How to improve client communication

Design is all about collaboration, which means communication is key. Here’s how to navigate negotiations, design feedback and more.

1. Make a good impression

No matter what profession you’re in, working with someone new can be intimidating. You’re not sure how you’ll work together, and you don’t know their work style or if they’re trustworthy. 
Keep that in mind as you build your client relationships. Put your clients at ease with friendly conversation and good manners. Make yourself available for their questions and regularly sync up on project goals. Consider a quick phone call or video chat to hash out more complex matters.  
If you have open and professional communication with your client, it will be easy to smooth out issues, discuss feedback and keep your client happy.  

2. Simplify your language

It’s great to have a solid design vocabulary, but remember that your client might not be fluent. Know how to speak with your client clearly so you can build a long-lasting relationship.  
Words like “tracking” can simply be referred to as “the space between letters.” Words like “bleed” can be referred to as “the printed area overlapping the cut edge.”


Tips for simplifying your language: 

  • Make a list of common design terms you use (kerning, leading, bleed, etc.) and then write a “plain English” translation next to it. 

  • Practice with friends outside of the design industry to see if they understand what you’re saying.

  • Offer your client our design vocabulary guide

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

A design brief doesn’t always give you the full picture. That’s why you must ask questions to understand exactly what your client is looking for. You’ll appear thorough and attentive to detail, while also skipping hours of guesswork that just wastes time.

Helpful questions:

  • Are there examples in my portfolio that are similar to what you’re looking for?

  • Where will this design appear?

  • Who is your target audience? Is there anything that specifically resonates with them?

  • Are you looking for a certain style or format? Logotypes, symbols, separate icons, serif fonts, uppercase typography… ?
Ask questions the way you feel most comfortable. Some designers provide surveys or questionnaire forms, which can save time for both parties. Regardless of how you do it, always get more clarification when creative direction isn’t clear.

4. Handle feedback professionally

Not every client will be ideal, but always do your best to keep your cool. Here are a few ways to handle frustrating feedback as a professional:

Clarify vague feedback ASAP

We’ve all heard horror stories about decoding client feedback. Avoid the guesswork by immediately following up to get the answers you need to move forward.

Take some time

If you have a temper or tend to be impulsive, never respond immediately. Take at least 30 minutes to cool off and you’ll have a much more productive conversation. 

Pick your battles

While offering your professional advice is great, you’re never entitled to overrule your client’s wishes. After all, you’re their collaborator, not their business partner.


You may have a million ideas buzzing around in your head, but nothing is worse than interrupting someone—especially a client. Always listen carefully to your client and take notes. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of who they are and what they want.

5. Set boundaries

Needy clients can be disruptive—especially if they want you to check in with them 10 times a day. Navigate clients like these by setting rules early. 
If a client wants a daily report, then schedule it once a day only. If they call outside of the designated time, politely explain that you will catch up with them at the scheduled daily meeting. 
Make sure to factor in these meetings when it comes to pricing. If a daily meeting takes 30 minutes and a project lasts two weeks, then that’s five hours of lost work. It’s surprising how much less needy a client becomes when they understand that your hours are billable.

6. Regularly discuss timetables

After you’ve set up an itemized list of project deliverables (see: how to set fees and expectations), consider time to be the relationship backbone between you and your clients.
If a client needs a revision, always give them an ETA (estimated time of arrival). If you’re having trouble meeting that deadline, immediately communicate the reasons for your delay and define a new ETA. If the revisions are outside your initial project scope, hit pause and confirm that your client will pay for the additional time needed before proceeding.   

Transparent communication like this will grow into a healthy relationship that builds trust with your client and opens pathways for your client to communicate in the same way.

7. Know when to say “no”

There are many reasons to tell a client that you can’t work on a project. Maybe you don’t have the skills required. Or you’re too busy with other projects. Or you just can’t agree on pricing. Honesty is always the best policy. Let the client know immediately, and always remember to be polite! 
If you’re too busy, keep the door open by letting them know when you will be available. If it’s an issue of skills or pricing, a nice touch is to recommend a better suited designer for the job. 
Remember: the more time you waste with a mismatched client, the less time you’ll have to work on more successful projects.

Now that you've mastered client communication, check out these great designer resources