episode 32: How To Be A Good Design Client


Being a good client to your designer has many benefits. Because design projects are not all about the client. They are also not all about the designer. Design projects to be successful require both client and designer interaction to create the final deliverable. A successful project requires both the client and designer to create the final deliverable. Today’s conversation is about an often unspoken topic that hopefully designers, and design clients, find valuable.


Interviewing and hiring a designer

  • Troy: Does the designer have a specialty, such as presentation, web, mobile app, print, etc.?
  • Nolan: Ask for portfolios.
  • Sandy: Get an overview of the designers process.


Kickoffs & initial conversations

  • Nolan: Tell us everything: you have patient-designer confidentiality, and design solves problems, so tell us what you’re trying to solve. Don’t withhold information, such as internal deadlines, budget restrictions, approvals needed, etc.
  • Sandy: Set expectations: I try to establish those expectations upfront, as example: if a project has a normal turn-around, I don’t mention rush charges, but if there is a possibility I let the client know up front what to expect. I always include 2 rounds of revisions and schedule the amount of time needed to make those revisions in the timeline based on the complexity of the project. I think a 24 hour response is fair, but many expect instant email responses — and now with text messages that becomes even more applicable.
  • Troy: I think the technical conversation is important to recommend the best solutions. As example, if it is a presentation project, is for projection, print or PDF?


Inappropriate asks

  • Nolan: Spec work is not something I consider. Don’t ask your designer to solve problems they cannot, such as “Our sales staff really doesn’t understand the product, so we need a beautifully designed presentation to explain it” – and then not provide the content that explains it.
  • Sandy: Copying content, this comes up more than I would expect, but don’t ask your designer to steal content for the project.
  • Troy: We run this fine line of being asked to provide input (such as marketing materials, verify financials are accurate, or confirm something is in the right industry language), and because we are not industry experts it is not something that should generally be asked of the designer.



  • Sandy: I put together a timeline with each statement of work. It always includes an allotted amount of time for the client to get back to us at each step of the project.
  • Troy: Respect our time. Delivering feedback to your designer at 4:00pm is not the same as 10:00am, especially if your expectation is to receive a proof the next morning. Timely response to proofs and questions – if you need time to get back with us, let us know you, that way we can plan other projects into our schedule.
  • Nolan: If something is going to be late or not arrive at all, tell us ASAP. From the big picture, bring us in at the right time and have us begin work at the right time (not too early, not too late).


Feedback & approvals

  • Nolan: Tell us what you like, not just what you hate. Your designer needs one voice from the client, so agree in advance on the design input. We understand design is subjective AND objective, so control YOUR people, we are working together to solve a need.
  • Troy: I have this saying, that is 100% true, and I usually bring it up when a designer on our team is super frustrated with a client: “People know what they do not like, but cannot explain what they want.” So, our job is to provide something to react to, so we can move the project forward.
  • Sandy: I want the decision-maker to be involved in the process.


Dealing with trouble/changes of scope, etc./firing designers

  • Troy: Acknowledge when something on your side is late. Say you are sorry and get the designer working with you – and understand if it is an after hours request there will most likely be overtime or rush rates.
  • Sandy: Don’t try to add to the project scope without acknowledging these are additional requests.
  • Nolan: If things are not coming together as you envision, first, make sure you have actually tried to address the problem and decide if the designer followed your directions. Make a good faith effort to fix things or you’ll have the same problem with the next designer. Understand if you are looking at incomplete work, have you rushed the designer, and ultimately if you can’t get on the same page, chances are the designer will be happy to be fired. Pay them for what you asked them to do, and end on a good note for the future.


Shared language

  • Sandy: TEMPLATE!
  • Troy: Know some “design language.” For example, when we say “bleed,” it is a print job and we need to design beyond the edge of the file for the printer. Widescreen, 16×9, and “HD” all reference the modern screen aspect ratio, so we need to understand each other. Other terms that can be confusing are; aspect ratio, master slide vs. master layout, linked vs editable Excel charts/tables, custom fonts (which are anything that is not an Microsoft standard font).
  • Nolan: It never hurts to ask questions. Make sure you understand what you’re talking about.


Tips for managing relationships

  • Sandy: Mutual respect.
  • Troy: I think this is a good new-designer vs. experienced-designer topic. It is not helpful if a newer designer agrees to requests that are not going to help you. An experienced designer will say no, but with good reason to help you and your project.
  • Nolan: Designer autonomy – don’t do our work for us and don’t assume it’s okay to bring other design voices into the process. It is okay to have the designer explain why things have been done the way they are, but making a designer defend their work is not going to be helpful to your project. Remember, design is subjective and objective.



  • Sandy: I advise that I bill monthly and at end of project, which is due upon receipt.
  • Troy: Design is amazing. I can get a call from a stranger, book out my calendar for a week, pay for flights, sometimes purchase equipment or software, assign 200 hours of design to our team, then show up at a meeting, all without a deposit or guarantee, when you think about it, what business does that? But that would be a request from a trusted client. No relationship = no trust, and the payment process is deposit, in-process, final due.
  • Nolan: Respect us at all phases. If we say we need a down payment before beginning work, don’t schedule a kick off call prior to that. It’s your responsibility to get us paid, not ours to argue with accounting.


Last tips

  • Troy: Time zones can be your friend. If you are West Coast and the designer is Central or East Coast, send them feedback before you EOD so they can prioritize your feedback in the morning and have a new proof to you when you arrive at the office. Make a time zone difference an advantage.
  • Sandy: Just know that we love what we do and we have your best interest at hand. We respect your expertise and appreciate that you expect ours.


Resources from the episode:

  • PowerPoint Image Malware: TrendMicro Article
  • Prezinext
  • GoPro micro HDMI-to-HDMI adaptor: Amazon
  • Neewer NW-5 Foldable Adjustable Portable Sound Absorbing Vocal Recording Panel: Amazon
  • Mike Monteiro: Design is a Job: Amazon
  • Mike Monteiro: You’re My Favorite Client: Amazon

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