Setting Design Expectations

March 22, 2013

Designers are moody and sensitive.

There is a reason why the majority of them prefer to work in dark offices with dim lights. When the final deliverable doesn’t meet the satisfaction of the client, the client is blunt in their criticism. This in turn makes the designer defensive, on edge, and sensitive.

Lack of Expectations

From the designers perspective (and I know this all too well because I have fallen into the above description at times), they think “If you knew what you were looking for, then you should have made that clear. I spent hours on what I thought you wanted”.

The infamous curse of design “I’ll know it when I see it” has struck again. At this point the client is unsatisfied and the designer is bugged. Lose – Lose situation.

Now you are going to spend more time fixing the “issues” and in the end neither client or designer will be 100% satisfied.

As part of my series Design meets Business: Merging two Worlds, here are a few insights in setting expectations that in the end will make both client and designer stoked on the deliverable.

Kickoff Meeting

Before any sketches, wireframes, or color palettes are put together, I HIGHLY suggest a Kickoff Meeting (also referred to as a “Discovery Meeting). Andy Rutledge says “the initial direct contact with clients during the discovery meeting is likely the most important moment in the life of a project”.

Here is how I structure a Kickoff Meeting:

Let Them Know Your Process – Whatever your design process consists of, let the client know. Let them know where you will be contacting them in the process, and where their feedback will be crucial. Part of my process consists of mood boards and style boards (which I will be discussing in upcoming posts). I want the client to know that they can expect to see those items in the near future and their feedback at this point is extremely beneficial.

Ask Questions Related to the Design Deliverable – Get them talking! This is where we need to draw out as much information from the client as we can. Questions could be:

  • What is our end goal or Call to Action?
  • What is the experience we want the viewer/visitor/user to have?
  • What feeling do we want to invoke in the viewer/visitor/user?

These types of questions will draw out feelings that you can design towards. In the end deliverable we can measure if the result meets these feelings or objectives, rather than talk about preference or design style/opinion.

Ask Questions About Their Business – What makes their business tick? What is their sales model? What metrics best measure performance? These types of questions are crucial to understanding their standpoint and their business objectives with the deliverable. I use a Discovery Meeting sheet to keep the questions that I want answered fresh in my mind. You can view that PDF here.

Kickoff Meeting Takeaway

When you get off the phone, I have found that it is best to email the client immediately, recapping the information that was just discussed on the phone. This is going to do a few things:

  1. It will help the client know that you listened and understood what their needs are.
  2. It will put in writing the goals, feelings, and objectives that the deliverable is shooting to accomplish.
  3. When the client responds to the email, we can get them to agree to our directional pieces.

It can be a great tool to revert back to this email if there is ever any misunderstanding or drop in communication. If the curse of I’ll know it when I see it creeps up in the final deliverable presentation (purely preference based), we can quickly return to this takeaway email and then proceed to discuss if the deliverable is meeting the goals and objectives that were originally discussed.

Contact throughout the entire process is key to being on par with the clients expectations prior to the final deliverable presentation. If you can warm up the client by keeping them posted with the deliverable throughout the process, you are one step closer to a win – win situation.

What items have proven beneficial to you in the Kickoff Meetings? I would love to hear more feedback!

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