As helpful as school can be, there are many topics design programs fail to breach—particularly in the realm of operating within the professional sectors of the design world.
On our discussion boards, Core77 moderator Mr-914 recently brought up an apt point about a subject no design student would predict they need to know in their future. Mr-914 writes:
"Louis Sullivan said, "Great architecture requires great clients" or something close to that. This weekend, I was thinking about this in a moment of design rage and it dawned on me. I've never had a class, seen a lecture or read an article on how to get or even recognize great clients. I was hoping the collective C77 board intelligence could help me out. Any clues?
One example I have is an architect once told me about when his office got successful enough to start turning clients away. He had a client that just kept insisting for bad design in their million dollar house project and after 2-3 meetings the architect told them he wasn't their man.
The problem with that is that it depends on judgement based on hundreds of client meetings. Even then, he had to burn 8-12 hours on preparation and meetings just to turn the job down. Are their signs we can depend on earlier?"
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Here are some words of advice from our fellow discussion board members that may be helpful to any freelancers or agencies in this predicament:
If the brief is vague, stay away
"The clarity of [the potential client's] brief can be taken under consideration. The more vague, the more I'd stay away. But I have never seen a design firm at 100% capacity. And instead of turning away customers, they will add capacity before they hit critical mass. Maybe it's different for the architecture folks, but those guys take themselves way too seriously." - iab
Beware the "Inventor"
"The greater the instance on an NDA, the greater likelihood the idea is crap and not worth it. I've had billion dollar brands work with me with no NDA (obv. they have big lawyers) and 'inventors' want a 10 page NDA and more signed." - rkuchinsky
"Sometimes your gut reaction is the best indicator. I took a lot of jobs and would argue that most of them were with terrible clients. 'Inventor' types who watched shark tank too much and insisted because they had already spent money on patents that their ideas would be worth millions, and were not open to any changes or improvements. Just wanted somebody to 'CAD it up' or 'make it look prettier'...Ultimately you will need to spend some time with them to get a sense of their level of arrogance and demands, and even then until you actually start negotiating a real statement of work the craziness might not come out. The best thing you can do is plan deliverables and payments in a way that minimizes your risk, and gives you an exit strategy if you need to jump ship." - Cyberdemon
Good clients are knowledgable about NPD...
"You either know the NPD [New Product Development] process or you don't. Bad clients will tend to be the ones who don't know and will say 'I need to launch.' Good clients will know the process and be specific about where they are in the process and what they need at that time. 'We see this opportunity and need to to run some ideas by our customers.'"- iab
...But listen to your gut—you shouldn't necessarily rule the others out
"Gut feel has a lot to do with it. I actually work a lot with startups, new brands and people not experienced in the process. It's given me a different attitude to client and process management. They hire me because I do what I do, and they can see the value in it." — rkuchinsky
Basic "dos" and "donts"
"I don't take projects where I think I can do great design, but will ultimately sit on shelf because the client has no money for development or getting to market.
I don't take projects where I know I will be not seeing eye to eye on the process or design.
I don't take projects where my value is not recognized by the client, regardless of if they pay me what I'm looking for.
I don't take projects where I think the idea is stupid and even if they can get to market.
I don't take projects if they don't need me, or need so much more than me that I wouldn't make a difference to the end result.
I don't take projects if I can't get paid.
I don't take projects only for the money no matter how much, if that's the only thing going for it.
I do take projects I think I can do good work on.
I do take projects that I think are a good idea by a good person I can work with.
I do take projects that challenge me and provide me with an opportunity to do something new or get involved in a different area or skill." — rkuchinsky
Share your thoughts—do you agree with these tips? Have any advice of your own? Client horror stories? Contribute to the discussion in the comment feed below, or chime in on our original discussion board post!