Dear clients: here is how you can understand designers better

A new book from US-based graphic designer Bonnie Siegler looks to demystify the design process for clients and teach them how to communicate and work with creative people effectively.

There are many books, resources and articles available to help designers work with potential clients. How to do a compelling pitch; how to negotiate a fair fee; how to put together easy-to-understand brand guidelines. But doesn’t the client have some work to do, too?

Shouldn’t the client do some planning too?

US-based graphic designer Bonnie Siegler thinks so. Her new book, Dear Client: This Book Will Teach You How to Get What You Want From Creative People is aimed at teaching brand-side professionals the ins-and-outs of working with designers, from who to hire, to how to understand them – you’re “sensitive souls”, as Siegler says – to how to treat them right and realise their full potential.

Siegler is co-founder at Connecticut-based design studio Eight Point Five, and has worked on branding, website, editorial and print design projects for clients including Saturday Night Live, HBO and Random House.

This is not her first venture as an author – Siegler has also recently written another book called Signs of Resistance detailing the visual and graphic history of protest in the US, currently a popular topic being explored at London’s Design Museum.

Oprah Winfrey was the inspiration

Unexpectedly, it was Oprah Winfrey who inspired her to write her new book on clients. The designer was previously hired to design the talk show host’s new book. Expecting the celebrity to be a relentless perfectionist, sending back reams of corrections on first drafts, Siegler and her team were surprised to find that Winfrey allowed a “dialogue” between the two parties to develop that involved asking questions and raising concerns alongside positive feedback, rather than engaging in a one-sided monologue telling them what to do.

Siegler’s new book is a lesson that aims to encourage every potential client to adopt this democratic approach – not to demand with little justification, but to understand designers’ expertise and reasoning and come to a logical conclusion and compromise.

66 key points on the designer-client relationship

Dear Client is split up into brief, digestible chunks (like a design brief should be, you could say). Rather than lengthy chapters, Siegler makes 66 key points throughout the book, which each take up one double-page.

These points address challenges that arise from beginning to end of a project, ordered relatively chronologically, starting with delving into the personality and psyche of creatives.

This moves on to how clients can understand their audience and purpose; picking and reference-checking a design studio; communicating and meeting your design team;

This moves on to how clients can learn who their audience is and understand their brand’s purpose; how to handle awkward first phone calls; how to hire, reference-check and pay your design studio; how to work together on the design process; how to treat people; and how to handle taking and offering feedback, and how to “pick your battles”.

“Don’t piss on the creative”

Many of Siegler’s suggestions are blunt, to-the-point and straightforward. She goes so far as to recommend the client “doesn’t piss on the creative work” (in other words, mark their territory); tells them “[not to be] rude to my staff (no one likes a bully, she says); and pleads of them not to use jargon through a simply-compiled list of no-go phrases, including “shifting paradigms”, “outside the box” and “disruption”.

This isn’t the first time we have heard designers despair of corporate business buzzwords, as Pentagram partner Natasha Jen recently spoke about her disdain for the practice, as did Moving Brands’ creative director Sean Murphy.

But, aside from the straightforward advice focused on acting-like-a-good-and-normal-human-being, Siegler also provides some technical tips and advice that could really help a client-in-training.

How do you tell a designer you hate their work?

This includes advising against sending out a Request for Proposal (RFP) – a very severe vetting process for designers – which she renames Routinely Futile Paperwork; the importance of drawing up a formal, written contract; and how to have difficult conversations around hating the creative work.

While designer-client relationships will often be wrought with difficulties, power struggles and bureaucracy – not to mention last minute tweaks to final designs – there are ways to make that relationship more bearable, according to Siegler’s new book – and perhaps even enjoyable.


Dear Client: This Book Will Teach You How to Get What You Want From Creative People is available now through Artisan Books. For more info, head here.

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