15 May 2018

In design, it’s your job to educate the client

When you work in any kind of creative environment you quite often have to describe approaches and concepts which don’t really fit with everyday communication. Often teams and organisations start to build their own lexicon of terms and slang to describe what they do.


This creates a great shorthand for communicating within the group but creates problems once you move outside this bubble. Your clients or account manager generally aren’t design experts_ that’s why they’ve come to you. They’re looking for an outcome, the promotion of a product or service, and don’t have the language to bridge the gap between what you’re doing and what they need.

For example, if you went to the supermarket and said “I don’t like this banana”, the checkout operator (or auto check out ) would reply “why don’t you like it?”. And then you’d explain that it was off, squashed, tasted funny or not bent at a sufficiently humorous angle.

But when it comes to design, often the feedback from the client is “I don’t know, I just don’t like it”. This is challenging for the designer because it takes time and energy and a lot of trial and error to fix a problem when it’s unclear exactly what the problem is.

The client is doing the best they can with what they know. But you can’t describe something if you don’t have the language tools to do it.


Design language an ongoing client education

So, I find that it’s easier to be as descriptive as possible when talking to clients or account managers Don’t make the language too dense or “design” because no one except another designer is going to understand “gestalt principles “or other thinking behind the design.

Keep it simple. Try to describe your aims and goals in simple terms. For example, talk about basic scale and proportions or whether the colours are similar or clashing.  That way, you can start to equip the client with the same language and terms you use, which should help you create work that makes everyone happy.

Also, don’t be afraid to use visual cues you use in your everyday practice to communicate with clients. If they are iterative and using design to sharpen their message then this can form the basis of your workflow.


Of course, the people you are designing for are never going to understand design as deeply as you do (and for good reason- otherwise you’d be out of a job). But if you get everyone on the same page with language, you can at least come to a common understanding of what you’re both trying to say.


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