Whether you’re attached to an agency, a company or even freelancing, the news of failed relationships between the ‘hirer’ and the ‘hiree’ is nothing new. Be it either one (or both) has a renown and acclaimed repertoire, the most basic step in maintaining a good relationship is often overlooked due to egoistic vista – that is, the ever so crucial, communication.
Seeing that this issue has escalated over the years, a third-party is added into the mix in the belief that s/he would maintain equilibrium. S/he is often referred to as the agent, or they go by with other names such as producer or middleman. They are put into the system in order to filter and manage the communication. Regardless, a professional working relationship is still mandatory in order to justify the end result, which is the crucial point in determining between a one-off account and a long-term liaison.
So what does this mean to a designer
The practice of the code of professional conduct will ultimately separate the pack but sustaining the designer-client communication validates the system.
The Meet Up
After engaging in some e-mail formalities, chances are that they (be it the client or agent) will want to have a face-to-face meeting, which is a common practice to most, especially if the designer is within the sensible vicinity and it is an opportunity to make the important first impression. Some might call it a cliché but more often than not, designers rather go incognito and maintain ambiguity rather than bridging the divide. Unless you are a sought-after, world-renowned and fully-booked designer that communicates exclusively via online and/or through your own personal agent, schedule the meet with the client and go. This is the perfect opportunity for both parties to analyse each other – from facial sincerity to body language.
And yes, dress to impress.
Syncing goals, through direct interactions has a longer lasting effect, even if you only communicate digitally soon
after. Try and stay within the context of the design account and do not stray too far off tangent (e.g. no one needs to know why you prefer Android to iOS), but more importantly, be early for the meeting – nothing shows more enthusiasm than showing up earlier than the client. It shows professionalism as well as beating the stigma that is engulfing the industry.
Spend this time to get to know the potential client and build a connection.
There have been an innumerable amount of design accounts that were solely built on trust over the years and it is intensifying at an alarming rate, and most relationships met an untimely demise. The other reason for the meet-up is to discuss on the account agreement and/or physically sign the contract papers.
No work should be carried out unless the content of the agreement is met and signed, whether or not you personally know the person that is hiring you. That is not only an essential security for both the designer and the client, but is also a professional attitude that needs to be instilled within. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a young or experienced designer. This practice of contract agreement shows the gravity of your commitment towards the account, and therefore securing both parties through the commemorable act.
It is a key move that removes the ‘elephant in the room’; allowing the designer to fully focus on the account. So earn that account by being professional about it.
Each designer must treat the deadline as it is without assumption. Commonly, clients do have a buffer zone for them to prep through their own internal protocols and/or even to present to their end-clientele, and will only relay a response back to the designer once it is done but this shouldn’t be theorised at every milestone.
Preferably, a responsible designer should complete their designs before the intended deadline, allowing time to review and redesign. This also warrants the possibility to submit the designs early provided that it syncs with the designer’s own work schedule. Milestones are crucial steps in order to meet the deadline tranches and it is in the best interest for both parties. Updating the client constantly doesn’t necessarily mean that it gives out a juvenile impression but it secures the account through the evolution of the design.
Every approval is a step closer to completion. The quicker it is done, the more valuable the account will become. What should and should have been done from the client’s side is none of the designer’s concern as this will only imply arrogance. The designer should meet the agreed deadline and standby for instructions unless otherwise inquired for their opinion. Should there be a snag in meeting the deadline the designer should always update the client beforehand and never at the 11th hour.
This sets the tone to the designer-client relationship. Communicate well.
Once the final design is signed off and approved, the designer should submit every design in every single format that is agreed upon in the contract/brief. This is crucial in the long run as the submitted designs generally belongs to the client (as per agreement). Even if the client never asked for the (outlined) FA files, it should be suggested to them for safekeeping – be it in a CD/DVD or an online attachment; accessible to them at any time without vexing anyone, particularly when it is urgent.
For example, there have been cases where the client only received high-resolution JPEG files from their (former) contracted designer but their current project requires an AI format file for large prints. In some cases, designers hold on to the (outlined) FA files in order to maintain credibility for future projects.
The point here is this: Why worry? Should the designer managed to impress the client with their speed and efficiency, wouldn’t they be hired again by the same client? Loyalty is a rare trait these days. Some even call it a commodity. Think about it.
Chances are most clients wouldn’t know what to do with the AI files anyway, and even if they do, the designer knows the inner workings of the design and will have the upper hand when it comes to alterations (especially when they have a source file). Hence the probability of them being called back is there. In the end, a designer’s reputation is not how good the design is, but how well it is executed and delivered.
The level of responsibility will secure the relationship with the client in the long run and thus you are assured to be on their recommended list for future projects.
The Follow Up
Subsequent to invoicing, about a week or so, do follow up with the client for feedback. Inquire on the design impact of the account as well as internal assessment. At this stage, it is clear cut on whether the designer has successfully built a professional relationship with the client or not.
Whether or not there is an agent or middleman who speaks for you throughout the project, just know that you can always choose to handle the client yourself. Always remember to maintain good communication with the client from time to time to ensure a solid connection and job prospects. Analysing each account’s journey will help boost your skills set and experience. If you can (know that you always can), personalise a human approach with your clients. Foresee a day whereby you could already give your opinion on Android vs iOS like an expert. That’s when you know you’ve made it as a designer and probably more.