Dazed & Confused: How to Keep Your Clients in the Know

Ever had a confused client? Not double-shot-of-espresso confusion, but the “what’s a wireframe?” or “why are you spending all my money?” type of confusion. You can offer them lightning-fast shots of clarity by preparing timelines, defining purpose, and setting expectations. It’s quite simple actually.

It’s Not Brain Surgery

First we must ask, why might a client become confused? Harvey Schaefer wrote this gem of an article in which he reminds us that clients are not expert designers or programmers. A brain surgeon wouldn’t use complex medical terminology to describe a surgery to his patient, just like we wouldn’t expect a client to be able to interpret lines of complicated code.

Clients might also become confused by:

  • The purpose of an exercise or asset
  • Terminology
  • What type of feedback to give or withhold
  • Where they’ve been, are, and are going in the process of the project
  • The lack of a project timeline
  • How to garner feedback or present work to coworkers or stakeholders

Figure out where your client’s points of confusion might be, then actively work to structure clarity for them.

Be a Girl (or Boy) Scout

So how do you begin to ease the fears and confusion of your client?

Be prepared.

Prepare either a document or a statement to help them understand where the project currently sits within your process, then define the step of that process, the purpose of that step, and the type of feedback you hope to receive from them. Also, make sure to keep that doc up-to-date as the project progresses.

Now… let’s break it down:

1. Create a Timeline

Each time you meet with your client, help them understand where in the process they are. Include broad process titles, deliverables that might accompany each step, due date of your delivery, and due date of their feedback. Some do this in the form of burn-up charts, and others may use Trello boards. No matter the form, make sure you deliver a timeline of events and let them know where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you’re going.

2. Define the Steps

Many clients have no clue what “Information Architecture” means. It’s your job, as a newly-minted UX/Design/Dev educator, to teach them. Write out a brief definition and maybe even show some quick neutered examples of what deliverables might look like for that step.

3. Explain the Purpose

After you’ve described the steps, explain the “why” behind each one—the purpose of each step and what you hope to gain after you’ve completed it. Omit defining purpose and your well-laid plans may crumble.

4. Orchestrate Feedback

The right feedback can make or break a project. Help your clients understand what type of feedback is appropriate for the current step of your project. For example, you don’t want to hear about how the fonts “aren’t working” during a wireframe review. Nor would you want to completely re-work a site map during a UI review. Each step in the process has a purpose; help them understand that purpose, and then tell them exactly what you do and do not want to hear when they send back their thoughts.


Designers Must Be Educators

In order to be a successful product lead, you must also be an excellent educator. The two are intertwined (at least they should be), and if you feel differently I’d argue that you might be in the wrong business. Fortunately with a little forethought, an open and empathetic mind, and a few extra pages of documentation, your clients should be whistlin’ show tunes in no time. And I really like show tunes.

Pop Quiz!

I would love to know how you battle the haze of client confusion. Take this quick quiz (seriously, it should take you 2 minutes) and let me know your experience. I’ll post results in a follow up article, with best practices for common pain points.