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The Importance of Listening to Our Clients

by Kevin F. on May 20, 2014

I think most of us in the design profession have had those moments when we feel like we know what’s best for everyone on the project.  We clearly see the solutions that make the most sense to us and we want to go with it.  It seems simple, easy, and clear in our mind.  But it’s not what the client wants.  We know our solution is better than what the client is asking for.  After all, we’re the professional, right?  We’ve had the training and education, not the client.  He just doesn’t understand.  So, we push our client to our solution, even though it might not be what he or she wants.  Or we take matters into our own hands and “just do it the way we think it needs to be”.  Now take a minute to think back about how that worked out in the end.  Typically, not very well!  Why is that?  Our solution was a beautiful design; it was the soundest engineering solution.  It was exactly what our project needed.  Only one problem, it wasn’t really what our client wanted and in the end they were not really happy.
 
There are a lot of reasons our clients’ opinions differ from ours.  Their vision for the work, budgets, timeframes, political pressures, etc.  There can be any number of issues that we don’t know about or simply can’t see from their perspective.  That’s the whole point.  As designers and consultants we need to understand every issue possible on a project; it’s our job!  Understanding where our client is coming from; and what they are basing their decisions on is one of the most important aspects.  
 
When I graduated from Ball State, I had all kinds of great ideas about project design.  I was going to show everybody my “brilliance” through the wonderful designs I could create.  There was just one thing (well probably more than one) that my professors forgot to tell me about.  My opinion didn’t count nearly as much as the people that I worked for.  You know, the ones with the money.  Often times, their focus is not solely on the design as mine was.  There are many others that influence their decisions.  I learned this lesson very quickly, mostly through early failures.   The point is one of the most important things on a project is to truly understand your client.
 
On almost every project we work on as professionals, our job is to be a consultant.  That means understanding EVERY aspect of the project, our clients included.  Below are a few questions I think are important to ask our clients before the start of every project. 
  • What is your ultimate vision for this project?
  • What are 3 things this project needs to accomplish for it to be a success in your eyes?
  • What is the project timeframe?  When does it need to be completed?
  • What is your budget?
  • How is the project being funded?
  • How are you going to use the spaces created?
  • Are there any political factors involved?
  • What are the most important things to you?
 
These questions help us understand where he or she is coming from and what they’re basing their decisions on.  In my experience, the more we get to know about our clients’ needs in the beginning, the more successful our project will be in the end.