On this weeks show we explore ten ways you can improve your working relationship with clients.
- Be honest (06:30)
- Constant communication (13:19)
- Pre-empt common issues (21:28)
- Work collaboratively (25:09)
- Manage expectations (32:29)
- Outline their role (35:48)
- Communicate directly (38:20)
- Document everything
- Be enthusiastic (45:58)
- Talk to the right people (50:06)
- Add your tips to the comments
Paul Boag: Hello, Marcus. I’m super excited about this week’s show.
You’re not really, are you?
Paul Boag: No, not in the slightest. I just want to have a little lie down, but…
It’s nice to see you in the office.
Paul Boag: I know.
We’re in the same room.
Paul Boag: I can see your face through a pop shield. Oh bloody hell! That scared the crap out of me. But even better than that, we have Leigh with us. Hello, Leigh.
Leigh Howells: Hello, Paul. Hello, Marcus.
Pete Boston: Hello, Paul. Hello, Marcus. Sorry I’m…
Paul Boag: He just got told off for not being on the mic.
Pete Boston: You should get more mics.
Paul Boag: I know we should, but why do we need more mics? Because we’ve also got Pete Boston on the show.
When was the last time you were on the show, Pete?
Pete Boston: A long time ago.
Paul Boag: I know, very long time ago. So we felt we have to have Pete on the show. That sounded awful, didn’t it? We felt we had to have Pete on the show.
Because he’s been complaining.
Paul Boag: He has, he just…
Pete Boston: What?
Paul Boag: It’s your massive ego, Pete, it always has to be about you. You have to be the centre of – oh no that’s me.
Pete Boston: That’s why I haven’t been here for a while…
Paul Boag: When were you last on?
Pete Boston: …all these lies.
Yes, yes. Missed the abuse.
Leigh Howells: When were you last on? I remember doing one with you back at the old base camp when we did about six people.
Pete Boston: Do you mean barn?
Leigh Howells: No, there was base camp in Southampton wasn’t it?
Paul Boag: Oh base point. Wow that was a very long time ago.
Leigh Howells: I definitely did one in the barn.
Paul Boag: I am really sorry.
Well you must have been on the 200 hour one or whatever it was.
Paul Boag: Can I say right now?
Are you feeling left out.
Paul Boag: No, no. I want to apologize to the transcriber for this week’s show. It’s going to be a nightmare, isn’t it?
Paul Boag: So, there we go.
Leigh Howells: They made me laugh last week though because they transcribed Asperger’s as asparagus.
Paul Boag: I know, I just left it. I left it in because it was such a cool mistake.
Leigh Howells: If you’ve got asparagus you might read this a different way.
I like asparagus. Can I have asparagus please.
Leigh Howells: I’m indifferent, really.
Paul Boag: So the reason we’ve got Pete on the show this week is we’re going to talk about working with clients.
Stuff only he knows about.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Leigh Howells: How to work with people, because we’ve all got asparagus.
That was actually quite funny, Leigh. I have to point it out when it really is.
Paul Boag: It happens so rarely. So it’s going to take forever to get through this week’s show, isn’t it? I can just tell, so what we’re going to do is we’re going to dive straight in.
So I’m talking to my wife on Skype.
Paul Boag: Oh don’t do that. See now immediately we’ve not got, actually we don’t care that we don’t have your attention this week because we’ve got two other people.
Exactly, I can do what I like.
Paul Boag: You could, right, you could just piss off entirely.
All I’ve got to do, actually, is find a joke for the end. And that’s it. That’s my job for this week and to go on the mic, on the mic.
Leigh Howells: But you don’t even find the jokes. You just get them sent to you don’t you?
Yes, and then I realize I’ve run out. And it’s like, oh shit I’d better find one. And I don’t know if I’ve got any or not. I will have a look.
Paul Boag: Send Marcus a joke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It just sounds wrong, I know you’ve got in your head that it must be authentic Boag now.
Paul Boag: No, no, no, it’s not that, it’s for spelling it with people.
It’s for years and years, how long have I known you? I mean…
Paul Boag: Too long.
It’s like nearly 20 years.
Leigh Howells: But Boag isn’t right. You wouldn’t spell Boag, B, O, A, G. You’d spell it B, O, G, U, E.
Paul Boag: So that’s how you would spell boat as well, is it?
Yes, but Leigh’s got a point, a word that ends ogue. Like vogue, or rogue is O, G, U, E. I can’t think of any word that ends O, A, G.
Paul Boag: No, that’s a fair comment.
So you’re allowed to say Boag.
Paul Boag: I’d just give – well but that’s not right either, is it, because Boag you spell B, O, W, A, G.
Add the W, that’s really cool.
Paul Boag: I should, just keep the W in.
Paul Boag: I am sure there is a legal rule.
Then people would say Bowag.
Paul Boag: Yes, oh it’s just a stupid name. It could be worse. It could be…
Have you got any jokes, Pete? Happy birthday for yesterday Pete. Pete is 31. Oh that’s not right, is it?
Pete Boston: No, I had my second 21st yesterday.
Paul Boag: He admitted to me only this morning that he is now as old as I am. He catches me up every now and again.
Pete Boston: Again, every six months I catch Paul up.
Paul Boag: So you are as old and decrepit as me.
Are you 42, Leigh?
Leigh Howells: Yeah, something like that, yes, yes. About that.
Paul Boag: How old are you?
You’re near that aren’t you. You’re not as near as 50 as I am?
Leigh Howells: No, no, I am 44.
Paul Boag: God we’re all getting so old.
Pete Boston: That’s not true, we’ve got Dan and Chris out there.
Who are effectively half my age.
Leigh Howells: We’re not because old goes up. Old is now 80.
Paul Boag: Is it – 80 is dead, isn’t it?
Pete Boston: No, 90
Paul Boag: What’s the average lifespan?
Pete Boston: Actual statistical one?
I think 79 for men, 83 for women.
