The practice blog

How to Convince Your Client Your Design is the Best (or at least better than theirs by MILES) in 9 rock solid moves

One of the most jittery and crushing facts about a profession in design and architecture is that architecture and design are subjective. Not very subjective, a bit subjective, which is why it is hard. It would be so much better if they were very subjective, or subject to wild fantasies with no rules. But they are not. Both architecture and design have strict rules. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.

1/ Do not fear ideas 

Do you fear design because they will not like it or that it will not be perfect? Do you fear design because you are paid to do as you are told? Are you actually afraid of the client? It’s true. They are very intimidating. That’s why they are the client and you’re not. Always ask yourself what are you afraid of and why. Most might be irrational fears. My fear is not getting paid. In order to safeguard that, there are ways to ensure I will get paid (eg written agreements and constant barage of reminders month after month until your brain is falling out). However, I do not fear design itself because it is an anticipatory process. I predict the future and then I design it to cope with that prediction. Obviously, it may not be right but it will be close to it, because there is no such thing as right or wrong answer in design, writing, architecture, art and any creative industry. That’s the good news. You may celebrate now.

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2/ Win their trust

You were confident enough to win the job. This is half the battle. Enter the client:

The role of the client is two-fold: help you achieve your design and which in turn helps him/her/them achieve their design.

That is it. The fact that you are paid to do the second bit is because it’s a professional relationship. You can do it for love but the role of the client is still the same. They hired you because they want you. They know what you can do and already trust you (a bit). Even if you are dying inside, you must ensure there is NOT a jot of uncertainty or weakness. Give the right impression:

  • Totally maintain complete and utter confidence whenever you deal with the client.
  • Be professional, immaculate and smart.
  • Think before speaking, and speak in a clear, friendly language with no bullshit.
  • Do not touch anybody or anybody’s body. I don’t even shake hands unless they want to.
  • Look at them with your big eyes.
  • Write direct emails with no “hello”, “hi, how are you” nonsense. In my opinion, they are the most detested, hypocritical and cliched words in the English language used by charity muggers (chuggers) in the high street to stop you and clients can smell it from outer space. If you know where you stand, they’ll know where they stand.
  • Be nice but do not budge. Be budge-free. If you cannot respond, don’t respond straightaway. Make them wait. Make them laugh. Make them cry.
  • HOT TIP: Start observing sales assistants. How on earth did they get you on their side when you did not want any of the pile of 3 for 2 beauty products they peddled you (and they’re not even pretty)? Because they are just that tiny bit more confident than you.

Do all of the above 8 bullet points straightaway, today, do not plan on being confident, just do it now. The result is that the client will think: “Ivy or [insert your name] seems very smart and professional, she knows what she is talking about and I can trust her.”

design meeting 23/ Talk business and not design, i.e. talk about your other or previous jobs

Show them or talk about case studies. You are the authority on this. Deflect from their own problems which naturally they self-obsess over. People like to hear about similar situations and how other clients have gained from your successful design and failed from their own rubbish ideas. Describe your jobs with utter pride and satisfaction. You know how you did. You saved the client’s money. You got an unprecedented and challenging design through planning. Your successful jobs are your badges of business. Obviously you don’t have ANY unsuccessful jobs so there is no need to mention them.

4/ Remind them why you are hired (keep this ace up sleeve until very last moment)

Don’t brag. They know why they hired you but they may have to be kindly reminded when they start to overstep boundaries. I usually tell them I have been doing this for 300 years so I prefer no bullshit. Just kidding. Tell them you are a qualified professional and you have done X number of projects just like theirs which the clients are very happy with. Reassure them with your credentials. You do know what you are doing and they need to know that.

5/ Make it seem like it was their idea all along

Talk them through the idea and concept again. Bring up the original brief or purpose and how they were the ones who came up with the idea and concept. HOT TIP: This is an easy switch of attention because the world is our mirror. Their ego will help you with this step. What you said or did would have sunk in subliminally long ago and therefore they thought that they said or did it themselves and they will be so impressed they will thank you for this.

6/ Don’t challenge or dismiss them and don’t defend yourself

Just give them the facts. This is and was the brief and how you’ve achieved it point by point. “You wanted more light, this is what I have done to achieve more light.” “You wanted to save money, these are the cost-cutting measures taken.” Don’t challenge them by asking how have they saved money or how have they increased light? Obviously they could not and did not. They are the clients.

7/ Flatter them

Sometimes you cannot take a neutral or factual stance anymore. This is true for very stubborn clients. They have an obsessive mindset which bulldozes anything in its way. They will actually start to wreck the design because of the bulldozing process. For these cases, you can attend to their ego. You have to. As a temporary measure, you can praise them for what they are so good at: being reasonable, good at listening, good at paying you, good at making money etc. Every project has good points, even from the baddest clients. Think of 5 good points and raise them. Once they are on your side, you can put a stop to the bulldozing.

8/ Consider their point of view

Switch perspectives for a second and pretend that you are the client, just in case, they are right. Everybody makes mistakes and maybe you have made a mistake but you are not aware of it. If they are crying out for help and want you to do something that will affect the design, it is not too late to consider the facts yourself too, just as you have given them the facts in Item 6.

9/ Key examples of responses to scenarios:

Here are some useful responses which you may like to try.

  1. “I see your point. I really want to clarify how the current design already is in that direction.”
  2. “Your new ideas are missing some of the concepts you originally raised. In my version, I meet each of the project’s aims and I can show you point by point how I’ve done that.”
  3. “I appreciate your anxiety, and we can talk you through the current design. I do want to make this work and to alleviate your fears. I want to do this together.”
  4. “From a business perspective, there’s a lot of potential in the design as is. The changes you suggested, while good, could increase cost and time. And I know you are not keen on that.”
  5. “I think it is important to remember that those changes you listed could upset the design’s efficiency and the value of the project in these times. And times are hard now.” Or my favourite:
  6. “That’s just not practical.”

If you enjoyed this article, please share. As usual I would love to hear from you. All comment and feedback welcome.

Written by Ivy Ngeow B.Arch (Hons) MA RIBA © 2019 All rights reserved

Tweet me @ivyngeow

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photo credit: sculpture grrrl Begin of the winter season 2005 via photopin (license)