Writing

Bridging the Client Communication Gap

Chances are you’ve worked on a client project that didn’t go as smoothly as you would have liked. This could be due to a number of things, but more often than not communication is at the core. Designers need to have a little empathy to understand what it’s like to be a client who wants the world but also be knowledgeable enough to rein in expectations. So here are some things you should tell your clients to fill potential communication gaps in your projects.

“You need to be a part of this process.”

You’ll end up with a more usable, higher quality product if your client is involved throughout the project. While they may not be thinking about the end result from a user’s perspective, they are thinking from an equally important point of view — a stakeholder.

Stakeholders are a significant part of the project process and can shed light on how any design decisions will affect their bottom line. On the other side of that, there could be features users are asking for that technically, are feasible, which a stakeholder could deem logistically impossible.

This is all valuable knowledge you can use to improve your design and your process. Plus, you’re empowering the client to have tangible input in that design process which makes for a happier client — and less work for you!

“There may be hiccups along the way.”

There could be times during the project where communication will breakdown, such as a late deliverable or a disagreement on design choices. These issues are almost always small and easily fixable, but the key to avoiding these is keeping in contact with your client and letting them know early on if potential issues are on the horizon.

“We will not be able to accomplish everything you want.”

There are a couple reasons you may wind up having this conversation with your client during a project; a tight deadline or something they want would be a clear detraction from the user’s experience.

Every project you encounter will have a deadline. And if the communication with your client isn’t flawless from the beginning, there will be items that are a part of the project scope that just won’t get done. You must prioritize. If the client is asking for something that you think shouldn’t be as high up on the priority list, speak up. They need to know that you have a plan in mind for what the project is going to be.

Also in any project, the experience of your users takes precedence. The client has their idea of how they want their site to look and function but if any aspect of that doesn’t benefit the user, or worse, take away from or limit their experience in any way, then it’s your job to make sure the client is aware of that. Taking away from the user’s experience could be the addition of an obtrusive pop-up window or as simple as a font suggestion that you know isn’t right for their typical user.

“Here’s why I’m doing this.”

There needs to be some level of educating your client with every project. The client hired you for your knowledge and expertise, so you need to remind them that you are the expert in this situation. Explain design or UX principles to support your project choices. Or, better yet show them the steps you took to get to your decision. Walking them through your thought process not only gives them insight to how you work, but it ensure you and your client remain on the same page throughout the project.

Client work is hardly a painless process, and I doubt it ever will be. But by taking these steps to communicate effectively with my client, this will improve experiences of all parties and increase the likelihood for future collaboration.

James Jackson