How to nurture a long-lasting relationship – advice from designers and clients

We get insights from designers, clients and consultants about how to develop a long and productive working relationship.

The designers

Sebastian Conran, director, Sebastian Conran Associates
Sebastian Conran, director, Sebastian Conran Associates

“Take time to choose your partner well and ensure personal compatibility as well as business alignment. Complete honesty, transparency and harmony is the ideal in any long term collaboration, as are good communications and clarity of roles and expectations – it is important to feed each other rather than feed off each other.

Pretty similar to getting married, but without the ’til death us do part’ maybe.”

Sean Thomas, creative director, jkr
Sean Thomas, creative director, jkr

“My advice is to have open and honest conversations, as regularly as you can. You can waste a lot of time, money and energy on projects that could have been resolved with some dialogue.

Great work ultimately requires great talent and a great client, so it’s vital to be on the same page and question the real value of the brief to the brand. A few hard conversations can be expected too, but these will nearly always result in better work that all involved can be more proud of.

Karen Hughes, creative director, True North
Karen Hughes, creative director, True North

“Clients don’t just buy your work, they buy into your people and their talent and expertise. Yet all too often consultancies keep one of their most valuable assets hidden behind their screens. Removing barriers and creating opportunities for clients to have direct contact with creatives (of all levels) means clients develop trust in the designers and in turn the creative team gains a deeper understanding of the client and their organisation.

Over time this creates an environment where both sides can be open, honest and challenging, helping to build productive, collaborative relationships that last long after a project is completed.”

The clients

Louise Kyme
Louise Kyne, senior brand and creative manager, British Heart Foundation

“It’s tough to give just one piece of advice beyond this: do it properly – and understand what properly is! To me, that’s choosing a consultancy you really trust.

I don’t mean ‘slightly trust’ or ‘I trust them, but…’. I mean choosing a consultancy you believe in on a deeper level; one that when they tell you you’re wrong, you’ll listen; one that when they make a mistake, you’ll understand.

Not in a socks-and-sandals way – the relationship should be clearly defined from the off. But trust and – as a consequence – respect, must be at the very core.”

Jeremy Lindley, global design director, Diageo
Jeremy Lindley, global design director, Diageo

“Designer/client relationships should be a marriage, not speed-dating.

There are clients who practice ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’ towards their consultancies. This does not work in a marriage, nor does it lead to the best work from a consultancy.  Designers choose the profession because they love it – success is working on interesting projects with people they like.

A great client provides a well-thought-through strategic brief (and includes the consultancy in writing it). Sufficient time, information, budget and guidance are critical.  Brave and timely decisions from the client keep work moving at pace.  Reviewing and capturing learning builds understanding for future work.  

Partnering for the long term also means tackling the tough issues – if work is not up to scratch a strong client/designer relationship enables the difficult conversations to happen.  Partnership, openness, commitment, trust and respect lead to happier designers and better work.  

Designers are people too, be nice to them!”

The consultants

Jonathan Kirk
Jonathan Kirk, founder, Up to the Light

“Great designer/client relationships are all about building trust. However, our interviews with clients show that this is a longer process than many consultancies realise.

Real trust is hard won and the best way to achieve it is through a consistently proactive approach. My one piece of advice is very simple – see and be seen.

To some extent the idea of walking clients’ corridors and being really visible has been forgotten, and many consultancies seem content to have fairly limited face to face time with clients. Great client relationships are not built by e-mail.”

Jan Casey, consultant and coach
Jan Casey, consultant and coach

“From 15 years commissioning and managing design consultancies, and from my asking this very question to approximately 40 clients within the private, public and charity sectors, the answer is simple and unanimous: chemistry.

And the qualities most cited by clients, and from my experience, to help form this emotional connection between designer and client, are: honesty, trustworthiness, energy and a deep sense of responsibility.”

Discover more:

• In it for the long-term – how to form lasting relationships with clients


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  • Neil Littman November 20, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Very good article and very timely. I work both at home and in house with agencies but I also work in that grey area inbetween with consultants in what are effectively, virtual agencies and the lack of face to face contact with clients cannot be good for building relationships. Some clients I have never met and many I have met once but I don’t think it helps in the long-term. Out of sight etc… I have even worked in an agency where some clients were phobic about meetings and preferred to hide behind emails. Sometimes the only reason for a meeting was a crisis and that is not good either. I am sure a lot of other designers have experienced this shift from real to virtual. How can we build trust on this basis? I know the answer, is get out there more often and meet everybody but they have to say yes too.

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