Freelance Design Trial and Error: The “I-Don’t-Get-It” Client

Design school taught me the basics on how to use the right software, how to mock projects up, and the best practices of being a designer. They teach you to forget your style and try to be a blank canvas, as clean as possible to fit in with the corporate world, but they failed to mention what working as a freelancer would be like. The following are true client stories about how I learned through trial and error the best and worst practices of being a freelancer.

The “I-Don’t-Get-It” Client

My second client was actually paid but had the severe “friends and family” discount rate. Her company provided online education to brokers, a very corporate and somewhat dry subject, which was completely out of my comfort zone.

We spoke over the phone several times, talking about what her company did, who they did it for and what kind of “feeling” she wanted people to get when they saw the logo. Unfortunately the “feeling” she wanted was much more exciting that what the company actually did. I started to sense a disconnect happening but thought against vocalizing my concerns.

Since my previous client, I had learned about writing contracts and copywrite laws. I used some resources and drew up a simple one-pager contract for her to sign. After some minor tweaks, we were good to go. There’s a certain sigh of relief that comes over you once you have an agreement signed and locked in.

I put together a thorough design brief with mood boards for each “descriptive word” we discussed and sent it in an email. Unfortunately not everyone understands designer speak, and the pages of collaged pictures was lost on her. In retrospect, I might have given her too much to look at. Maybe I even used the wrong imagery. Making moodboards actually requires heavy scrutiny over every single image added. One wrong image will throw the whole feeling off. Because she didn’t understand where I was going with the moodboard, I never had her “sign off” on the brief and I ended up spending most of my time in the sketches phase. After 4 rounds, we finally landed on the mark they wanted. Overall, I worked hard for little pay, but I like to think that the lessons mattered more than any payment I could have received.

Lesson Learned:

Get to know your client and how they think and process information. Not all clients can look at an image and see the abstract idea behind it. Some need to “see it to know it” and others need explanations written in black and white.

Don’t give your client too much of your process. It will only confuse them.

Be clear about your design process and get them to sign off on the design brief. Make sure they understand and agree with the style, mood, feeling you’ve chosen. If they don’t like what you’ve done later, or suggest a different direction, you can point to the design brief and say “but this is what you signed off on”.

Include instructions. If you’re sending a pdf off with a bunch of sketches and you wont be there to explain your work, include a small blurb explaining why you choose what. (as simply and short as possible).

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