How to Get Your Ideas Across to Clients

How to Get Your Ideas Across to Clients

We know all too well the common and frustrating design scenarios clients present us with, such as wanting us to stretch images disproportionally, cramming as much information as possible in a small space so that you need a magnifying glass to read the text, or brushing off design best practices. Yet we seem to always have the same flat rebuttals to throw back, and furthermore, we repeat them time and time again.

I’d like to share with you two quotes that have helped me deal with getting my ideas across to clients.

"Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand."

– Chinese Proverb

"You only need three guiding principles: show up, tell the truth and be on time."

Brian Matt, Founder/CEO, Altitude, Inc.

I’ve come to realize that in order to drive the point home, you have to evolve your method of communication. From the two quotes above, I have narrowed down four key points that we should always keep in mind when briefing and dealing clients.

Be Honest, Brief and Direct

Be Honest, Brief and Direct

Your relationship with a client can be compared to any other relationship: if there is no trust, you will not be able to communicate effectively. I urge you to let clients know before signing a contract that–as a professional designer–you have boundaries, that you will be very candid in your responses, and most importantly, that you are offering design consulting as a service, not as a thoughtless product factory.

Say something like this:

"I don’t believe this will be effective to reach your goal, it will actually hinder it – I’ll tell you why, and then show you how we can improve on your concept."

Instead of humoring your client like this:

"Um… yeah that won’t be a problem, I’m sure I can get it to work…oops, no it didn’t work, let’s go back and maybe try something else?"

You grab their attention by stating your point first, elaborating on it briefly, and then summing it up with a positive note. By doing this, you get your main concern or idea across without wasting your breath on details or redoing a mock-up because you were too passive.

Identify a problem and present alternative solutions and ideas.

Involve and Engage the Client

Involve and Engage the Client

Wearing the hat of an expert in anything almost always doubles as that of an educator. You have to be meticulous when showing what you mean, you want to make sparks fly.

Here are three scenarios to illustrate:

Lab Experiments

Let’s say, for example, that you’re designing an email campaign and you want to show the client why it’s better to use eblast software X over eblast software Y. The best way to answer the question of "Why this?" is by setting up trial accounts for software X and software Y and having them try each software.

By letting the client experience first hand the difference between ‘cheap but bulky‘ vs. ‘user-friendly but slightly more expensive‘ (for example), they will appreciate you for being candid and for engaging them in the decision-making process regardless of what eventually ends up being the choice of software.

Show and Tell

Recently I was stuck recreating a corporate board presentation modeled after an outdated design. During proofs, I made two versions of the presentation: one version adapted to my standards, and one version that was quite literally what they asked for.

That way, I covered my bases by giving them what they want, but I also managed to put in my two cents; I’m able to show the pros and cons of their concept versus my concept in a way that they can actually see.

This approach works well when it doesn’t take too much time and effort to do so.

In Another’s Shoe

How about the "horribly stretched and pixelated photo" scenario? Clients might not be able to notice the issues with pixelated images as easily as you or me, but they would definitely react to them if they were to see a photo of their own face being stretched out and pixelated. Wouldn’t they?

The point here is not to frustrate or embarrass your client, but to figure out a way to relate the goal to them personally so that it makes more of an impression.

The key is to make a connection to reduce the chances of clients ignoring your advice and bridging the gap of understanding between a creative mind and an end-user.

As a designer, you need to be creative not only while creating the design, but also when you’re presenting it to the client.

Be the Professional that You Are

Be the Professional that You Are

This usually goes without saying, but it doesn’t hurt to state it again once in a while – you’re a professional, so look and act like it.

Dress the Part

Being professional not only means that you know your profession inside and out and that you make a living out of your expertise, but it also means you put in effort to present yourself as such when meeting with a client. This can be anywhere from dressing up in a suit and tie or wearing an attire that will impress your clients.

Be Prepared

Preparation and being resourceful will more than likely gain you respect and leverage with your clients. You will find yourself less nervous, and you’ll have more current and cognizant examples handy during your discussions.

In turn, you will find that clients will listen and be more responsive to you because you are showing that you care enough to prep yourself and that you know what you’re doing.

Utilize Effective Communication Techniques

Utilize Effective Communication Techniques

Psychology plays a big part in how you communicate with your clients (or anybody for that matter). I’ll briefly mention a couple of techniques that have worked for me in the past.

Smiling on the Phone

Smile when talking to a client over the phone — they can hear it. How you react when answering the phone resonates a vibe. Ever call someone while they’re running late or when they’re fuming because they’re stuck in traffic? The vibe you give out will either encourage the client to be more receptive and at ease, or more defensive and guarded.


Mirroring is a psychological method that works for me when sitting face to face with a client. By reflecting your clients’ movements and gestures, you can show a sense of empathy and understanding. Doing a little bit of homework on effective communication methods will really help in improving your interaction with clients. Here are some resources you should check out:

In Summary

Any scenario of briefing a client will be unique based several factors such as the personalities during the meeting, how effective you are at communication, and the messages you’re trying to share. However, patiently tuning into the correct wavelength and adopting positive practices never fails.

Using these four key concepts gives me the confidence and leverage to break through to many people, especially with my clients.

What methods have worked for you? Are they similar, different? Care to share a scenario where communication methodology got you through? Join the discussion in the comments.

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About the Author

Fatima Mekkaoui, aka Imokon, strives to help small businesses develop a commanding brand and online presence and educate them about it. To get in touch, visit her site or send a tweet @Imokon.

