the client / creative relationship


I had the good fortune to participate in the Graphic Artist’s Guild recent workshop: Creating a Happy Client, a roundtable-style workshop geared towards designers & creative professionals, about nurturing a positive relationship with clients. It was a real pleasure to not only offer some advice to aspiring independent designers & freelancers, but to learn from & discuss further with fellow designers & creative professionals.

The common thread of the evening was managed expectations: the big secret behind building & maintaining a positive, creative partnership is an open, communicative dialogue, with clearly defined goals & parameters at the start. Having goals set allows both the creative and the client to clearly understand the relative success of the project, and to measure it via milestones & deliverables along the way. The client knows what to expect, and the creative knows what is expected of them. This is especially important in the early stages of the client / creative relationship: the more 2 or more people or groups of people work together, the more trust is established, and equity built into the relationship. From there, the partnership between client & creative can really resonate — and the best work is truly allowed to surface.

That being said, goals & milestones must always be set up-front, even if for a small project with a client the designer has been working with for years. The act of defining — and anticipating — those needs & goals of any project simply becomes easier and a more intuitive process the more all parties involved understand one another.

Nearly every question or point that was raised during our discussion lead back to this one simple idea: that communication is key. Expectations need to be set: it’s amazing how often we allow ourselves to lead (or follow) situations into dead-ends or soured relationships, when a simple conversation up-front could have likely avoided these outcomes.

I think that as creative professionals we sometimes fear our clients, or at least don’t want to muddy the waters with anything that might feel… negative. We don’t want to bring up money, or deadlines, or restrictions, or unforeseen complications, because our goal really is to create, and deliver, and we’ll often sacrifice money, sleep & sanity to make that happen.

But clearly, that’s not an effective way to manage any working relationship. And the client / creative relationship is a business relationship, just like any other. In fact, it’s BETTER than most others,because it’s founded on the idea of a mutually beneficial, creative endeavor. Most folks don’t contact us because they HAVE to. They WANT a killer online presence, or a brand that will set them worlds apart — these are exciting, dare I say fun, goals, and we want nothing more than to deliver on them. The more clearly and effectively a client is able to articulate those goals, and the efficiency in which we can listen & understand those goals, the better and more outstanding the end results will be, and the happier everyone will be.

Illustration © edfredned. Design © Justin Perricone