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The beauty of the Internet is that if you’re looking for something, chances are it’s out there already. Just in case it isn’t, this article is my take on the common pitfalls facing creatives when it comes to the cold hard business of interacting with something other than a keyboard or slate.

Listening

Just like me to get to the important bit right off the bat; communication is not to be sniffed at, as it is not the easiest thing in the world to describe something that doesn’t exist then get someone to buy it. If you don’t believe me have a look at church attendance figures.

I might be generalising but creatives tend to talk in creative while clients speak English (read money).

“Give me solutions, not problems” I hear you say, or was that the penguin beside you. Well for starters the important thing is to listen to your client because it’s not really about you, it’s about them. They don’t need to know about that amazing site you designed that featured some really cool animation, all they want to know is if you can create something useful for them. Apart from that, the more you listen, the more you get to know your client and in turn what they want before they even spell it out for you.

Now speak

Now you’ve listened you need to feedback – in English or at least your client’s language; they want to know if you understand what they want and more importantly, if you can deliver it. This is your chance to be honest and helpful. Let them know what you can do for them, what you can’t and in most cases, what you shouldn’t deliver for them. If your client is adamant he or she wants you to design a website with orange text on a green background you should be explaining why you shouldn’t, but as with everything, you need to have ready a convincing argument.

Keep talking

OK, so you got the job (woo hoo!) but it doesn’t stop there, you need to keep the conversation going and your client updated. The number of times I’ve heard of designers who after the initial meeting was over, never once spoke to their client until the job was finished, delivered the job late and in some instances the result was not quite what the client was expecting.

Let the client know what’s happening with the project, how well (or otherwise) it’s going and exactly what you need from them for it to be a success.

I’ve dealt with a number of design agencies who try to impress at the initial pitch by bringing in people who don’t work for them, give you the impression they do and when things start to go pear shaped don’t let you know, and try to fix it themselves. It always ends in tears.

The tools

It’s good to talk, so start with the telephone. In this business however, having things in writing never did any harm and reduces the risk of communication failure so yes, document what you can. Ever since I came across Basecamp it changed the way I work with clients. It allows us to have all our conversations in one place, all the files used and the calendar is great for planning. I think its strongest feature is the audit trail it provides – “I think you’ll find that on so and so date you did say use the picture of the multicoloured zebra” – trumps ’em every time. Basecamp integrates nicely¬†with your email so you rarely have to visit the site and login to interact its great for technophobes, I mean clients.

Once I get declassification status on some of my interesting experiences of being on either end of the client/creative relationship, I’ll share. Promise.