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Decoding the Designer-Client Relationship

Decoding the Designer-Client Relationship

A Designer’s Perspective from Modmacro Creative Director Jerry Lund.

Hiring communications, marketing, web and design professionals is an important part of a small business owner’s responsibilities.  In order to make the right choices when connecting with a service provider like a graphic designer, it is important to know a little more about the design profession, the design process, and the expectations involved in a successful designer-client relationship.

To help understand how designers work and the keys to a successful designer-client relationship, I sat down with Jerry Lund, Creative Director of web design and marketing firm Modmacro.  Jerry shares his insight on designer-client communication; how to set expectations for design projects; how to understand graphic design project quotes; and how to manage freelance and independent design projects.

As a business owner, you’re specific in what you wear and how you speak, why be any less intentional about how your business looks and speaks to your audience?

Jerry advises designers to communicate the value of design in the context of a marketing strategy in a way that speaks to a business owner’s core concerns, emphasizing, “there’s no need to confuse clients with artsy speak and marketing jargon.”   To clients, he explains, “as a business owner, you are specific in what you wear and how you speak, why be any less intentional about how your business looks and speaks to your audience?”

What is the most common challenge graphic designers and clients face?
Understanding and building value is the biggest challenge for designers and clients. There are so many avenues to get a cheap design in today’s market. The truly good, thoughtful designers, who have a marketing mind, need to stop comparing apples to oranges and sell their ability to think about branding and visual presentation for their clients.

The designer’s job is to make the client look good while spreading the client’s message.

Walk us through the design process for creating a logo and brand identity for a small business.
To design a logo and brand identity for a small business, the designer needs to get to know the client’s business a bit, as well as their competition, industry and target market. This research leads to sketching thoughts ideas and impressions.  Then the designer moves to the computer for rendering and layout options.

Finally, the designer puts those concepts into formats that present the new identity in a way that helps the client visualize the new brand in situ.

What is the most important part of that design process?
The most important part of logo and brand design should be to design something that is unique and well thought out, not just the basic idea that every design student could come up with. I call that “stable data,” meaning, when someone says “magician” most often, folks think of a top hat, gloves, a rabbit and a magic wand.

The process for a seasoned, good designer is to get past the stable data zone and into the creative area that produces the “Oh, wow” moment for the client when we present the concepts.

What one question should clients stop asking graphic designers?

“Have you designed for <X  industry> before ? “  Do you want me to have designed for all your competitors?  Instead, ask, “have you done packaging, trade shows, or managed printers?”

Ask project management questions like “can you get the job done on time?”  Think more along the lines of the questions you ask in a job interview when hiring an employee to gauge if the designer will do good, reliable work for your business.

For me, design is design. Clients can tell the quality of my work in my portfolio, so the questions should revolve around whether or not they think they can work with me and if I have the professionalism to get the work completed.

As a designer, how do you manage scope of work, proposals and revisions?
Designers need to be clear and specific, up front, about what their proposal includes in terms of the scope of work and the fee. On the project estimate or quotation, I repeat the items the client requested, dimensions, specs, and parameters of the project and elaborate on what that means to me as a designer.

For example, as a print designer, if my client requests a catalog, I have to specify “24-page catalog, photos and content to be provided by the client, includes 5 rounds of revisions” in my design project proposal.  These specific limits for the amount of work I am doing identify what the client should expect.  This way if the project scope adjusts or changes, a foundation has been set to allow for managing and paying for additional work beyond the original scope.

What are the best ways for designers and clients to communicate throughout the project?
Email is still the best way to communicate on project steps and to keep the project moving. Presenting concepts in person is always enjoyable for both parties, as we can see responses in person and discuss the options and next steps.

Jerry shares that the best designer-client experiences revolve around clients who have a respect for the work a designer does, clients who are willing to listen to creative ideas and an outside perspective and give thoughtful feedback on presentations. He continues, “clients who begin to trust my style, abilities, professionalism, ability to complete a project on time and not overcharge will often bring repeat business with an ‘I trust you, just get it done’ attitude which actually makes me want to deliver my best work.”

Conversely, Jerry explains, “clients who only want me to be a production guy don’t get results that are as good… these aren’t typically good art directors and I’m uninspired to do the work.  It’s like bringing your sandwich to your favorite restaurant and asking the chef to serve it back to you on their plate with a garnish. You probably won’t get an inspired meal.”



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by Elizabeth Eames //

Owner of Brooklyn, New York-based Contemporary Communications Consulting, a full service communications and marketing firm established in 2007. Over 10 years experience in content writing, editing, communications strategy, media relations, training and presentations.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.