Professional relationships were something that I’ve never been able to get a handle on. Not that I’ve been exemplary on personal relationships either but you get my drift. In the 5 years since I’ve been working professionally, I’ve been on both sides of the table, first as a client when I was overseeing a project for my company, and now as a writer working for a web design firm and while I like to think that I’ve gotten a better handle on professional relationships, I still think it’s something that could be hard to maintain.
In case it isn’t obvious already, I’m talking about the relationships between a vendor and a client not the kind of professional relationship between colleagues or between superiors and their staff, which are another can of worms entirely. Client-designer relationships are tricky in no small part because there’s money involved. I’ve seen close familial relationships that grew momentarily sour because of money and if you’re not careful, whether you’re the client or the designer, things can quickly progress from the honeymoon phase into the dysfunctional phase in a matter of days.
The various types of client-designer relationships
To begin with, it helps to know just what kind of relationship are you going to have and the period of the relationship. A project-based relationship for example would only lasts as long as the project is still being worked on. There might be an agreement in the contract about what kind of support the designer would provide once the project is finished but as a general rule, the client and the designer would go their separate ways once it’s done.
The other kind of relationship involves a long-term strategic partnership and is considered more mature than project-based relationships. In this kind of relationship, the fate, for a lack of a better word, of the designers and the clients are closely intertwined so it’s in the interest of both parties to maintain a healthy relationship. That is not to say that either party is free to do whatever they want in a project-based relationship, the client might not want to have to perform another tendering process for example and the designer could use the current project as a springboard for potentially future contracts, but long-term partnerships are still more demanding on both parties.
This divide relates mostly on the attitude either parties would have to adopt and while the level of demand is different, the relationship goals are still the same; to maintain a healthy professional relationship. Just because it’s a professional relationship however, results aren’t always everything. As I’m speaking from the designer side, the tips I’m going to be listed here are mostly for those working in the side of the client although with a different perspective, there are things written here that designers could definitely use.
Be very clear about what you’re looking for
Sometimes, there are clients who wants something done for them without an explicit guide on how they want those things done and then when asked about this detail, they simply replied with something along the lines of “just try something and we’ll see what you guys can come up with”. This is so not the right approach because when dealing with this type of client, it’s common to see the designer’s work being sent back for revision because “this isn’t what we’re looking for”.
You have to remember that designers are essentially a creative bunch and when left to their own devices, there’s no telling what they would come up with. For clients, it’s important to know exactly what you want out of the designers before entering into a contract as this would save designers from having to work multiple times because of revisions and would save the clients precious time that would otherwise be wasted on revisions. It’d also be useful for clients to take a closer approach so the designers could be alerted immediately when their work is veering out of the established parameter.
Be willing to listen to professional advice from your designers
Because clients are holding all of the money, it is typical that clients would assume the dominant position in this relationship. What clients have to know as well is the fact that the designers are better at their work compared to you. It is important for clients to have a certain vision to bring to the designers but they also have to be open to professional advice from the designers if they feel that there’s something that could be improved upon in your vision. Always be upon to constructive criticism from people who know what they’re doing.
Don’t be the helicopter client
Looking back on my childhood, I’m grateful to my parents for not being the kind of helicopter parent that constantly micro-manages every single thing their children is a part of. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the five years or so of adulthood is that I very much love my independence, something that I’m sure most creative types would agree with. With this in mind, I would like to use this space to implore to you clients and potential clients to not micro-manage everything your designer is doing.
Please keep in mind that there’s an ocean of differences between making sure that your designers are working to realize your vision and constantly micro-managing them. You’ve entered into an agreement with them for a reason; because you believe in their capabilities so trust your judgment and let them be on their merry way. It’s reasonable for you to check in at regular intervals, like once a week or so, to check up on their progress but constantly e-mailing them every day just to see how’s the project coming along might be overkill.
Create a reasonable timeline
Unless you’re working with someone fresh out of school, designers would be able to typically tell how long a given assignment is going to take. As clients, it’s important for you to approach designers with this timeline in mind and not give them something they’re not prepared to handle only to react badly when you’re informed that the assignment isn’t finished yet. If it’s because of an emergency, let the designers and give them the chance to try to work things out as long as you’re prepared to compensate them for the extra work.