5 Simple Steps To Walk Clients Through The Design Process

Walking Clients Through The Design Process

Build A Better Client Experience

Whether you are a web designer, an architect, or a freelance designer, your clients come to you to turn their vision into reality. However, being a skilled designer is only half the battle. Having the right design process is crucial for delivering an excellent client experience and building a strong relationship with your clients.

As a designer, your clients seek you out for your design expertise and guidance. As an engineer, I have years of first-hand experience with the design process and how to take a project from concept to reality. 

These are 5 of the most important steps you can take to deliver an excellent client experience.

Step 1: Get to Know Your Client

Get to Know Your Clients

Your clients might work across a variety of industries. Whether you are a digital designer or a structural engineer, you might work with a client that deals with insurance, healthcare, food services, or heavy industry. 

Each and every client is going to be unique in some way or another. Taking the time to learn about their business, understand their daily frustrations, and being able to recognize where you and your design can help them is an important first step. 

Showing your interest in their business not just from a micro design perspective sets you apart from the competition. Knowing about upcoming design trends and having a pulse on the industry will allow you to have meaningful conversations and ask great questions.  

Step 2: Learn Their Project

Sitting down with your client to talk about their project for the first time is exciting. There are lots of ideas buzzing around the room and people are excited to get started. Learning their project is more than listening to what they need, you need to dig another layer deeper and understand the “why” behind their project. 

Why does the client need this new digital product? Why is this insurance firm expanding their building? Understanding their “why” will help you make your own design decisions with the client’s needs in mind. Remember you are being trusted by them for your expertise to make decisions and recommendations based on their end needs. 

This means you might be faced with decisions you need to make with their interest in mind like making a particular web design selection because you know your client is focused on the elderly and this selection is easy to read or navigate. The topic didn’t specifically come up with your client, but you understand their end goal and use your expertise to guide your project to the best solution for them. 

Now, there is also the business side of digging deep and learning as much as you can about their project. 

Whether you have been or will be in a preliminary design meeting, chances are you have experienced a point in a discussion where your client uncovers a new aspect of their project. Something that they haven’t thought about yet. What does that mean for you? Additional work or a change of work. 

These are valuable conversations to have regardless of if they are solved on the spot or not because it helps you capture or at least know that you need to include this in your design. It’s a lot easier to get these items out in the open at the start so your client knows the fee associated with each item than to have to continue to go back and ask for more money later. 

Step 3: Define The Project

Define the Project

After you and your client have sat down and worked out the extent of their project, it’s time to figure out your scope and fee. Your scope and fee will be tightly tied together so making sure you are very clear on what services you are providing is a crucial skill to master. 

Your Scope

Defining a tight scope can take time and practice. Neglecting to properly define the scope of your project can lead to “scope creep” or a situation where you end up doing more work on non-contractual aspects than you budgeted for. This is really just a fancy way of saying doing extra work for free. 

How can you write a tight scope? Simply lay out everything you are going to do and what you are going to provide them. These do not have to be novels but should be specific enough that you get your point across and can clearly define your roles and responsibilities on a project. 

For instance, if you are a structural engineer writing a scope of work for a new building, let’s say a small restaurant, you might have scope items defined as the following, 

We (company name), will provide the following services:

  • Provide structural design of ### square foot building using applicable codes and procedures. 
  • (any changes to the building footprint can be a change of scope)
  • The design will be completed using conventional steel framing and spread footings. 
  • (if the material or foundations are changed, that’s potentially a change of scope)
  • Provide additional design considerations for future expansion.
  • (sometimes you will have special items that the client will ask you to look at, adding a scope item for this is helpful to define what you will be, and won’t be doing)
  • Provide construction documents for use by the contractor, selected by the owner. 
  • (defining who will be dealing with the general contractor, if it is you, that’s either an additional service or stated in this line)
  • Construction documents will be provided in pdf format, stamped by a licensed professional engineer in the state of ABC.
  • (stating the form of delivery for the project)
  • Provide assistance during construction in the form of submittal review, contractor questions, and (#) site visits. 

(defining how you will help during construction, and the number of site visits you attend. If a client asks you to go above and beyond, this is an additional service)

Yes, there are probably things missed from an engineering standpoint in this scope of work, but hopefully, this helps you understand the importance of defining your scope. 

Your Fee

You will need to come up with your own fee, based on your own business. Rely on past project experience to help come up with your number. If you are training new employees, learning a new program, or if the project has some unique design features, it’s important to give yourself a buffer to deal with these areas.

Don’t forget to take into account the client you are dealing with. Some clients can require more attention than others. If you find yourself with a client that you know asks for more meetings or requires you to write more emails or long phone calls, consider increasing your contingency for unknowns. 

Step 4: Develop The Project

Develop the Project

As designers and engineers, this is the fun part for us, right? The actual design and development of the project. Using the skills we gained through school or on the job to help others is rewarding.

Make sure while you are working on the project that you are iterating through each aspect and keep your client in mind. Remember this isn’t about you, it’s about your client. Take time to make sure it’s the best solution for the price and for the end goal of your client.

Providing your client with review opportunities along the way or having regular check-in meetings can save you a lot of rework at the end of the project. 

Depending on the size of the project, you might have a check-in or a review set at 50%, 75%, and 90% completion. You might have meetings weekly to go over everything that is happening on a large project. 

It’s also a good idea to keep your client informed, even at a high level, about how things are progressing. If you haven’t reached out to them in a week or so, consider just giving them a “hey just wanted to let you know we are making progress on this. We can send you something to look over next week”. If anything, this just gives them confidence that you aren’t sitting on their project, and even though things are quiet, you are still progressing the project forward. 

Step 5: Deliver The Project

The days leading up to your project deliverable date can be hectic. Sweating over a tightening budget. Trying to make sure you have all your client’s requests and last-minute changes incorporated. Don’t forget about product testing and quality control reviews. All this happens with the growing sense of feeling like you forgot something, even if you didn’t.

But once the project is delivered, a great feeling of accomplishment sets in and you and your team finally have a minute to catch your breath and celebrate. 

Some important things to consider for this step:

Meet your deadlines. Unless you have a good reason (and the client agrees the reason is valid) meeting a deadline is one of the most important traits in keeping your clients happy. Remember step one and how you need to learn about your client?

Your client has other goals and deadlines they are trying to meet and your design project is a stepping stone in their goals. Not meeting their timeline not only doesn’t look good, but it also sets them back from their work also. 

Another thing to consider relative to your scope and fee is that no matter if you are delivering a web design, a new construction project, or a user experience design in an app, your product might not be a physical product, but it should be treated as one. 

Changing something here and there as a favor is ok, but major rework without payment can significantly hurt your bottom line. If you asked your contractor to tear down the porch they built behind your home and change it would they do it for free? Probably not.

Your design work should be considered no different. 

My Final Take

These tips lay the groundwork for providing an excellent client experience. These steps will help you understand your client and their project, define your scope of work, how you will complete the design, and also how important your delivery is and what it can affect beyond the deliverable date. 

I will leave you with one last piece of advice.

We live in the digital age. People are starved for human connections. When we reach out to businesses, we reach automatic phone directories, we get auto-generated emails, and we even order food from a computer. There is a human aspect of business that seems to be missing these days. 

Always try to deliver a personal and human connection for your clients. This can set you apart from the digital world we live in today. 


Joe Mac

Joe is an engineer, designer, content creator, and writer with a passion for the outdoors, woodworking, and training horses. When he is not developing websites or helping people bring their ideas to life, you can find him in the woods, in the saddle, or creating interesting and helpful content. Learn more about Joe at his website: Thejoemac

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