Web Designer magazine asked me a few questions about talking to clients.

When communicating with a new client, what advice do you have to ensure that all parties understand what they expect to be delivered?

Projects run more smoothly when everyone involved asks what the others expect. It's also helpful when working terms are agreed upon.

Is it a lack of a detailed brief that often leads to misunderstandings?

From my early experiences? Certainly. There were times when I didn't ask nearly enough questions, so the client was more likely to end up with a design that didn't meet expectations.

Why do you think communication breaks down? Do clients often change their minds, leading to confusion?

It could be the client, it could be the designer. No one always gets it right.

A few past clients preferred me to work without too much in the way of back and forth. Sometimes that was successful, sometimes not, and when it wasn't, projects ran for longer than necessary — ideas weren't agreed upon and it became obvious that more mid-project discussions were needed.

Also, some client/designer combinations aren't a good fit — a designer might prefer a different design niche than what the client needs, and the client might want something the designer doesn't offer. That's another reason to ask plenty of questions before money changes hands.

Just as clients are unlikely to hire the first designer they find, designers shouldn't accept every project on the table. It pays to say no.

Is there always a risk that when a designer interprets a brief it doesn't actually fulfil the clients’ wishes?

All projects have risks, but interpretation generally only goes wrong if the brief isn't thorough. When it comes to the end result, the most interesting interpretations are generally proportional to the size of the risk (bigger risk, better result). A lot of that comes down to clients and how open they are to pushing boundaries and really standing out.

How can communications remain clear when some briefs seem to be design by committee?

A/ Even if you're dealing with a sole proprietor, he or she is likely to ask a friend or relative for an opinion, so in that regard it's rare when just one person is involved in the decision-making. But it's hugely helpful when one person has the final say, and I tend to cover that at the start of a project when sharing expectations.

What’s your advice on how to handle a client relationship that begins to break down?

Look first at yourself. You're not necessarily in the wrong, but don't blame others before thinking about what you could've done better. If you can't meet your client face-to-face then pick-up the phone. Put yourself in your client's position. Ask what's needed in order to move forward.

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Previous posts on similar lines:
Thoughts on the designer/client relationship
The ideal design process?
Ask about the budget