The client/agency relationship is an endlessly fascinating thing. And particularly fascinating is the tension that exists between doing ‘what the client wants’ and bringing fresh thinking and challenging perspectives to the table.
It would be foolish to suggest it is always smooth sailing. Disagreements are almost inevitable at times, but it could be argued that disagreements are an essential part of the process. After all, if I knew exactly what I wanted, I could do it myself.
But it is easy to get too focused on the challenges around disagreement and forget a larger, more significant truth: designers and clients want the same thing*. Given this is the case, there is a responsibility on both designers and clients to work together and make it happen. And whilst we often talk about what designers need to do (I have written about this in the past), we tend to pass over the role of the client.
That is a mistake. We are fortunate in Kooba: we have many long-term relationships with wonderful clients, and one thing I hear repeatedly from them is “let me know what I can do to help”. In the spirit of answering that question, I thought I would put something on paper. That way I’ll have something permanent to force any new clients to read!
Five Ways To Get Involved
At the risk of repeating myself, let me say again: the responsibility for a great relationship ultimately lies with the agency. One of the skills a client ‘buys’ is that ability to listen, understand and translate their objectives, no matter how vaguely they might be stated. It is also our job to ensure things run smoothly.
But it would be foolish to pretend clients can’t help. They absolutely can. And when they help, they are not doing the agency or the designer a favour - they are helping to ensure they get what they want: a final product they love, on time and on budget.
So here’s five very simple ways clients can help themselves and play their part in making something beautiful and effective online.
1. Know What You Want
Or more accurately, know what you want to achieve. It is a huge benefit to start a project with a client who has a clear vision of what success looks like for the project. If we have an objective such as “deliver more quality inbound leads through the website” then this helps with every decision we make. It gives us a guide, and it provides an objective framework within which we can evaluate alternative approaches.
In contrast, a client with vague (or no) objectives is likely to be guided by what looks good or feels exciting - which is usually a dangerous course of action for anybody...
2. Be Ready To Learn
It is important to leave egos at the door for everyone in a creative process - and that certainly applies to clients. Whilst most of us ‘know what we like’ that doesn’t mean we have the same ability to turn it into a reality, and on that basis it is important to give designers freedom to produce creative responses to the brief (and this deliver on client objectives).
In other words - know when to step back. That can be difficult when we feel we ‘know’ what the end result should look like, but if the client interferes here they are not getting what they paid for. Let designers (and UX consultants and developers) respond in their own way, and learn from them.
3. Be Clear With Feedback
The above does not, of course, mean you have no say and no input in the process. At Kooba we are particularly open during the creative process and we are happy with feedback to pass back and forth with a reasonable amount of freedom.
But there is good feedback and bad feedback. Particularly at key stages in the process, it is vital to deliver the former and not the latter. Good feedback is constructive, specific, reflects previously agreed objectives (rather than moving the goalposts!) At the same time, it is the role of the designer and agency to help make that happen: as long as the conversation is constructive, it is usually possible to reach an understanding about what specifically isn’t quite right.
4. Take A Chance
Nobody likes making a fool of themselves in public, and nothing is more public than a website. That may be why clients can tend towards conservatism when it comes to these projects. To be clear, that isn’t always a mistake. I don’t have any objections to following tried and tested methods (and designs understood by the typical audience) when appropriate.
On the other hand, agencies keep their ear to the ground and an eye on the future. They can bring ideas to the table that can help any organisation make a major impact online - as long as the client is willing to take a chance. At the very least have an open mind and allow both the design and development team to bring new approaches and technologies to the table.
5. Align Your Organisation
If you are the ‘point person’ on a project, do try and ensure all relevant stakeholders are involved from the beginning - and know what is expected of them at each stage.
At Kooba we start most projects with workshops in which we seek to understand the requirements of everyone involved in the job, so when additional voices are added later in the project it can cause difficulties in ensuring those requirements are met. Ideally, the client has established who gets a say early on and controls that process - or at least tries to.
In addition, in an ideal world clients also understand that they hold some responsibility for ensuring a project is delivered on time. We are always careful to include plenty of time for feedback and revisions at each stage of any project: clients can play their part by ensuring relevant voices are lined up and ready to go on the dates that material is shared. Yes, we care about projects going out on time, but it’s even more important for the client themselves.
As I noted above, we are fortunate in Kooba - and we work hard to ensure our client relationships are not just OK but outstanding. Ultimately that’s our job - but if you want to help the five lessons above will go a long way!