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5 types of design client and how to handle them

Clients have wildly differing needs. Know who you're dealing with and how to keep them happy by following these tips from Carl Heaton of Bangkok Design Agency.

In my first article for Creative Bloq, 'How to escape the clients from hell', I explained how to filter out the small number of clients who are likely to turn your life into a nightmare before you take them on. That doesn't mean, of course, that the remaining clients will all be a joy to work with. There are different types of clients with different needs, and here I'm going to group them into five basic categories.

This isn't just for fun - there's a serious point here. By organising our client base in this way, you can better know what kind of time and resources each will require. That way, you can better plan your design process and avoid multiple deadline pileups!

Get inside your clients' heads and you're halfway there already

01. High maintenance

This type of client needs their hands holding all the way. They're mainly first-timers at hiring professional designers and/or developers.

To deal with high-maintenance clients, be firm and fair and give them very clear processes in advance. This will stop them getting lost and you can explain how to move forward to the next stage.

Be firm and fair and give them very clear processes

The sense of achievement of seeing the project move forward when they follow the instructions will give them faith in you or your company. For example, in our proposal we attach the following process flow so they know when payments will be due and when things are expected of them.

02. High expectations

Some clients assume turning an iPhone app into an Android app can be done at the flick of a switch

Clients with high expectations can be very difficult to handle. They believe that to "just change the design colours" takes a matter of minutes, or that making an Android version of the iPhone app just involves a flick of a switch.

It's imperative you give this type of customer detailed breakdowns of every stage and the associated time involved. Whenever they make overly ambitious demands, agree a cost implication and work on it with them. You don't want a big fight on your hands at the end of the project when it comes to invoicing!

Invite them for a meeting while you do live changes

An extra trick is inviting them for a meeting while you do some live changes, so they can see that things are not as simple as they believe. This can be done in person or via something like Skype screen sharing. This has really helped me in the past, demonstrating, for example, just how many moving parts a website has.

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03. Totally unrealistic

Beware clients with their heads in the clouds

These are newbies with big, big dreams, who make the previous class of client look like grounded realists. Their dreams have the potential to end in tears, but with a little love, care and above all, patience, they will begin to trust you more.

Ask them questions as to why they want X or who it is for. Enquire what research they have done and where they got the idea from. Often they've just skimmed an article somewhere, put 2 and 2 together, and made 5. You need to clear explain the benefits and reasoning behind your processes, as well as costings, to bring them down to earth.

When this type of client has a wild, crazy idea they just won't let go of, your next line of defence is this: persuade them to place it in a predefined 'phase 2' of the project.

The 'phase 2' notion effectively demonstrates bells and whistles aren't what makes a site

Using the 'phase 2' idea has helped me complete projects sooner and effectively demonstrated that having the bells and whistles does not make a site. Explain that it's best to create a solid foundation for people to buy into first, and then add the funky stuff later. Often phase 1 will be such a success that the client realises they didn't need the funky stuff after all.

This also gives you the opportunity to maintain a relationship with a client that otherwise might have thought you’re not up to the job -  consequently choosing another agency that promises the world but delivers little.

04. Straight to the point

We all love the kind of client who knows what they want

This type of client knows what they want, has experience of doing all this before, and just need it done. We all love these clients! Often they have content, design, logos, fonts and functional requirements in the barrel ready to shoot at you at a moment’s notice.

One thing they will require is confirmation. They want to know you have received and understood their requests and so always reply back with a summary of what you have understood, plan to do and by when. In other words, if your client is on the ball, so should you be!

05. Graveyard

This type of client is keen at the start but then the project goes cold. Emails go unanswered for days, resources get tied up waiting for feedback and the deadline seems so far in the future that even a time-travelling Delorean would struggle to reach it.

Emails go unanswered for days, resources get tied up

For this type of client you again have to be firm but fair. First set dates and times for deadlines - and explain the consequences if they are missed. But if you're still met by a wall of silence and inactivity, either let the project die and just wait for them to contact you again, or email saying you are taking resources off this project until such time as you get the feedback you need.

Words: Carl Heaton

Carl Heaton is managing director of Bangkok Design Agency, an agency based in Thailand that grows ideas through intelligent website and graphic design, integrated online and offline marketing.

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