Designers and Communication Skills: Why and How to Improve
Earlier this week I posted a group interview with several established and successful designers. One of the questions that was asked to each participant was “What do you feel are the most important skills for a designer to have/develop?” By far the most popular answer was “communication skills.” While this is not technically a design-related skill, I was really pleased to see those responses, because I feel the same way. Communication skills can make or break any design project that you’re working on, so I thought I would cover the topic in more detail.
Why are Communication Skills Important for Designers?
I think by nature many designers are introverted and do not naturally have strong communication skills (of course this is a generalization) . Most of us enjoy working on our own and creating something special, but communicating with clients may not be one of our favorite activities. If this is the case for you, take a look at how your communication skills can affect your performance.
Design is a Client Service
Any type of work that is a service to clients will always require communication between the service provider and the client, and web design is no exception. As a client service, there is plenty of back and forth communication for the client to the designer. There will be very few design projects that will allow you to go work on your own and then present a finished product to a client without much communication in during the process. For a web designer, coding and creativity are a part of the everyday work, and so is communication.
Clients Know Their Business Better Than You Do
The site you’re designing for a client is being created for a specific business and to achieve specific results. As designers, we really don’t know much about most of our clients in comparison to what they know. They know who falls into their target market, and (hopefully) they have an idea of what that target market would like in a website. They know what their visitors will be interested in when they arrive at the site. They know the details of their business that need to be communicated on the website to visitors. Without effective communication, gathering this information will be difficult or impossible. With effective communication you can work with the client to create a website that achieves their goals.
You Depend on Them, They Depend on You
As the designer, you will need certain information from the client to complete the job to the best of your ability. You’ll need their initial input plus their feedback throughout the process. As the client, they depend on you to create an attractive and effective website. Because there is mutual dependence, communication is absolutely necessary to bridge the gap and to create satisfactory results from both parties.
Clients Don’t Know What You’re Talking About
If you use industry jargon or technical language when communicating with clients, they will almost always be confused. Yes, you’ll have some clients with an excellent knowledge and understanding of web design, but most won’t fall into this category. After all, they’re coming to you to do the work for them, so most likely they don’t know that much about the subject.
Being able to effectively communicate in a simple and understandable manner is a skill in itself. If you are able to develop this skill, your clients will be able to have a better grasp on what you are doing and why.
Sometimes Clients Worry
Being able to check in with clients and communicate throughout the process will help them to know that you are making progress and that they’re important to you. Some clients will have a tight schedule that you need to work with, and if they don’t hear much from you they’ll wonder if things are still ok. You can keep them happy by just keeping them up-to-date with the progress and getting their feedback throughout.
Getting Clients is Easier with Good Communication Skills
So far all of the factors that have been mentioned have assumed that you have already landed the client. The truth is, most clients will shop around a little bit and they may talk to a few different designers before making a decision. If you can effectively communicate with potential clients and show them that you’ll do a great job for them, you’ll get more clients as a result.
What Can You Do To Improve Communication With Clients?
Make Yourself Accessible
In order for communication to work both ways, clients must have an easy way to get in touch with you. Provide them with an email address, cell phone number, and whatever other methods of communication you prefer. If you are not accessible, the communication will come too late and you’ll wind up spending more time than should have been necessary.
As I mentioned earlier, most of your clients won’t understand what you’re talking about if you are using technical terminology. Get in the habit of communicating in simple, basic ways that anyone can understand. You’ll also need to know a bit about the client to know how you can best communicate with them. Some clients will have a better understanding than others.
Encourage Feedback Throughout the Process
Welcome the thoughts and opinions of the client as you are working on the design. Communication doesn’t only happen at the beginning and the end of the project. You’ll be able to create a more effective website that the client is pleased with by encouraging their feedback. Ultimately, the client’s opinion is really what matters, so make sure your work is headed in the direction that they want.
Be Careful with Email
Email is a great and convenient method of communication, but the tone of an email can easily be misinterpreted. When sending email to a client, be sure that your message is clear and that the client will not be misled or take the message in the wrong way.
Take Advantage of Face-to-Face Contact When Possible
Many designers do work for clients all around the world. However, some focus on local clients. Whenever possible, arrange a face-to-face meeting with clients at least once or twice during the project (or more, depending on the size and scope). Communication is simply more effective in person, plus it helps to get to know the client better, and it helps them to develop trust in you.
Make Communication a Priority Up Front
The start of the design process is probably the most important time for communication. Without getting a proper idea of what the client wants and expects, you can waste a lot of time heading in the wrong direction. For smaller projects, much of what you need from the client can be obtained at the start of the process, which will make your life easier.
It’s easy for designers to assume a certain knowledge from clients or to assume certain expectations they have. Try to get out of the habit of making assumptions about your clients and be sure that everything is communicated effectively. Start basic.
As designers, we do some things that clients don’t understand. It’s a good habit to explain why you do something a certain way.
What Are Your Thoughts?
How do you feel about the importance of communication and what tips do you have? Feel free to share specific examples from your experience.
Published March 26th, 2008 by Steven Snell