Designers are naturally wary of bad clients. Bad clients take a lot of mental, emotional, and physical energy to manage. So, we designers prefer to avoid them. And as a result, we pay careful attention to any signs that a potential client may be harmful to work with.
But how do we spot the really good ones?
Before we answer that question, we need to get past the obvious signs of a bad client. Stay away from clients who:
- Talk disparagingly about other designers
- Don't care as much about their target audience as their personal likes and dislikes
- Think design should be free
- Rush decision-making, and share few details
- Blame others for their mistakes
- Take their time reviewing or giving any feedback, but want us to rush when they do
1. They are organized.
They are prompt with feedback. When we try to contact them, they get right back with us. They enjoy giving us exactly what we ask for (rather than images embedded in MS Word). They provide requested items in an organized manner. They name electronic files in a way that makes sense.
2. They like to provide detailed information.
They don’t ask us for the moon in vague generalities. They like to give designers a lot of detail — even details we don’t ask for. They want us to have the background on what led up to the project, and the problem they want to solve. They know exactly what the solution should accomplish. And it's measurable. (Oh yes, they appreciate good questions.)
3. They take ownership of the project schedule.
Respect for a designer’s time and their time is top of mind. They want our input on what should be a proper schedule. And they want to work with us to prepare a schedule that meets both of our needs. Once the schedule is finalized, they will stick with it, as humanly possible. When they start to fall behind, they don't expect the designer to make up the time that is lost. But will work with the designer in a reasonable manner. (Sometimes a designer with this kind of client will go all out to make up the time anyway.) And when the designer is falling behind, they focus on solving the problem rather than assigning blame.
4. They value collaboration.
The designer is their partner, not a vendor to hand off stuff to and get a product at the end. They want the designer’s expert opinion. But they also want the designer to know their opinion. They will defer to the designer’s expertise on most aesthetic decisions, unless they have a well-reasoned objection.
5. They prepare budgets that are aligned to their requests.
They understand that their budget has to represent the value they expect. They don’t hire designers based on price, but on the value each of us brings.
6. They take appropriate responsibility.
They are honest with us. They respect us as fellow human beings. They say what they are going to do and do it. They don’t blame us when they make a mistake. They take ownership of problems they create and expect us to do the same. In either case, they are focused on solutions, not blame.
7. They pay promptly.