Paul Boag: Yes, so there we go, 80 is dead.
Leigh Howells: Therefore it’s old.
Pete Boston: It’s no wonder these podcasts take so long every week.
Paul Boag: Yes, exactly. So we’re going to move on.
It is our duty to talk about this kind of thing.
Paul Boag: I tried.
We’ve had votes, haven’t we, Paul, where we’ve said, do we need to get rid of the pointless banter at the start and people go no, no, no that’s why we listen.
Leigh Howells: At least it’s just at the start. For some podcasts it’s all the way through. Just banter. You’ve got actual content.
Paul Boag: Well, in the loosest sense of the word.
Okay, other than the lovely weather, we’re all together in the same room, which happens about once a year now, I will allow you to move on.
Okay, so we’re looking at how to improve your working relationship with your clients, now I’ve written a list of my 10, but no doubt everyone is going to disagree with my 10 as we go through, so you can all pick me apart but number one that I had on my list, this is not in any particular order, so it’s not saying that this is the most important but anyway.
Number one on the list is to be honest. Would you agree with that, that that’s a fundamental prerequisite or do you lie to clients, Marcus?
I lie to clients all the time. No, bottom line is, if you are not honest it will come and bite you.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Nearly always but there is such a thing is a white lie out there. There is.
Paul Boag: Okay. You are saying this on a public podcast.
No, I am saying in life.
Paul Boag: You’re being honest.
In life there are such things as white lies, i.e. there are certain truths that you don’t want to tell people.
Paul Boag: Right.
And I guess that must apply to clients as well. I can’t think of an example.
Paul Boag: Well, that’s, yes, can you think of a situation where we have white lied to a client.
Paul Boag: We must have.
Pete Boston: I can think of situations where…
Paul Boag: I thought you were going to say, I can think of 60.
Pete Boston: 60, yes, all the time. No I can think of a situation where we have sort of postponed the truth.
Paul Boag: Right.
Pete Boston: Slightly. Not the truth, but postponed being honest.
Paul Boag: Go on then, can you kind of give us a – can you without obviously saying who the client was.
Pete Boston: Yes, no, last year when we were very busy basically and we weren’t sure whether we were going to definitely hit a deadline and we thought there was a good chance we could pull it back. So we didn’t tell the client immediately that there might be a delay and then there was and then we told them and in hindsight we should have told them straight away that there was possibly going to be a delay, even though it wouldn’t have gone down well then, but it went down not that great. But we managed to pull it back in the end. And certainly from my point of view I learned from that…
Paul Boag: Yes.
The important line here is yes, you are right, be honest. I am thinking of an example of maybe and this is – I am not going to use any real examples, but I suspect you can be overly truthful about possible edge cases of things going wrong if you use a particular…
Paul Boag: Yes.
Like what your website’s going to look like on IE8, IE7 or these kind of things.
Paul Boag: It’s almost like the scenario when you go to the doctor to have an operation or something like that and they tell you everything that could possibly go wrong in the operation and actually you don’t want to know everything that’s going to go wrong. You want to know the serious risks but you are saying that you could actually scare a client if you picked over things too much.
Potentially but probably we could argue that round actually no, we should tell them everything.
Pete Boston: It also depends on the client. Some clients would take well to that and others wouldn’t.
Paul Boag: Yes, that’s going to be your answer to everything isn’t? It depends on the client.
Pete Boston: Of course, it depends. What’s that website?
Paul Boag: Didn’t we ban that?
Leigh Howells: Doesitdepend.com
Paul Boag: Doesitdepend.com really, is that a URL. I’ve got to try that now.
Pete Boston: Didn’t Ian try and buy that?
Pete Boston: The answer is yes or no?
Paul Boag: It probably depends. Yes, except. That is brilliant. Oh, and then it goes to. Oh this is Dan.
Pete Boston: Is it Dan?
Paul Boag: Doesitdepend.com and then he’s got accept and you click on that and you go to a tweet of his “because sweeping statements about absolutely everything can fuck off always and forever”. This is supposed to be a clean podcast, I’ve just said the F word. Dan manages to get a swear word into everything. This is why we very rarely have him on the show. Oh, that’s brilliant Dan, you rock. Yes, so that’s, be honest. See that example that you talked about where you went to tell a client, or where you decided not to hold off, that’s actually something I talk about specifically in my talks and I specifically said we shouldn’t do that and you’re right, I think the more notice – because all you can do if you tell them enough in advance, right, when you first suspect it, all you can do is exceed expectations then, can’t you, because by actually turning it around.
Pete Boston: It was slightly more complicated than that because it was at problem at our end and we had essentially a resourcing, scheduling issue…
Paul Boag: Right, okay.
Leigh Howells: …with other projects, so it was a case of telling them, look, your project is going to be delayed because we’re working on something else at the moment when…
Paul Boag: Yes, which is a hard conversation.
Pete Boston: It’s a hard conversation to have which – but Marcus and I, I remember Marcus and I speaking about it and we sort of decided just to hold off for a couple of weeks just in case we didn’t need to have that conversation and yes…
Paul Boag: And you did and it backfired. And I was right all along.
Pete Boston: No it was all fine in the end and we got two very happy clients.
Paul Boag: Okay. So let’s move…
It’s all peace and love.
Paul Boag: It’s all peace, love and understanding. Yes, yes, yes because we’ve never had an unhappy client ever.
I can’t remember any, but that’s because I probably…
Paul Boag: Oh, come on.
…blocked them out of my mind.
Paul Boag: I can remember several.
Several. Blimey you, Paul?
Paul Boag: Well we have been in business how many years?
Paul Boag: Yes. Exactly. I remember one within the first six months of us starting. I mean it’s always their fault obviously.
Yes, and it was in that case definitely.
Paul Boag: It really was in that case.
Leigh Howells: They were unreasonable?
