hand, designers successfully persuade clients to a better course of action. On the other hand, the client holds firm against the designer.
When Explanations Fail…
In these scenarios when explanations fail, consider offering a draft or prototype of what the client does want as a preview of the final product. The client might agree on some the issues the design presents. Then, still present your “better,” alternative idea to compare and contrast the successes and failures of each design. I’ve successfully won over clients using this tactic, and we’re both happier with the end result. The clients see they still have a voice, even when you disagree with each other, but you can still also allow your expertise to shine.
However, other times the client insists all the way to the end product. You should honor your promises nonetheless. Give the client what they feel they purchased. Not every design project will be portfolio-worthy, but good client relationships are worth fighting for. Rather, use this experience to evaluate future projects and relationships. Again, my client fit questionnaire is a good internal reflection tool for this.
In conclusion, the why and how to educate your design clients are simple. A little communication goes a long way to remove obstacles, build trust, and execute clear plans of action.