All good designers share one thing in common: a strong balance between hard and soft skills. Hard skills constitute your knowledge of design fundamentals, while soft skills are the traits that don’t consciously impact your design process, but nevertheless play an important role. One of the most important processes in which soft skills come into play is in maintaining a healthy relationship with your client. Your ability to do this, or the lack thereof, can have a massive bearing on both your design process and the final product.
In many cases, relationships between designers and their clients are overly formal—and not without good reason. Of course, professionalism should be the cornerstone of your interactions with your clients. However, maintaining a lighter, friendlier relationship can be the best course of action at times, bringing many benefits during and after the delivery of your designs. In this article, I’ll describe a few of the benefits I’ve experienced through maintaining a friendly relationship with my clients, which would not have been possible with greater formality.
How to Become Friendlier with Your Clients
Before exploring the benefits of having friendly relationships with your clients, I need to acknowledge that establishing a personal rapport with your clients can prove challenging. Although building a friendly relationship is certainly an organic process, there are some steps that you can take to accelerate this undertaking. Celebrating personal milestones such as wishing someone a happy birthday, observing anniversaries, or marking promotions is a great place to start. You might even go so far as to send a client a token of your appreciation.
Discovering and discussing your common interests—outside of your professional discussions—can add a much more human touch to your future conversations. Lastly, celebrating shared wins such as project milestones or product launches is a great way of linking your friendship with the work itself!
Why Friendship Can Ease and Improve Your Design Process
Now, let’s look at just a few of the special benefits that have accrued from the fact that my clients and I have had easy-going, amicable relationships with one another.
Clearer and More Consistent Communications
Often, getting hold of one another can feel like a struggle—for both you, the designer, and the client. Going through the rigmarole of scheduling meetings and finding pockets of free time on both of your calendars—sometimes just to discuss a few minor changes—can prove frustrating to anyone. However, once you establish a friendly rapport between you and your client, communication feels like it flows much more naturally.
Establishing a friendly relationship can help you bypass some of the formalities that often attend a newly formed client-designer relationship. Certainly, simply knowing that you have access to your clients’ personal line and need not hesitate to contact them a few hours before or after work hours can provide a great degree of comfort. Another thing to be aware of is the trust factor: when you’re on friendly terms with your clients, they’ll believe more in your work, as well as your process. There’s no need to demonstrate how beneficial a client’s trust can be to any designer.
Greater Freedom of Expression During Ideation
Another benefit of being friendly with your client is that, as a designer, you can be more creative, pitch outside-the-box ideas to your client, and implement them through your work. When working with new clients, designers naturally have a tendency to play it safe with their suggestions rather than risking possibly alienating a client by presenting something too fresh and new.
However, it need not be this way. Once you’ve established a certain degree of comfort with your clients, you can feel much more comfortable bouncing more innovative, previously unseen ideas off your clients—and so can they. Some of the most creative design solutions would never have been possible without a client-designer relationship was inherently friendly. So establishing a modicum of shared affability is a cornerstone of achieving good design.
This feeling of creative freedom is always a two-way street. Within a friendly relationship, clients can also feel more comfortable communicating freely with designers. Your friendship could result in a more collaborative approach, with your client offering more articulate and specific feedback, as well as suggestions from an industry-perspective that could propel your product and design solution even further.
Loyalty and Maintaining Post-Project Relationships
One amazing benefit of having an amicable relationship with your client is that this incentivizes them to extend their professional relationship with you, which otherwise might have had an expiration date. Because of your relationship, your client might extend their work agreement with you—for example, by asking you to further flesh out a design or add more functionality. Your clients might request your assistance on other projects they’re working on—all as a result of the bond you’ve created between you.
While the quality of your work and the power of your designs do play a massive role in extending your work relationship with a client, without the proper personal relationship and understanding between you, it’s unlikely that you’d be seeing much repeat business from your existing clients. In fact, if you have a poor relationship with your clients, you might even be pushing them toward your competitors. You can build long-term professional relationships more upon amicable human interactions than on spiffy design deliverables—although they do certainly play a part, too. So, if you struggle to hang onto your clients, do what it takes to build meaningful relationships with them.
As with the previous point, the quality of your designs does play a major role in determining whether your clients promote your work to others. But, if you have friendly relationships with your clients, they’ll be far more likely to recommend you to others who might require your services.
Having a unique, empathetic communication style with your clients can certainly set you apart from the pack and encourage a past client to recommend you to others. Plus, clients with whom you are friendly are usually a lot more receptive to any requests you might make of them—for example, asking them to provide a review on an aggregator or contribute a testimonial on your Web site or for your portfolio!
As all of these points make clear—and as all designers everywhere in the world have experienced, having friendly relationships with your clients is one of the easiest ways to consistently produce better results.
Most designers have endured at least one difficult relationship with a client, so can attest to the fact that a bad relationship can have catastrophic impacts on a project. Conversely, a friendly relationship eases not only the ideation stage of a project and your ability to toss around ideas with a greater degree of freedom, but the design and prototyping stages as well. Once you’ve developed good relationships with your clients, communicating with them flows much more naturally. So, if you’re struggling with a project, I recommend your taking steps to build a closer relationship with your client. The results could surprise you.
Manik was introduced to design when he was building Placesso, a ride-sharing platform based on Facebook’s social graph. While they never launched the platform, the experience taught Manik a lot about design and development. Since then, he has stayed with design. He and his friends began spending a lot of time discussing the designs of newly launched apps, exploring ways to improve their user experience. They felt really badly about people using poor designs so, in 2014, launched Ketchup Designs Studio. In 2015, they changed the name to Onething Design. Since then, they’ve helped a lot of businesses design products people love to use. Read More