The initial meeting with the client is arguably the most important part of any design project. A successful first meeting can guarantee a successful outcome and a strong long-term relationship with your client. An unsuccessful one can doom the project to failure (or at least lead to unnecessary complications) from the start. Keep in mind that not all clients know what it takes to run a successful initial meeting. Sometimes you, as a designer, must take charge. When running that first project kick-off meeting make sure to avoid these seven common mistakes that some of us make.
1. Don’t come unprepared.
The worst thing you could ever do as a designer (especially if you are a freelancer or a contractor) is to come to the initial meeting unprepared. Make sure to do your careful research beforehand! Learn as much as you can about the company itself, the industry they are in, the competitors. The more information you learn now, the more confident you will feel when discussing the project with the client for the first time. What is more, having done your initial research, you will probably come up with questions. Make sure to note them down (as well as all other noteworthy information) and bring your notes to the meeting.
Once again (I can’t stress this enough) — do your research. You will feel good because you have done your homework. Your client will feel good, because they will see that you care.
2. Don’t forget to invite ALL the stakeholders.
I have made this mistake once. The client hasn’t invited this one guy from the sales team to the kick-off meeting. I haven’t insisted. As a result — I designed the website (thank God it was only a one-page marketing site for the main product). After the design was discussed with and approved by the client, I got a call from the very upset above-mentioned sales guy, saying that the sales strategy he had in mind hadn’t been taken into account. Needless to say, I had to spend twice as much time on the project which I didn’t expect (not to mention the client had to spend twice the designated budget).
Never ever again.
Always (ALWAYS!) check and double check that every team member directly involved in the project is present at the initial project meeting. Ask every one of the stakeholders what their take on the project is and make detailed notes. When it comes to the actual design, your task will be to take all of the opinions into the account, combine them with your own research, and find a perfect balance that will help you make the best design decisions for the given project.
3. Don’t start bluntly criticizing the existing website.
In the case when you are invited for a redesign project, avoid bad-mouthing the existing site or application. Even if the existing site or application looks awful to your sensitive design eye. There could have been reasons for the design decisions that were made in the past, that you, as a new guy, may not be aware of… Or certain decisions may have been made due to the lack of resources or a small budget… In addition, chances are that someone on the team has been involved in the creation of the old product and you can unintentionally hurt people’s feelings.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t voice your opinion on the design or give recommendations for improvement. Just make sure to always have respect for other people and their work and effort and be always tactful. Also, only give a critique if you are asked. And make sure your criticism is constructive.
4. Don’t offer solutions — ask questions.
The initial meeting is aimed at introducing you (and the team) to the project. You are not expected to offer solutions at that point. Instead focus on listening to what the stakeholders have to say, ask questions if something is unclear and (that brings me to my next point)…
5. …make notes.
Don’t rely on your memory only. It is mandatory that you bring a notebook and a pen and make a lot of notes. Note down anything that could remotely help you make design decisions when it comes to it. You never know what information you will need in the future. So, there is no way around it — make notes.
6. Don’t give any numbers or estimates (just yet).
Again, the initial meeting is not the time for you to offer solutions or give any answers on how long things will take (or, if you are a freelancer, how much things will cost). So, avoid making any estimates or promises at that point. Instead, gather as much information as you can, take your time, think it over, analyze the complexity of the project and only then (when you are absolutely sure) give a very accurate estimate of the timeframe and the budget to the client. That way you will be able to manage people’s expectations. They will know when they can expect the project to be completed and how much it will cost. You will make sure you have enough time to do your work and avoid feeling stressed out because you are not able to meet your deadline. Accurate estimates keep everyone happy. Of course, sometimes things get out of control but… The fewer surprises here — the better.
7. Don’t be arrogant*
Finally, don’t be arrogant. In other words, don’t think and act like you know best. Just because you know a thing or two about design, doesn’t mean that you are better than everyone else. At the same time, do have confidence about your skills and knowledge. After all, you are the designer and the team relies on you to take take charge in the design process. The rule of thumb here is to make sure your design decisions are informed and to always act respectful towards other people on the team.
*The rule applies to any other situation, even outside of initial meetings.
In my experience, avoiding these mistakes will most likely guarantee a successful start to any design project. Although, the list is by no means complete. You are welcome to share your experiences down below. I bet there is something that I could have missed.