Managing Design Client Relationships: A Case of Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

swedish-chefThe fastest, most efficient way to get from point A to point B is a straight line. This is obvious, right? Do a little test: put two dots on a piece of paper in front of you as you read this post, and tell me if there is any other way to get from A to B quicker. There really isn’t. This isn’t news, it’s common knowledge.

So why can’t we apply this same principle to our design relationships?

We’ve all experienced the problem in which too many people are involved in a design project. Whether it is management, clients, other designers, members of other departments, the conclusion is almost always the same: the more people involved, the more difficult the project becomes.

In this post, I’ll discuss why it is important to use as few people as possible during the design process, and how to do it efficiently.

Understanding the Project

The very first step to making sure a project runs smoothly is to completely understand what you will be doing and why. At Optimum7, we do this by asking each new client to fill out a “Getting to Know You” survey. We give them ample time to answer the questions and return the form before we begin work.

When we receive the completed questionnaire, each member of the team receives a copy for review. We schedule a meeting to brief the entire team on the new client, their company, etc. It is important that the entire team is involved at this point because during later phases of the project they will be asked to submit creative ideas.

Once the team has been briefed on the new client, the majority of the group is dismissed. We then work with a single representative from the following departments: design and development, social media, marketing and paid advertising. During this mini-meeting we discuss exactly what we will be doing for the client, their goals, the process, and the timeline for the project.

Setting Goals

Usually, the client will inform us on the desired outcomes of our work. The typical goals include more business, more leads, a stronger online reputation, or better ranking in the search engines.

Because these goals are broad, we work as a team to establish smaller more concrete goals that work towards that larger client goal. For example, if a client wants to have a stronger online reputation, we may set a goal to be more active on Twitter by posting informative, relative content and growing their following.

By setting goals we can easily answer any questions we have about our projects along the way. If we aren’t sure whether or not we should complete a certain task for a project, we ask ourselves if it will help them to reach their goals. If not, it’s probably something we don’t need to devote resources to at the moment.

Create a Strategy

Just as setting goals helps us to answer any uncertainties we may have, so does creating a strategy from the beginning. By creating a strategy, we are able to establish exactly what each person should be working on, who should review it, etc. By setting clear guidelines for who does what, we can help to avoid that “too many cooks in the kitchen scenario”.

Setting the Right Expectations

Often, the work we do requires feedback or approval from clients. By creating a strategy and helping the client to understand exactly who they will be communicating with and what will be needed from them in the beginning, we help to set the right expectations throughout the project.

Make sure that each member of your mini-team has been introduced to the client. Also, make sure that the client understands each of your team members’ roles so he or she can direct questions to the appropriate department.

Electing a Spokesperson on the Client Side

Every once in a while, we will get a client that has more than one person in charge. While delegating work between executives can make running a business a bit less stressful, this isn’t exactly true when it comes to design work.

Typically, involving more than two or three people in the feedback process can be disastrous. Instead, it is best to elect a spokesperson for the client side. This one person is responsible for gathering all feedback, putting it in writing and submitting it to the design team. This helps the members of the client panel to make decisions and compromises without the moderation of the design team.  In addition, it is much easier for the designer to address all concerns and edits when they are compiled in a single document.

Managing the Feedback

Even if you have the most organized process for dealing with feedback from multiple parties, you still may find problems balancing the clients’ tastes and creating a functional website.

My first bit of managing feedback from clients is to leave your pride at the door. People are going to say offensive things about your work. They may mean to be rude, or the may not, but it is going to happen and you need to be prepared to handle it.

Next, be prepared to pick your battles. There will be situations where your clients have a lot of feedback. Some of it will be good feedback; other parts of it will be opinion. Try to find a balance between making the client happy by conceding on elements they are very passionate about and staying strong on elements that you feel are integral to make the site functional.

Don’t be afraid to ask why or why not. If the client is unhappy with certain elements, or extremely happy with others, do your best to gain an understanding of their reasoning. This can help you make edits and even create better work if you collaborate with them in the future.

Finally, if you come to a ceasefire and don’t seem to be making much progress on either side of the argument, run tests with real users. Let the data decide. This is typically the best way to get completely unbiased answers and generate the best results.

The Takeaway

One of the greatest reasons I find too many people get involved in a design project is because of the lack of a process. It is important to create an exact process that outlines the following:

  • Each team member’s responsibilities
  • The timeline that the project will be completed
  • The goals for the client
  • The expectations for the client as well as for the team
  • The representatives for each department, as well as for the client

A process like this leaves little room for outsiders to become involved and muddle information.

Are you looking for a web designer with a plan? Contact Optimum7 today for a free consultation.