Paul Boag: Yes, they were barking mad. Okay let’s move on, we’re not, see the whole point of us doing this I thought, it’ll make us look more professional in front of our clients and, it will attract in business but no, we’re just undermining our credibility once again. Somebody said that on Twitter, actually about…
Why do you do the podcast because no one will hire you.
Paul Boag: No, I think his words were, that Paul is a reasonable chap except for when Marcus is around. So basically the implication is, whenever we do the podcast, we become irrational idiots.
Or he is saying that you are not nice to me.
Paul Boag: No, I am pretty sure he wasn’t saying that actually.
He might have been saying that.
Paul Boag: He might have been but I don’t think it was. I am fairly confident it was a criticism of you.
Paul Boag: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
That’s really harsh.
Paul Boag: You just lead me…
I’m the wise one, surely.
Paul Boag: You lead me astray is what it comes down to. We ought to move on to number two, we’re supposed to spend less than four minutes on each of these.
Pete Boston: That hasn’t happened.
Paul Boag: Let’s move on to number two then. Okay, so next up is, I suggested constant communication is a really important factor in working with clients and even communication when you’ve got nothing to say.
Pete Boston: Constantly.
Leigh Howells: Hello it’s me again. Go away, Paul.
Yeah that’s um, you don’t mean that do you?
Paul Boag: No, I don’t mean that. I mean like, for example, let’s say you were working on another project for a particular week and it was always scheduled that you were going to be working on that project for another week. Don’t you think it’s still good to let the client know, just to let you know, we have been working on this other thing…
Love you, kiss, kiss.
Paul Boag: I am trying to make a sensible point here. This is what that tweeter was talking about, exactly this now.
I know. But it’s my job to do this, isn’t it?
Paul Boag: So, yes, but you know what I mean. To say, no we haven’t been doing anything on your project this week but that’s in the schedule, everything is okay. I mean I know what Pete is going to say, he says it depends on the client. And it does.
I actually think that people really do appreciate you saying, we’re on – I know I was taking the P but that kind of we’re thinking about you, you are on our minds, I think goes a long way.
Paul Boag: I do.
Pete Boston: With pretty much anyone.
Paul Boag: Yes.
That’s not a depends on the client thing. I think everyone, oh, right, okay, that’s handy, they’re going to start on whatever it is I want next Thursday, rather than leaving it to the following Wednesday to tell you. I think that is a really important thing.
Pete Boston: What I will say, though, is it does depend on where you are in the project and sometimes you get to certain stages of the project where it is natural to go for two or three weeks with minimal communication, there’s not that much to say and you are right, we still need to – I mean I still make an effort to sort of send out maybe a weekly email or a basecamp message to say, hi, this what we’re doing, this is where we’ve got to, this is what might – this is what you will see next.
Well, Paul and Leigh, you’ve had experience of working in an agile way where you are doing this daily. I mean tell us about that chaps.
Leigh Howells: The daily stand up.
Paul Boag: Yes, I think it – the daily stand up is an interesting one because…
Interesting means annoying and got on your nerves.
Paul Boag: No, it both has good aspects and bad aspects. I think it is good to all come together and it’s good that you – just the act of coming together once a day I think is a good thing. I think it’s good to once a day the idea of coming together and hearing what other people are working on because for example in Headscape oftentimes I’ve not a clue what everybody else is doing, when I am not a part of an agile project with them. So it’s got a lot of good elements to it. I think it is good to identify roadblocks or if you’re waiting for a piece of content or whatever, great for that. It does feel at times, I don’t know how you felt but I did felt like I was justifying my existence.
Leigh Howells: Yes, yes. You actually want to say, well I spent today just moving this thing around randomly. You can’t really say that, you’ve got to say something a bit more useful for the project.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Leigh Howells: So, yes, you felt like you were justifying what you’d been doing.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Leigh Howells: Even though it might have been valuable, it didn’t feel valuable when you verbalized it.
Paul Boag: No, I spent the whole day trying to get GIT working. That doesn’t…
Leigh Howells: But you’ve got to be honest I suppose, point one.
Paul Boag: Yes, and we were – I think we are honest when we do those meetings but I think it just takes some getting used to.
Leigh Howells: They came around very quickly, I think that was the surprise.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Leigh Howells: Really again?
Paul Boag: Yes.
Leigh Howells: Oh what have I done?
Paul Boag: And especially we were doing it with a university in that particular case that Marcus is talking about and they have – universities have a bit of a culture of having to justify your existence and there were people making notes before they went in to try and work out what the hell they’d done that day. So it has got good sides and bad sides. I think you’ve got to have the right relationship in the team for those stand ups to be really valuable and it moved beyond the kind of I am the supplier and you are the client and I have to justify what I am doing to you. Once you pass that I think they become a much better thing. Do we need to say anything more about constant communication?
No, I think we’ve made all the jokes we can.
Paul Boag: It’s not all about the jokes, Marcus. I mean the other, I think where it depends on the client is it depends on – different clients want different levels of detail. There are some clients that want to know very specifically what you are working on, while there’s others that are kind of more laid back I guess.
Leigh Howells: It probably depends on the deadline, the timescale they’ve got on how pressing it is to get this going and they’re kind of fretting about things, are we actually going to make the go live date. So they’re fretting the whole way along and want to know the updates.
Paul Boag: Really that almost should have been one of my 10 points is to get to know the client, how they work, how they tick and that kind of stuff.
That’s an interesting one because this was years ago and it was some trendy Scandinavian agency, who some guy from, let’s say the crazy director who was speaking at South by South West, this is five, I’ve probably mentioned this on the podcast dozens of times but he always insisted on going out with his clients and getting drunk with them.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Which is kind of the – that’s the extreme version of that but the point being, you really get to know them, you get to see how they tick, blah dee blah dee blah.
Paul Boag: Yes. I think that’s very true.
But that goes back to the be honest one at the start because what we’re sort of saying is, we’d actually like a bit of a distance I think a bit, we don’t befriend on Facebook our clients, but we do on Twitter to keep that bit of distance but that goes against that be honest, be honest, be honest thing.
