Communication and the Big Picture

by Jonathan Longnecker

When you’re working on a new design for a client, good communication is key. Just recently we’ve run into a situation where an agency keeps having us change little things to try to get the design right for them without stepping back and addressing the larger direction of the whole thing. Granted, it should have been their job to say, “Hey this is way too modern” or “We were really thinking of using some kind of weathered, worn look instead” instead of “the radius of the rounded corner doesn’t look right,” but the reality is most clients don’t know how to communicate this kind of stuff to you. Apparently even some design agencies. They just know it doesn’t feel right, and then they try to fix it with nitpicks (see Nate’s article here).

Well obviously that approach is counterproductive to everyone involved, so we’ve started coming up with a list of things we can do to minimize the damage. This is what we’ve got so far:

  • Have the client come up with a list of their competitor’s sites.
  • Discuss what they like and don’t like about them.
  • Have the client come up with a list of sites that they like
  • Take some time to find out why they like them. Is it the information layout? The look and feel?
  • I’ve heard moodboards are a good, but we haven’t gotten around to using those yet.

A good designer should be able to tell when their client isn’t digging the overall vibe or direction and get to the root of the problem before they end up in nit-pick land. We’re obviously still learning that, and wanted to get your input. What do you think? Anything you guys can add? Let us know in the comments.

April 23, 2009



  1. Good advice, I usually ask my clients about the kinds of sites they like, however, bear in mind while this is a great way to give them a site they like the design of, it isn’t necessarily the way a site for their business should look.

    I recently completed a site for a landscape gardening business, and I did the “what sites do you like” they came back with “very clean, architectural site, slightly arty” and gave a very clear example, so I followed through, they were happy with the design and signed it off.  Couple of months down the line they are complaining that it’s not bringing business in, and actually they want a more salesy site with loads of photos and case studies.  So the site they liked was nowhere near what their business required.  Also comparing competitors sites wouldn’t have helped, as the main one they sent me as an example was in a similar business area, so competitors have sites that also don’t deliver what is required for their business.

    BTW really like the quality of your work.

  2. Ant,

    That’s a very real problem is the designer’s world.

    The client says, “We like this style!” But that’s not always what they need. It is difficult to explain to someone the difference between what they like and what is best for that job to succeed. In the end good communication is always the key.

    Email and text chats aren’t nearly as effective as talking to someone.

  3. Very true, Ant, and I think it depends on the type of client. This particular rant was inspired by another design agency, so it was supposedly their job to know what the client needed.

    I think if they pick the wrong kind of site, it’s up to us to let them know and then provide examples back to them of the direction it should go. Though in your example, I’m not sure you could have known. Tough decisions!

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