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Two Types of Graphic Design Clients

by Steve Zelle, Graphic Designer, Ottawa Canada

I wince when hearing a potential branding client say “I know what I want”. This phrase is quickly followed with an explanation describing how this knowledge will make the project quick and easy. The monologue is then wrapped up with a plea for reduced costing.

Two Types of Graphic Design Clients

Experience with these branding projects has proven they—almost without fail—result in time consuming and frustrating exercises. Perhaps more important, these ‘easy’ projects provide little opportunity. There is no opportunity for creativity, growth, creating a strong client-designer relationship, developing an effective solution, making a difference to the client’s business, or to be proud of your work.

On the other hand, when a client asks for help—and is open to receiving it—anything is possible. My willingness to invest time and energy soars along with my interest in the project. This openness increases the ability to achieve success for both client and designer.

What makes me flinch more than a branding client saying “I know what I want”?

A graphic designer daring to say “I know what you need” before looking to the client for help, and demanding their involvement in the process.

I believe that to increase the potential success of any project, there also needs to be increased opportunities for both client and designer.

Has your experience with the phrase “I know what I want” been similar or different to mine? Share your thoughts below.



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Please add your thoughts to the 6 notes about ‘Two Types of Graphic Design Clients’

  1. Ian Vadas says:

    Nice post Steve. The only thing worse than that is hearing a client say “I’ll know it when I see it”. Which is always a red flag, and usually means the exact opposite of that statement.

    • Steve Zelle says:

      Ian, “I’ll know it when I see it” is also a very telling statement that means “many changes ahead”. I have found that getting a firm agreement on a solid written creative direction (before developing visuals) has helped with this.

  2. gariphic says:

    Steve, interesting post and wholeheartedly agree with your comments. When new prospective clients tell me that they know what they want, what in fact i hear is that they want a design monkey, someone just to bring their ideas to life. That’s a shame as designers do more than create pretty visuals. What we do is solve problems. Clients need to understand what we can offer.

    • Steve Zelle says:

      Hi Gary. True. I am sure some ‘designers’ are happy to simply act as a tool for their clients but I don’t think they end up providing anything more than button pushing. Creative thinking is one of (if not the main) reason a client should engage with a designer—and that requires interaction and the ability to have input. Thanks for taking a moment to comment.

  3. css menu says:

    Help me clients are easy to handle then other

  4. Ben says:

    Great post Steve, and totally agree.
    When I know a client is coming to me because they trust not only my practical skills and ability, but my creativity, eye and passion then I move towards the edge of my seat in excitement.
    It’s so encouraging to have clients who come to you because they know your work or style and want that for them or their organisation.

    On the flip-side, and more common with friends or associates, clients may come to you because you are a designer. They haven’t the skills or ability do vectorize, create composition or have the design software and so use you as a puppet or a middle man between what they know they want in their head and having that produced in reality. This is very frustrating! Choking any sense of creativity or imagination.

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