This was published on Nov 2, 2009


Stefan Holt Nov 02 2009

Good stuff. I’ll have to remember the concept of “mirroring.” Could you elaborate on how you might apply these concepts in a presentational type setting with 5-20 people? Thanks for the info

AtomWorks Nov 02 2009

Great article although personally I find the technique of mirroring one that can come across unnatural and can really wierd a client out if it’s being done consiously!

Roberto Nov 02 2009

Excellent article. I guess the first thing to do before getting our ideas across, is to listen and understand.

Jacques//An1ken Nov 02 2009

Really great article and to the point. Their are a lot of different ways to get your Ideas across to clients, some work better than others. It all depends what techniques you use to get the job done.


Chris Coyier Nov 02 2009

OMG I always try to follow these steps!

I think this site is so awesome! Maybe a possible interview again?

Thanks for making the interwebs what they are!

KDzyne Nov 02 2009

Very good article Imokon!

Awesome article! I’m going to put this to use.

DJ Designer Lab Nov 03 2009

Nice article. It really helps.

Good and timely reminder, I have found that dressing in a suit can be detrimental, I have had scenarios where clients don’t have faith in my design ability because I don’t “look” like a designer.. go figure.

Great article Fatima, I’ve share it with others on my Twitter

If only, tips like these were around when I first started. I wouldn’t have felt a bit off clients whenever I had these scenarios occurred.

Imokon Nov 03 2009

@Stefan Holt
I personally have not spoken to more than 5 people at a time for briefing but the general ideas are the same. I do however try to keep up on presentation trends by reading

@AtomWorks @Roberto

I definitely agree, it does not have to be straight out copy-catting or unnatural but the concept is to give the client room to speak and ‘relax’ while doing so.

Example, I am leaning forward if they are to give a “hush hush” “team huddle” vibe. Or I try to lean back in my chair if I see they are uneasy and you’ll notice they might ease up to that as mirroring works both ways – kind of like yawning.

Mirroring I believe is one of many common methods to listen better as well….hmm more article ideas bubbling up!

I agree to a point, maybe not full suit and tie when meeting with a trainer in the park to discuss a flyer but for me I dressed down once, all the way to flip-flops thinking I was going to a home to go through paperwork, and found myself at the local news station for a meeting.

To say the least I was very embarrassed :) Better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Federica Sibella Nov 03 2009

Good advices, thanks for sharing. I always try to smile and explain things to my clients as simple as I can, possibly using real examples, so that the client can compare alone the different opportunities and see what’s best. In my case, sometimes doing a demo on-the-fly (a little css adjustment or javascript code) during the meeting worked very well and impressed the client more than a long conversation.

Urban River Nov 03 2009

Excellent read, thanks!

Mario Paz Nov 03 2009

Very good article, little things that you “know” but somehow you forget when dealing with clients.

Ervin Ter Nov 03 2009

I am enjoying reading your article which are very true. Thanks.

Allen Nov 04 2009

Informative article. I am a designer, and one way I like to get an idea across is well simple showing visual aids. In web design projects I like to provide wireframes of possible layouts and maybe show off other websites to get a point across. It saves time, and points out likes and dislikes.

Storm Jarvie Nov 04 2009

Great article, you always think you have it right until you read an article like this which shows what you are missing in your arsenal. It’s definitely stocked in there now.

James Tang Nov 04 2009

“Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand.” is really great, I should always keep this in mind.

Leeds Nov 04 2009

Totally agree with all your comments, nice post :-)

stoke Nov 04 2009

Great Article. Some excellent tips! I have never been here before but am very impressed. Great read!

Webecta Nov 04 2009

Thanks for this great article, I’m sure that anyone looking to get into the freelancing/web designer fields will find it useful.

Being professional and honest are probably two of the main areas everyone needs to really work on in order to convince their clients they are the right person for the job.

Imokon Nov 04 2009

Thanks everyone, glad you’re enjoying the article!

Bowman Nov 04 2009

Maybe I’m lucky, but I’ve never been so desperate for money that I had to suck up to a client by smiling on the phone, wearing a suit, or mirroring their body posture or facial expressions. That’s some sleazy behavior in my book. It’s exactly what used car salesman do to you. If you have to suck up to your clients that much, you’re working for the wrong people.

Moses Adrien Nov 04 2009

Great Article indeed! :)

Imokon Nov 04 2009


I really appreciate your thoughts on this topic. That’s what it’s here for!

I agree that clients should never be treated with a stereotypical car salesman approach, and am regretful that that is what you had misinterpreted this article as.

Mucio Rodrigues Kidmann Nov 05 2009

Perfect! I’d like to mention “be personnel”. Even much better results.

Akbar Shah Nov 05 2009

Informative post… thanks

aneela Jabeen Nov 05 2009

Nice Article, it provides a clear guideline for new people and also help to clear some glitches that seniors did.
we some time some miner things and get in trouble.


Bhavesh Patel Nov 07 2009

excellent post.this could clear some myths

Farid Hadi Nov 14 2009

Thanks for an excellent article Fatima. This was really helpful and I’ll be trying out each of these techniques that you have mentioned here. I’m off to your site now to see what else I can learn from you.

Great decision to post this article on Six Revisions. Great work. Thanks!

MikeKey Nov 16 2009

This was an excellent write up, there have been times when I have been trying to express myself and I felt I was trying to explain my ideas to my dog. Thanks for this article.

Cairns Jan 19 2010

I always struggle with getting decent images from clients, at the end of the day some people just never get it.

samson Aug 26 2011

Very interesting articular…. thanks for sharing.. :)

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