Paul Boag: Well, I don’t know, I don’t, I think that’s you. I’ve got…
I was looking at Pete when I said that.
Pete Boston: But there is also a difference between being honest and having a private life that you don’t really feel as though you want all your clients to know about.
Well using the Swedish guy as an example, he was basically saying no, we should just get into bed with these people, well not literally…
Pete Boston: I feel that’s a little extreme.
…as if we are good mates, or we’re colleagues or whatever.
Paul Boag: But there is a difference between being colleagues, I agree with being colleagues with the client. But alright.
I am not saying he is right, I am just saying that’s an extreme.
Paul Boag: Yeah. And I don’t think – I think there is a level beyond that. It depends on how you use things like Facebook and stuff like that. But you know, okay, I am – let me take, say when Mez used to work at Headspace and I am using someone that no longer works here on purpose. He was a work colleague but I wouldn’t have called him a friend in that particular case, we didn’t socialize or do anything together et cetera, et cetera. So I totally agree in having a close working relationship with clients and working collaboratively with them and all of that kind of stuff but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d have them around for a family barbeque.
No, yes, I think the Scandinavian guy was kind of suggesting that kind of closeness. But that’s extreme.
Paul Boag: That Scandinavians for you.
Pete Boston: Also with the Facebook, I like to be able to post things on Facebook without thinking, might this maybe upset somebody from a client point of view, if I post “ah, had a nightmare of a day” not being specific and then I don’t want clients to be thinking, oh, was that our project? What’s happening there? I just don’t want to have to think about it.
Basically we’re on a supplier relationship here, so…
Pete Boston: They are paying us to do…
They are paying us to do a service. We need to move on, otherwise we will never finish this podcast.
Paul Boag: Yes, sir.
Pre-empt common issues
So next one is preempt common issues, which kind of splits into two parts, there is one part that we’ve already talked about which is what Pete was taking about of, if you can see something coming up preempt it with the client rather than waiting but the other half of it and kind of probably what was more on my mind when I wrote this is the idea of if you know certain issues are likely to be a problem don’t wait for the client to bring them up, bring them up yourself. So for example IE8, it’s so easy to write into the contract in little print somewhere we are not supporting IE8 or IE6 or whatever the thing is that we aren’t supporting, but personally I don’t think that’s enough. I think you actually need to proactively talk to the client, talk them through it, explain it rather than waiting it to come up later.
And I tell you why, with common issues, and even just to give another example before I explain why. If you do a piece of design and you know there are some aspects of that design that won’t go down very well but you think are right for whatever reason, the temptation is to wait for the client to bring it up because they might not mention it. They might not say this problem is wrong with it. But actually I think you’re better off pre-empting it.
Now the reason I think that is because, if someone expresses a problem with something like I want to make the logo bigger just to use the kind of caricature example of this and you knew damn well they were going to say make the logo bigger before you showed it them, once they have said it, once it’s come out their mouth, they have planted their feet on the ground and said, I want the logo to be bigger, so no matter how clever your arguments are then, it’s harder for them to back down, it’s like any argument, isn’t it? You have an argument with your wife and you realize half way through she is right, there is no way you can admit she is right, because that would just be silly. But…
I’d never have an argument with my wife, that’s the way to go around these things.
Paul Boag: Yes, you’re one of those people that just get grumpy. Are you just a grump? I bet you are.
I don’t. Can you imagine me being grumpy?
Paul Boag: Yes, I can with your wife.
Very rarely, very, very rarely. I am just super happy all the time.
Paul Boag: So my point here is if you bring up the issue before they do, point one is that they can’t then turn around and…
Make it theirs
Paul Boag: It doesn’t become their thing. And then secondly also, if you do it right, if you say, look I know what you’re going to – you’re going to be worried about the fold here, let me explain that. Why people worry about that and there is no need. They actually look kind of stupid if they then bring it up, if it’s not a legitimate point and you’ve put the argument together well. So I actually think, it’s much better to kind of preempt issues rather than wait for the client to come to you with them but I might be wrong in that. Are there occasions you can think of where that’s not the case?
Paul Boag: Right, we’re at point three and we’ve already run out of things to say.
There must be occasions on…
Leigh Howells: Certainly in presenting design, that’s kind of yes, I find myself doing that. You bring up the problem and address it just to get out of the way, that works well but other instances in the project, Pete?
Pete Boston: No. I mean I agree.
Paul Boag: Oh, okay. We’ll all just agree.
I had a thought but it’s gone.
Paul Boag: Okay, alright, well if we all agree we’d better move on. Pete has given it his seal of approval. So that’s good enough for me.
Pete Boston: Perfect.
Paul Boag: So this next one I put on was work collaboratively together, right. Now, I am really interested in this because that can mean lots of different things as to how far you go with working collaboratively. So like for example there is a big trend at the moment which I think I am in favour of but I could imagine that some people freak at the idea is co-design, so actually sitting down with the client next to you and designing things with them there and including them at that kind of intimate level on a project. Now I don’t think we’ve done it quite like that.
Leigh Howells: I’ve done it, I’ve kind of co-wire framed over the phone screen sharing and that was quite good because you are not fiddling around with the details of color and everything else, you are just moving content around.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Leigh Howells: But that’s designing the layout.
Paul Boag: And we’ve done co-design on mood boards before where we’ve got the client…
Leigh Howells: Oh yea, work-shopping.
I think because we push working collaboratively as one of our unique selling points. Well, not unique but our selling points certainly. But I think many clients think that’s what we mean. I.e. we sit down together and we do the whole thing together. At the moment we don’t, we kind of – we workshop stuff early on that everyone – us and the client work on and then we take it away.
Leigh Howells: I think that would be painful to sit down the entire time. For them, as much as us.
Yes, but I think there are – it depends on the client thing very much this one but I think there are certain clients who would that you get the things done a lot more quickly and a lot more effectively if you did it that way.
