10 simple rules to follow that will dramatically increase the quality of work you get from any agency you work with. Have you ever bought work from a design agency? I’ll bet you weren’t 100% satisfied. I know because I used to buy work from design agencies and was never 100% satisfied with what I got.

Perhaps they didn’t do what they said they would do? The designs looked great in the presentation but terrible at launch? That increase in conversion never happened? Or you got to the end only to find the agency needed more money to finish the work? All these things happened to me when I was a client. I always blamed the agency. But while there are some awful charlatans out there, now that I do agency work myself I’ve found another reason why I might not have been 100% satisfied. One that’s a bit closer to home. It’s not possible to get truly great work out of a user experience agency (no matter how good they are) without being a good client yourself. The good news? It’s pretty simple to be a good client. Here’s how…

Be clear about what you want

The first rule is to assume that we, the agency, are utterly stupid. Also that we are terrible mind-readers. Be extremely clear about what it is that you want us to do for you. Write it down in black and white and make sure we understand it. If you don’t do this, we’ll spend all of your money doing something else, and you’ll be annoyed with us.

Tell us how much money you have

This sounds like a terrible idea to you. But you’re going to have to trust us to get great work and that starts with the money. Tell us how much you have and we’ll design a project to get you fantastic results. Hide it away and we’ll respond by either scrimping where we don’t need to (compromising quality) or, more likely, by spending way too much early in the project (making it more expensive, lowering the quality, and in some cases even killing the whole project).

Send us the documents we need

What could be easier than emailing some files? It all sounds so simple. We meet, agree which documents we need, and you send them. But, in a twist (which I find mind-numbingly bizarre) we almost NEVER get all these documents from you when we ask for them! And if we don’t get the things we need to do the job, the job won’t be any good.

Give us access to the people we need

Your people are all busy, we get that. They have a million things to do. But we need to talk to them, at length, because they’re the ones that understand how everything works in your business. You don’t know how it all works (honestly). We don’t know how it all works (clearly). And if the people making the new stuff don’t know how everything works, the new stuff won’t work.

Reply to our emails and phonecalls

This one sounds needy. Designer-no-mates waiting for the call back. But you would not believe how often we get ignored by our clients! Again, we know you and your people are busy, but if you don’t get back to us it simply means we are spending your money working on things we’re not sure we should be working on. It’s a waste of your money.

Call us back. Please.

Review the designs we send you Reviewing design is tricky. You never feel you have enough time. We always feel you’re taking too long and making too many changes. There is no getting around this but it helps when we send you the designs on time (hold us to this!) and then you review them as planned. Otherwise we end up with feedback on feedback on feedback and everyone hates everyone.

Make binding decisions

This is my number one rule of being a good client. Successful projects always have a client with the power to make binding decisions and the gumption to actually make them. Without binding decisions about scope, direction and signoff projects descend into a spiral of mediocrity, over-runs and appalling compromise. You will hate this when it happens, so don’t let it happen.

Don’t change your mind too often!

Everyone changes their mind. It’s human and natural. But on a design project changing your mind leads to a cascade of rework that eats into the project budget and threatens delivery dates. It usually means more money, or less scope, or both. So although every client has the right to change their mind as often as they like, the best clients rarely do.

Challenge our work and our processes

Good clients make us better designers by challenging our work, our methods, our outputs, our timings, our costs, our designs, our everything (we might grumble, but it’s good for us). Not-so-good clients leave us to get on with things without ever challenging us and then moan about us afterwards when it’s too late. Challenge early, challenge often, challenge loudly.

Don’t give us work that’s not important

The sting in the tail: all the rules above are useless if you are giving us work that you don’t care about. You won’t send the documents, make the people available, review our work, make decisions or challenge us because you just don’t care. User experience design is expensive. Don’t waste your money on unimportant projects that you don’t care about.

Good clients get great work

That’s it. It’s not hard to be a good client, but it is surprisingly rare. I can count on one hand the clients who have followed all of these rules. But that handful of clients got incredible work. They saw their businesses improve dramatically. They got promoted, and promoted again, and promoted again. Truly great projects are always a partnership between the agency and the client, and the truth is we both have to work extremely hard to make them happen.