01 / Article

Gaining creative freedom and trust from your clients

Justin Brown
Justin Brown
4 min read

If you are a designer I'm sure you already know what I mean. You probably had a few of those clients who just can't seem to let you, the artist, explore new ideas for the project you are working on. They tip-toe around your ideas, and tell you exactly what they want. Often times, it feels like you are expected to be their eyes and hands. While this can sometimes be helpful, it doesn't sit well with most designers, and can be frustrating if they give you many constraints. You are the designer, you learned design, you see design and you get just how it works. Here are some ways to gain more creative freedom from your client!

Illustration: Caring about metrics

Show them you care about their business:

  • You aren't teaming up with them to be their competition; you want their business to succeed, so prove it! The easiest way is to make yourself open to conversation. Sometimes it's important to put "sales mode" aside to just be a human for a second - I know, easier said than done, but it becomes natural with practice. It's a breath of fresh air for most clients, who are used to sterile business meetings with stuffy executives.

  • Nurture your relationship with them. Even if they aren't paying you for work, check in with them regularly for reasons other than to request money. Even business owners just need a friend to talk to, sometimes.

  • Become an expert in their business, on your own time. Do what you can to learn their process, why they take the approaches they do, and where their existing faults are. This will help accentuate their positives and steer away from their present short-comings, until they can grow beyond them!

  • Talk to them about their future goals, where they want to expand too and problems they are facing. Do what is in your power to help them reach them.

Illustration: Creative direction is paramount

Explain to them the direction you are taking, and why:

  • Back all of your designs with facts and inspiration, applying to the scope of the project. All of your materials should be grounded in research.

  • Tell them how the design will impact and reach their target audience. Or, better yet, be prepared to show them the impact through previous case-studies or on-going UX studies.

  • Always start with sketching/wireframing. Don't get too ahead of yourself and create the design on first pass. It's better to hammer out ideas in broad-strokes, prior to committing too heavily to them. This will save a lot of headaches between you the client, when reviewing work.

Illustration: Wireframes and prototypes

Show them your work in a more appealing way:

  • Don't show them a simple JPEG or PNG in an email of the final design, try and mock it up so they can see how it will be used in the real world. Most non-designers have a hard time picturing results in the wild, so showing them is always helpful.

  • Prepare your case-study while you work. Clients like to see everything in one place. Showing them the research, sketches, and final results in one neat location will help them sync up with your mindset. You don't have to use the case-study in the end, but it's an invaluable tool for demonstration.

  • If you're working in UI, create an interactive prototype. It's laborious, but semi-functional designs are a lot more self-explanatory than flat images. Fortunately, tools like Figma, Sketch, and Adobe XD make this a breeze.

Next time you are with a new client remember to keep these ideas in mind. In Vulcan's history, these tips have helped us gain more creative freedom over time. Going this route also develops your professional persona, and will get you ore desirable, higher-paying clients in the long run.

As Michael Bierut once said,

"If you do good work for good clients, it will lead to other good work for other good clients. If you do bad work for bad clients, it will lead to other bad work for other bad clients."