Leigh Howells: Maybe, yes, maybe.
Paul Boag: It is – this is going to be a recurring theme but it is really much a depending on this one isn’t it? Because with some clients sitting down with them and working with them collaboratively as you say would make a huge difference and get things done much quicker. With other clients, they would just see it as a momentous waste of their time. They all have so much else going on, they just want you to go away and sort it out for them.
Yes, and they probably wouldn’t feel qualified to do it either whereas others are.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Pete Boston: Well some clients will be the opposite and want to have too much say on things like design when they need to trust us as designers, they’d like to have their – because design is the kind of thing where you can – it’s subjective so people either like stuff or they don’t, or they say that anyway.
But some people – and that’s why it depends, some people have got a good design eye, others haven’t and what you are skirting around is there are people out there who haven’t got a great design eye who think they can design and that’s your problem with that process. What I think we could sometimes do though, with design, where you get to the very final stages, where you are just adjusting, making some final adjustments. I think in some cases, you could get the client there and try stuff, sort of on the fly rather than send it back to us, we’ll see what we can do, send it back to them, wait for a day for them to feedback.
It also depends on the designer.
Paul Boag: It does.
Because some designers see that as, it’s kind of like a slight on their ability.
Paul Boag: Yes, I think it’s more than that, mind, because to that you can just say well, suck it up. I haven’t got a lot of sympathy with that point of view.
I haven’t either but it does exist.
Paul Boag: But there are other designers that would struggle to do that, would actually get nervous and apprehensive having a client. I mean it’s bad enough isn’t it when another designer’s standing over your shoulder commenting on what you’re doing, let alone someone that’s a client that is paying your wages. So I have got some sympathy with that kind of position. I think for me the big one is, brain has gone dead.
And this is the big one as well, Paul.
Leigh Howells: It was so big.
Paul Boag: It just went away. Do you know what, I have no idea what I was going to say now.
Paul Boag: I said the big one as a stalling technique as well while I was trying to think of it and then that just built it as even more pressure to think of whatever it was…
You’re still building it now, Paul, it’s huge.
Paul Boag: It’s so utterly gone now that I am not worried about it anymore.
I think we’ve kind of covered that one.
Paul Boag: Yes. Working collaboratively I think is a really interesting area.
As I have kind of slightly different view on the same thing. I think it’s our duty as designers whether we are on our own or part of agencies to recognize the clients who will bring value.
Paul Boag: Yes.
And get them involved. Because we have been guilty in the past of not doing that.
Paul Boag: We have, we have. And I really like what Pete is saying about when the design gets towards the end and you are doing the little tweaks and stuff like that, that’s a good time to do stuff. There is another thing that goes alongside that which is that…
Is it big?
Paul Boag: No. Don’t interrupt before I forget. That the designer will – Pete will come back, got some feedback from the client, Pete comes to the designer, says oh the client’s thinking this and the designer will say something like, yes, I tried that and it didn’t work, which they probably did try it and it probably didn’t work but the client doesn’t know that hasn’t seen that process, so that’s where I think co-creation and co-design is actually quite interesting because the client is then exposed to all of those little nuances that we tried and failed and pushed it backwards. I also think it helps in the point of view of educating the client about the design process and making them value it more what the designer does.
Pete Boston: Yes and also educating us about the client more, because the client could well have feedback which we think oh that won’t work because of such and such and the client says, no actually that does work because that certain target audience would like that.
Paul Boag: Or business objectives whatever. And on other occasions, they’re just right aesthetically, I mean the one that always brings to my mind was RFBF, yes, RFBF, we had this shield – what was it? Like a portholey windowy thing. And the client said, oh this looks like portholes and we were like, no we’ve created this design, think it looks great and wonderful, and it will look wrong if we took it out and the client was going, well, we’re Airforce. It looks like Navy. And eventually we removed it and it looked so much better didn’t it? The client was right and the client wasn’t a designer, he had no design experience whatsoever but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t got something of value to bring.
Leigh Howells: That’s killing your darlings isn’t it?
Paul Boag: Yes.
Leigh Howells: Get them in. The client will help you kill the darlings that you’ve gone and got in your head.
Paul Boag: Yes, the little things that you don’t want to remove. So I am a great fan of working collaboratively but I do agree it kind of depends on the client and designer and loads of stuff.
Paul Boag: Yes. Let’s move on.
…still designing stuff. They’re just muttering in the background. Can you hear that. Just mutter mutter.
Paul Boag: Leave that in. It just shows their lack of commitment to the show I think.
Paul Boag: Managing expectations, we’ve kind of touched on this.
We’ve done this one.
Paul Boag: We’ve done this one, let’s move on.
I was just going to say one thing on that one.
Go on then, Pete.
Pete Boston: And that was something which I added in my notes and that was to practice saying no or be confident to say no.
Paul Boag: What, stand in front of the mirror going “no, no”.
Pete Boston: So the client might ask, how something’s going or they might be encouraging you to deliver something early or whatever, you just need to be good at saying no.
Leigh Howells: Do you practice typing it as well.
Pete Boston: I do practice.
Leigh Howells: I just typed it four times.
Paul Boag: He’s got a keyboard shortcut for it now.
I am rubbish at saying no. And our clients, I think some of them know this and you’re the same. It’s sales – being salesmen. Yes, of course we can do this.
Leigh Howells: Can-do attitude.
Yes, yes, yes. We can do everything.
Pete Boston: See Marcus and Paul in kickoffs are a complete nightmare. Client says can we do this and they’ll say yes. I say no.
Paul Boag: I think there is a middle ground here.
Leigh Howells: Of course we can but do you want to?
Pete Boston: It depends.
Paul Boag: I take the attitude of never saying no to clients. I take the attitude of saying yes, but then explaining the consequences which is a much nicer way than just saying no, Pete, just so harsh, so, so harsh, you can tell he is a father now. No! Why? Because. I say so.
Pete Boston: I like to think we all complement each other.
