The truth about what clients look for in a designer

Have you ever wondered what makes a client choose one designer over another? Well, wonder no more, my friends. Today, I’d like to tell you the truth about what clients look for in a designer.

The myths

First, it’s important we understand a few of the myths that designers have come to believe about being hired by a client.

Myth 1: Clients only hire designers with years of experience
A lot of designers (mostly really new designers) think they don’t stand a chance to be hired by a client because they have no real experience under their belt. Don’t let this myth stop you from finding great clients who are looking for a young, fresh approach to their design process.

The truth is, a lot of clients would rather hire someone who feels like they have a lot to learn than someone who is set in their ways and stubborn.

Myth 2: Clients only hire designers who have a robust and versatile portfolio
Similar to the first myth, a lot of inexperienced designers think that unless they have the world’s best and biggest portfolio, no client is ever going to hire them.

On the contrary, choose a few really strong projects, highlight them effectively in a portfolio, and show them off with pride. If you do it right, a smart client will hire you.

Myth 3: Clients only hire cheap designers
A lot of designers feel like they have to have the best bargain in town in order for clients to hire them. The truth is, most clients are willing to pay a little more for quality design. Most clients are also willing to pay more money for a designer who is easy and enjoyable to work with.

Find ways to add quality to your client/designer relationship and you won’t have to lower your prices in order to get hired.

The truths

Truth 1: Clients look for designers who are responsible and easy to work with
Most clients (at least the ones worth working with) are more interested in the working relationship they will have with you than almost anything else. If they can’t work with you, if you won’t listen to them, or if you’re rude, they won’t care how great your designs look. You’ll never get hired.

From the get-go, make sure you present yourself as a responsible and agreeable person and you’ll be likely to get hired.

Truth 2: Clients look for designers who are respectful
There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, but when you deliberately insult, degrade, or talk down to your clients, you’ll quickly have a one-way ticket to unemployment.

Clients look for designers who respect their opinions and their business. Be respectful.

Truth 3: Clients look for designers who have the skills needed to complete their project well
You may not be the best designer in the world. In fact, it’s likely that you’re not. But your potential clients may not be looking for Mr./Ms. perfect. They are looking for someone who possesses the skills necessary to complete the job well.

That doesn’t just include design skills or a fancy portfolio either. They are looking for someone with good work ethic, a personable attitude, great project management skills, and superb people skills.

What else do clients look for in designers?

What other tips and pointers would you add to this list? If you were a client, what would you look for in a designer?

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Comments

  1. Velinda Iverson says

    Preston,

    Thank you for this article. It is comforting to know when going through self doubt that there is a chance for the newbies out there. I will save this article and re-read when needed. Thanks again.

    Velinda

  2. says

    These are some good points, Preston. I would add that clients are looking for reliable designer (on more than one occasion I’ve been hired to do a job that another designer flaked on), and smart clients are looking for a designer who understands their target market.

  3. says

    Awesome List, I’ve added some items below that I feel clients also look for.

    I think another thing clients look for in a designer is knowledge. They want to know if you know what your talking about. Especially if you are working for a client out of your area and just through email. Placing some of that knowledge on your website can be a bit of an advantage.

    Also don’t be afraid to show your client you are human. Maintain a professional level, but don’t act like a corporate stooge. They hired a freelancer for a reason, they want to work with someone on a personal level. If they want a corporation they would’ve went to a studio.

    The last thing I can think of is don’t be afraid to talk to clients via phone. I was apprehensive at first, I prefer email more than anything, but letting my clients have the opportunity to call me, makes them more comfortable. Especially if they are spending a lot of money. Encourage conversation through email (to keep track of your conversations) but let them know if they have questions they can call you. 9 times out of 10, they may call you once or twice, but they will speak through email.

  4. says

    All true…but designers also look for clients who are respectful and easy to work with. It sure makes the projects fun to work on when you work with great clients

  5. says

    Clients also look for designers who know how to communicate. This means replying to emails and phone calls in a timely manner, keeping them posted on the progress of their project, and asking questions when you aren’t sure what they want. Do those things, and they’ll recommend you to others, and come back to you again and again.

  6. Amelia Riera Chiong says

    Good tips, and that’s true! Some times technology and deadlines could limit you from sketching, but it’s something I can’t help to start a project and feel that a connection with a pencil in your hand and your brain make ideas to flow from one to another. My bosses always like my sketches rather than what some artist interpreted. I ended doing not only my body designs but my art too.
    *I’m a fashion designer for Children’s Wear Industry and I was let go recently due to a cut in Design Dept after more than 20 years.

  7. says

    I totally agree with what’s been said. I remember when I was looking for a job and have this doubt inside me that tells me I’m never gonna get this job because I still have no experience. I tried my luck and thankfully I was hired. Clients are willing to help out if they see your potential in what you are doing and have the discipline on your work ethics.

  8. says

    Good advice overall, with one exception. As a freelancer for over 30 years, I was not pleased to hear experienced designers indirectly characterized as “set in their ways and stubborn.” Excuse me? Do you think you can stay in the game this long and get away with that kind of attitude? I have found it far more likely that an inexperienced creative will tend to be dogmatic about the “best” design solution, due to a lack of real-world experience. The remark also flies in the face of your Truth #2: Be Respectful. That needs to be practiced with colleagues as well as clients.

    • D. Schmidt says

      As a new-comer to the design world, I have to agree with you: there is no substitute for experience. In fact, I think the “stubborn” attitude to which the author refers, might in fact be that the experienced designer 1) knows that the client does not know the best way to express its message (and to the right audience, no less), and 2) actually knows enough about the industry to say that such-and-such is a repeating trend, probably from 30-40 years ago, or that aforementioned trend is out of date or misleading.
      All in all, I think this article offered some important knowledge about entering the field of graphic design. Nevertheless, experienced designers not only blaze (or harden) trails, but new designers like myself can learn from you and others. After all, experienced designers have not only moved design through the ages, but also provided a challenge for new (and motivated) designers to push the envelope of creative solutions.

  9. says

    Hey Preston, it’s good article! I had a situation which may confirm your words. I’m quite new in the industry Polish designer based in Preston, UK, but I had a job to do for company based in Poland only because the owner of the company looked a designer abroad. He didn’t want to employ someone from Poland, and was very surprised when he found my website, that there was Polish guy working in UK, and he gave me the job. Job’s done, client happy. That’s it :)
    cheers

  10. says

    You have a really good list.

    On my case, I am a new designer as well but that its a huge plus for me. I live in a expensive and competitive city. There are lots of well stablished designers out there..Bottom line, I am a freelancer and I can offer my clients some great pearks that some large firms can’t such as free parking (I live 5 minutes away from downtown)

    I know that is not a huge thing, but most of my client love it. Of course I am also following the basic rules mentioned above..

    If I would add one more to the list would be the fact that they can skip the “middle man’s cost” a huge savings of up to 30% in some cases..

    Take care,

    DJ Perez

  11. says

    The one thing that upset me about hiring a graphic artist for my book cover was the lack of “upfrontness” with what needed to be done, i.e. they asked for “everything you’ve got” regarding my book. I had not clue as to what I needed to have in order to give to them.

    I was writing my book at the time and I was so upset with their handling of this that I wrote four pages in my book on how to handle it: create a document to give to them that outlines how you will work with them and your “boundaries.”

    I fired them soon after I wrote my piece.

    Here’s to gaining and keeping new clients going forward.

    Kevin

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