Managing Expectations

Are you a design professional? Even if you’re not, you probably know a little bit about, or have had experience with, managing client expectations. Everyone manages expectations on a daily basis whether we realise it or not, and one of my favourite axioms is that a resentment is really nothing more than an unmet expectation. Wise, right?

I’ve had a few interesting conversations lately both with design professionals and potential clients. The chat with the pro (an interior designer) went something like this: “I want to be more clear about the design services I offer. Clients hire me and they think they’re going to get a whole house designed when the package I offer is really per room. Then they’re angry when I don’t deliver.” Unmet expectations! What is the solution to this? Communication is really the key, although I will be the absolutely first to tell you that people hear and see what they want to see. You could have a flashing neon sign that outlines exactly what a client will be getting, and they still have a vision in their head that they can’t let go.

“The greatest gift for a design professional is a reasonable, well-informed client who has done her research. A good client makes a good designer which makes a great end product!”

If you’re an interior designer, or really any type of designer, you most likely offer a contract or scope of work. This is important, because you always want something to refer back to when that unpleasant conversation comes up: “Well, I thought you were going to do this, this and that too.” So keep something written, or have clear, written terms on your site of what you will deliver. You can’t force people to comprehend this, but at least you have something solid to base that discussion on should it arise.

The other thing I’ve noticed about potential clients in all areas of design is they truly have no idea what something should cost. Like, none! And trust me, I’m the same. Like when it comes to cars. I know a Maserati is expensive, and I know it looks good, but under the hood I straight up could not tell the difference between a Maserati and a Ford. They function the same, they get you from place to place, but really, what is the difference? Apparently, I’m right, and it’s mostly under the hood, the unseen stuff. So a client sees a room by celeb interior designer Kelly Wearstler, and it looks amazing, but overall, it’s really just a room with some stuff in it right? So why can’t you (insert your name here, designers), deliver the same room? I’m sure most designers have been in this position no matter what your speciality.

I also recently had a great conversation with a potential client (I’m a graphic and web designer by trade). She had sent me a message with a list of her requests. She referenced some very high-end, expensive blogs and websites. She was super clear with exactly what she liked about those sites. Now, at first glance, a lot of websites look the same (like the new Fords look a lot like Jags at first glance). And trying to match a general look and feel is fine (eg. if a client says they like the chic boho feel of the Anthropologie website, it tells me what type of graphics to incorporate). Overall look and feel is important and totally attainable (eg. “I want a clean blog, splashes of pink, sans serif font”). But the extensive customization, not always visible at first glance, is not always within my scope of work. That’s where managing expectations comes in.

The really cool thing about this exchange was I gently pointed out to this client that with all of the features she was wanting, she was probably looking at about a $20k site (oh yeah, and that’s on the cheaper side). And you know what was amazing? She came back to me and said that she had been reaching out to other designers, and that was exactly in the neighbourhood of quotes she was getting. She was so nice and she completely understood. Instead of being horrified at the cost, she had done the research and realized that though sites may look really similar, when you start getting into a lot of customization, the price tag goes way up, way fast.

And that was fantastic. I gave her a few tips of things she could implement on her own, clearly she did not hire me because I explained I wouldn’t be able to provide what she wanted and I did not want her to be angry or disappointed with the end result, but it was an enlightening exchange. I just really appreciated her being so understanding and able to “see what she couldn’t see” if that makes any sense. By being open-minded and willing to do the research, she will make a good client for someone, just not my company.

I know if you’re any kind of creative design specialist you encounter the same issues, because sometimes the product you’re delivering is not necessarily cut and dried (like if you’re an office supply company, you’re delivering 100 printers, and that’s that). But design is subjective so it’s harder to create a scope of work. But if you’re a potential client for any type of design service, shop around. If you see a site you love, see if you can find out who designed it (most designers add a link in the site footer). Get a quote from them. If you go visit a friend and their house looks amazing, find out who did it, and call her. Then call celeb designer Kelly Wearstler!. The more research you do, the more understanding you will have of what something should cost. At my company, I keep our prices well within reason. I want to give clients a great-looking website at price they can afford if they’re just a part-time blogger or small business owner. But because of this, I want clients to understand that they won’t be getting a $10k or $20k website. The greatest gift for a design professional is a reasonable, well-informed client who has done her research. A good client makes a good designer which makes a great end product!