Exactly and I think just saying no is honest, it’s an honest way of doing it…
Paul Boag: Are you saying I am manipulative?
Of course you are.
Paul Boag: No I am not, I am not. I’m purely giving the client more information, that’s the point of it from my point of view. When you just say no…
I think it’s called coercion.
Paul Boag: …you are putting a roadblock up, you are asking for an argument.
You are being honest and saying can we have that next week, no, you can have it the following week, nothing wrong with that. Honesty.
Paul Boag: No that’s fair enough. Yes, but that sentence doesn’t say why.
Yes, you can but it will be rubbish, is a much more poorer argument.
Paul Boag: No, I disagree.
Pete Boston: Yes, you can have it next week but it won’t be finished.
Paul Boag: I would be happy. Alright you’re picking a very bad example of that, yes, of course there are absolutes but I think it’s much better to say well we could get it done by next week but we won’t be able to deliver these features because we haven’t got time.
Which is the same as it’s not done or complete.
Paul Boag: Yes, but at least you are telling – you are explaining to the client why. You are saying there aren’t enough hours in the day to do that.
I’m exactly the same as you, Paul, on this. That’s exactly what I would say.
Paul Boag: You’re just being pedantic.
I don’t just say, yeah of course we can.
Paul Boag: I don’t say that.
Leigh Howells: This is the point we’d already done is it.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Pete Boston: So I’m going to stop now.
Paul Boag: I love the way that last one got stopped just as I was made to look an idiot. Thank you, guys.
See if we can do that right at the end.
Leigh Howells: Don’t you edit it every week just to do that, Marcus?
Paul Boag: Just to make me sound like an idiot.
Paul never listens to them.
Pete Boston: Surely Marcus doesn’t need to, does he?
Outline the client’s role
Paul Boag: Ouch. Right. Next up, we’re half way we’ve been talking forever. Outline the client’s role, I think is a really important thing and I think we’re a bit crap at doing that. We make the assumption that the client knows our expectations of them so for example the example I always give them is when you send the design through to a client and say will you sign off on this, you are not giving them any guidance in terms of what your expectations are in terms of feedback or how they go about assessing the design or anything like that, you’re just saying, what do you think.
I think we’re much, I think we’re good at that.
Paul Boag: No, no, no, I meant in the industry as a whole. Sorry I didn’t mean Headscape in particular and I think it is really important that you kind of focus the client on what their job is within the project, whether it be delivering the content if they’re responsible for the content, certainly that they’re responsible for ensuring the project fulfills the business objectives. I always like to make sure our client thinks that they’re responsible for the user as well, even though we obviously are obsessed with the user but I think it’s good to put that on the client as well because it gets them thinking from a user perspective. So kind of outlining their role and what their role is I think is an important part of it. I’ve run out of things to say.
Yes, we’ve kind of covered this one earlier ones because sometimes different clients will have different roles, so a good thing to say here is let’s work out what that role should be.
Paul Boag: Yes, it is defining what the role is.
Pete Boston: And establishing roles as well and making sure that the client, and they don’t always, has a lead at their end pushing the project and sometimes when that doesn’t happen, that’s what causes frustrations at both ends.
Paul Boag: Sometimes, always I would have thought. It’s a kiss of death isn’t it, if you don’t have like someone who owns the project at their end.
Pete Boston: Well you can have a team which own it, which makes it quite difficult.
Paul Boag: Yes, nasty, nasty, nasty. Alright let’s move on to number seven because I am speeding things up because Marcus wants lunch.
Paul Boag: That was a smooth transition, Pete, on to our next point of communicating directly, in other words…
Pete Boston: Going to the pub.
Paul Boag: Yes, back to this Swedish guy or whatever it was.
Pete Boston: Yes, yes, yes.
Paul Boag: No, no, what I am getting at here is not always to rely on email because this goes back to the asparagus people.
Pete Boston: Hiding behind.
Paul Boag: Hiding behind electronic communication because we don’t like face to face conversations but actually face to face and phone is far better especially if you’ve got some bad news, would you agree with that, Pete, or do you hide behind it too.
Pete Boston: No, I absolutely agree with it. The main thing is just to make sure that you document the important stuff that you’ve just had…
Paul Boag: That.
Pete Boston: …which is the next topic.
Paul Boag: This is next topic.
Let’s do these together.
Paul Boag: He is trying to do two in one.
Pete Boston: Yes, yes.
I am behind him on that. Let’s do them together. We did two together last week.
Paul Boag: The listener is going to feel like we’re rushing this just so you can go fill your belly.
Pete Boston: Hang on but communicate directly can be a nightmare if there’s lots of people.
Oh yeah. The times, the times – we had an American client, this is a client we haven’t worked with for ages and ages but I can remember having a three hour conference call with about 12 people on the other end of the line who were all in different places and I honestly wanted to kill myself. But recently and I am sure this client wouldn’t mind me mentioning them, we’re working for a client who are all around the world.
Pete Boston: Right.
So, we couldn’t avoid that and so we had to – and also we couldn’t get to a point where we could get everyone in a room because it just would have been impossibly expensive to do that because they’re all over the place, so we did three workshops to kick off the project via video conference call and again that was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Leigh Howells: We had time delays, we had text chats going on at the same time.
Because the messaging is going on at the same time as we are talking.
Leigh Howells: Echo…
Paul Boag: Oh no.
And I’m trying to keep hold of this.
Leigh Howells: Screen sharing and echo going through this.
I deserved to have the rest of the year off, just for chairing those meetings.
Pete Boston: Marcus did need a medal.
So basically, I think – what we’re trying to – yeah of course, face to face is brilliant, that’s my favorite form, that’s why workshops are good. Phone and voice not always, it depends what you’re doing, maybe a big long document would’ve been the right way to have done that.
Paul Boag: Yes.
These are our ideas give us feedback in all these different places and actually doing it via video conference was a nightmare.
Leigh Howells: I think the size of the group is the issue really. Because even a big meeting all face to face can be…
Paul Boag: Waste a huge amount of time.
Yes, I don’t mind that though. I think if you’re willing to sort of like chop people up and let’s focus back on things, you can do that face to face but I – when people are say in their office in wherever, Australia…
Leigh Howells: They all take a different set of skills don’t they?
Paul Boag: I think what I had in my head was when there are problems. I think a lot of people are – because they’re uncomfortable, I feel the same to be honest, you don’t want a confrontation with someone and it’s just easier to send them an email because you avoid that kind of confrontation and that having you know the initial reaction when you tell them something and that’s where I think face to face or phone is so much better. I also think…
Yeah one to one.
Paul Boag: Yes, the other thing that I would roll into this, I think it’s really important at some point to actually meet the client face to face if at all possible. I know it’s not – I understand that it is not always possible but it’s certainly beneficial if you can because I think it creates that relationship that you need to work together in the future.
Pete Boston: One way I do like communicating but it needs to be sort of managed because you can lose stuff is just by Skype. Skype chats rather than necessarily call but it just gives that quick, instant – if you’ve just got that quick question you want to ask a client, you don’t need to necessarily send them an email but just ask them quickly. But, where it falls down slightly is where you end up having quite a long conversation with him on chat and then two weeks down the line you’re thinking “oh where did I write that down, was it email, basecamp. Oh it was in Skype. Oh yes.”
At least it is saved.
Pete Boston: But it is saved somewhere, yeah exactly.
Paul Boag: Which goes on to this document everything which was our eighth point.
We’re having these two together because we’ve already discussed it, so we’ll talk about documenting everything. Well talk about – well IM that’s an interesting one, because we all use it. Even you use it.
Paul Boag: I hate it.
Like you say, just that quick question.
Paul Boag: Yes, quick question, no, no, I love it for that. What…
Pete Boston: Paul doesn’t like it because he doesn’t work with clients.
Paul Boag: I like it for quick questions, it’s wonderful for that but inevitably it becomes a longer question. It becomes more complicated. And I will just – I will Skype you, I will pick up the phone or whatever else at that point. But then that leaves you, I imagine from a client’s perspective, you get like half a conversation documented and the other half not.
Pete Boston: So that’s why you just need to be careful how you document it.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Pete Boston: Do you ever have a consistent area where you do document stuff?
Paul Boag: I think you want to always go back and even when if you have a phone call with a client or a meeting with a client, you want to document it afterwards. Because it’s amazing, I’ve sat in meetings before where I’ve gone away going right, this has all been agreed, we know what we’re doing but in their mind something totally different has been agreed, alright and if you don’t have it – if you write it down, send it to clients and say, this is my understanding of what was agreed, that is so worthwhile doing.
Pete Boston: Yes, it is really worthwhile doing as you say, it’s something which you all agree on but then a month down the line you think, so what did we think about – what did we agree on that, you just document and say, here’s the notes, do you agree?
I have to say that I really like Slack but that’s a different thing.
Paul Boag: Oh, yes.
Pete Boston: Slack is good yeah.
It is the one thing that I will carry on typing into all day.
Paul Boag: Yes, but that’s just for silly pointless conversations for us. I know other people use it.
Sharing videos and GIFs.
Leigh Howells: We did start trying to do a project one. So you have a project – everyone involved in the project…
Paul Boag: Yeah it didn’t work did it?
Leigh Howells: Yeah it’s still working. Just internally. But it could be, I wouldn’t want it to be a replacement…
Clients are never allowed in Slack.
Paul Boag: No, never, no one is never allowed to see our…
No one is ever allowed in Slack ever.
Paul Boag: When someone leaves the company, we must immediately close their account in case they then share it with the rest of the world, it’s totally inappropriate reading. I’m terrified when we get new employees if they look back through our Slack stuff because some of it is like…
But most of it is kind of deliberately provocative which I guess if you look back, it would look like it’s just provocative.
Paul Boag: No it would look sincere wouldn’t it.
Yeah exactly, yeah.
Paul Boag: Which it isn’t, yeah. I want to get rid of Skype.
Leigh Howells: You’ve been trying to get rid of Skype for years haven’t you.
Paul Boag: But I don’t understand we’ve all got Facetime and we’ve all got i-message built into our systems, why would we need Skype as well.
Because some people are still are on Windows.
Paul Boag: No one is still on Windows.
Clients. Henderson is still on Windows.
Pete Boston: No, that’s not the reason though. I don’t want my phone which is…
Yeah but you don’t get Facetime on Windows do you?
Pete Boston: …which is normally used for home stuff clogged up with a load of…
Paul Boag: We shouldn’t be discussing this on the podcast.
Leigh Howells: How about clients who’ve got Windows?
Paul Boag: I don’t care about them. That’s the good argument, yes, yes, alright we’ll move on to number nine. The irony is I was the one that got everybody on Skype in the first place. Oh no we don’t want to change off of MSN Messenger.
Leigh Howells: Oh yeah. MSN.
Paul Boag: See, you’ve got to keep up the day – the times. Move on. Anyway right, next one. Next one. Yeah.
Leigh Howells: This is one you have a problem with isn’t it?
Paul Boag: Oh shut up. The next one is be enthusiastic. I don’t mean like that you twats. I think a client can pick up very, very quickly if you don’t care about their project and it can be difficult caring about a project when you’re working on multiple projects all at the same time, I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. To find your enthusiasm about every project that you do can be quite hard but I think it’s really important that you have to care as much if not more about the success of this project than they do. And so I think – I always whenever I start be involved with a project and you criticize me in kickoff meetings because I get over excited and promise the world but it’s because I am trying to find something on that project that infuses me and excites me, it might be a new target audience, a new technology, a new business challenge but for me and the way I work I have to find something I care about otherwise I think it can come across that you’re just going through the motions which worries me personally. But obviously you guys just don’t give a shit about any of our clients’ projects, I am the only one that cares.
Sorry, what were we talking about?
Pete Boston: It is easy to be enthusiastic in the early stages of the project, the challenge is to retain that enthusiasm which generally you’re sort of less involved with.
Paul Boag: What you are saying is, I wander off when it gets boring.
Pete Boston: Paul’s like “ah, no you guys can finish it off.”
Leigh Howells: You avoid the being ground down part of the project. Just flounce from one start to the next.
Are you regretting having these two chaps on the podcast? It’s making me laugh.
Pete Boston: What haven’t you done it yet?
Paul Boag: It’s hugely unfair because I am involved in the initial stages, it’s when I’m involved in it. And I would like to point out, I often get dragged back in when things turn to shit. Right, when things become problematic who is the one that has to go to the client and say no to them?
Pete Boston: And be enthusiastic.
Paul Boag: Yes. Oftentimes Pete has dragged me into stuff that he should be able to deal with by himself in my opinion.
Why so defensive?
Paul Boag: Oh god.
Don’t want to end up with too many though.
Leigh Howells: I can’t remember what the point was.
Paul Boag: Be enthusiastic. Just bloody cross that off the list then. Let’s move on to the final point.
Pete Boston: What is important to do, sure, all enthusiasm does wane a little bit but it’s important to keep calm I was going to say, sometimes you can have interesting challenges but it’s keep calm, don’t lose your temper, and yes, be enthusiastic.
Paul Boag: Are you aiming that at me Pete? Don’t lose your temper.
Pete Boston: I’m looking at me really.
I would go as far as to say, that keeping your enthusiasm up is part of doing a professional job
Pete Boston: Absolutely.
Paul Boag: Yes.
Because as you say, people recognize when you’ve lost the enthusiasm.
Paul Boag: And I think you need it internally as well, I think if a team like, you were talking about you want to write a blog post about a project that took 18 months to complete and wasn’t really that big a project, I think trying to reinvigorate the designer and the developer with some enthusiasm through that project has got to be important.
Pete Boston: And I think not just you losing your enthusiasm but the client losing their enthusiasm. That’s really when it starts to be very difficult. You almost have to kick it off again to get going but anyway yes.
Talk to the right people
Paul Boag: So finally we come to talk to the right people, so this is the scenario, Pete, you must have come across this one where the person that you are working with is not actually the real decision maker.
Pete Boston: Yes.
Paul Boag: Yep. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got to say on that one. And it’s so often the case that – or people who swoop and poop. Have you heard this phrase? You know they swoop into the project and crap all over it at the eleventh hour and so tracking those people down right at the beginning and getting in front of them is so, so important. That’s why I like the stakeholder interviews that we do because at least it helps you find those people even though you can’t always predict what they’re going to do later on in the project, at least you are aware of their existence and then also the little screencasts and videos we produce the design, you know that if it is going to get passed around at least it’s going to be passed around within context.
Pete Boston: Yes, the great thing about the video is you can send it out and then you can say to the client or the team that well you had the chance to look at it and you didn’t feedback so your feedback now is too late. That’s a good way of getting around.
Leigh Howells: I still wonder if people watch them though. All the way through.
Pete Boston: Even if they don’t, they’ve have the chance to watch it.
Paul Boag: You’ve given them everything they need.
Pete Boston: If you make it long enough then they won’t.
Leigh Howells: Under like five minutes, yeah.
Paul Boag: Ideally yeah. Real quick overview. I’ve never managed to do one under five minutes. They normally come in at about 10–15 I think which is probably too long.
We’ve had these conversations and I’ve done them and it’s not been on design, it’s always been an IA and I’ve got to like 35 minutes and I’m thinking “how can I cut this down?” So I have another go and that’ll take 25 minutes because it’s going off on tangent, after tangent, after tangent.
Leigh Howells: A lot of that’s preempting stuff like we were talking about earlier. Explaining why you didn’t do that, why you did do that, it takes ages.
It really does, I wonder if anybody ever actually sits through them.
Paul Boag: To be honest, as Pete says, it’s less about whether they should. If they care, if they really care about the project they will sit through, if they haven’t been bothered to do that and haven’t fed back then that’s I think indicative of how much they’re involved in the project. The problem of course is when you get someone senior enough, who doesn’t care that much but still when he speaks it’s like gospel. That’s a much bigger problem because you’ve then got to try and engage that person in a project they don’t care that much about just so their subordinates don’t follow whatever weird thing that popped into their heads when they decided to spend 30 seconds thinking about it.
I want it blue.
Paul Boag: Yes and so suddenly it has to be blue and there has been no kind of conversation about that. So that’s a difficult one. So there we go, that’s our top tips for working with clients. It probably revealed more about Headspace than I would have liked. But there you go, it’s not – we’ve got back to the first point honesty, there we go, it’s all about being honest. So, Marcus, do you have a really bad joke to end with.
I’ve got three or four little short jokes.
Paul Boag: They better be little because I am sweating so much.
What do you call a fake noodle?
Paul Boag: Don’t know.
Paul Boag: Awful.
I like this one more. What do you call an alligator in a vest?
Paul Boag: Yes.
Paul Boag: I don’t actually get that.
Alright, okay one more. Because these aren’t actually that good are they. Did you hear about the hungry clock? It went back for seconds, four seconds.
Paul Boag: That is awful.
These aren’t mine, obviously, they’re other people’s bad…
Paul Boag: Yes, but you’ve picked them to include them on the show. Can we come up with something other than the jokes to end the show on please, it must be time?
Leigh Howells: It’s the song of the week.
Paul Boag: A song and dance routine.
Pete Boston: You encapsulate the week’s web news in song form.
Er, no. So not.
Paul Boag: Well thank you for enduring the entirety of this podcast with us, no doubt you fast forwarded quite a lot of it and who can blame you, we’ll be back again next week when it’ll just be me and Marcus probably again so much more boring but much more succinct. Thank you very much for listening, bye bye.