Effective Communication With The Non-Creative and Non-Technical Folks

It is very common to hear people say their last client was a pain, or that he didn’t “get it”, or “it looks ugly now because the guy wanted me to change this and that“.

Yes, I’m guilty, I said stuff like that many times before. But I probably shouldn’t have, and instead apply what I’ve learned from working in sales and marketing (5 years).

It’s usually the result of misinterpretation and a lack of communication between the creative and also technical mind (which would be you) and the non-creative mind (the client).

You just can’t expect a customer to tell you exactly what he wants, you’re the profesionnal, you got the skills, and you’re the one who spent years learning. Your customer wants to have the job done (which is why they hired you). You come from a different background than your client, you have different interests, values, opinions. You’re the bridge between the initial idea, the concept, the experience, and the content, the design, or if you prefer: the finished product.

If your client wants you to change this and that, make the header more blue-ish, the corners more rounded, or rewrite the text to make it more like… ok you get the idea. Basically your client is telling you this is not what he wants. It’s not the right “experience”.

which could be translated into:

It looks good (or sounds great), but it’s not exactly what I had in mind, it doesn’t convey the initial idea.”

Back to the drawing board!

Wait! You did exactly what your client asked you to!

Really? well, maybe, or maybe not…

Wearing Many Different Hats

In order to retain your customers, and make them want to do business with you again, you have to “forget about what you know” and think “retention” and “long term“. You have to be a sales rep and be able to wear different hats at the different stages of a project.

Your client has goals, can you help your client reach those goals?

It’s quite simple. You know your stuff more than anyone else, you spent years in school learning those skills, and you now work 20, 40 or even 60 hours a week in that field. Should your client trust your decisions?


What it comes down to is:

  • Being able to effectively communicate with your clients
  • Understand the “basic, non-technical jargon
  • Being able to read between the lines
  • Make things clear right from the start
  • My Own Experience

    I’m a musician and sound engineer, and when someone asks me something like:

    I would like to have a bigger sound, is it possible to make it sound more “warm“.

    How the heck to you define a “warm sound“? What does that mean? He means more bass or more mids?

    A bigger or warmer sound doesn’t mean anything really, it’s basically a perception/feeling thing. A fat guitar sound may mean something to you, but it doesn’t mean the same thing to me. A warmer sound would be more mid frequencies, a little more low end, and maybe a cut on the higher frequencies, but that’s my own perception.

    After many years of dealing with people (clients) that had no idea how to explain stuff, I learned to read between the lines and translate that “stuff” into something I would understand, something I could use and work with in order to get things done. I started paying attention to details, and used the same jargon as my clients, it all started to make more sense, meaning: more business my way! ;)



    1. says

      Haha Jon… I might just know xactly what you’re talking about!

      I designed some corporate websites along with some really good graphics guys, and upon presentation, the boss says, “I don’t like that background colour…”

      And I start thinking “Mr Boss, it DOESN’T matter what YOU like! People who visit your website or read your advertisements… it’s THEM who should like it! ”

      Like they say, you know, “Eat to please yourself, and dress to please others.”

      Interesting post, Jon :)

    2. says

      Jon, I can relate to what you’re saying because I used to be a consultant as well! My main job last time is to translate the requirements from my users or clients into functional stuff that can be comprehended by my programmers.

      But actually, I’m pretty glad my clients or rather users are a bit unsavvy whether in terms of technical or creative areas, because if they’re not… I’ll be without my job then!

      In my point of view, it’s important to achieve a considerable balance. Because sometimes, whatever that the users say may be impractical from a system/technical point of view… it’s the consultant’s onus to give the right advice, at the right time…

      Good article, btw!


    3. says

      Hey Jonathan,

      Absolutely – understanding what the client actually wants can involve all kinds of voodoo. And when it’s done, they can change their minds and say “that’s not actually what i wanted, just what i thought i wanted”. :-)

      Learning how to communicate with these guys and anticipate those needs and changes is CRUCIAL!.

      And guess what – some clients are more difficult than others, by a long shot. Many are awesome to work with. One of the great things about working for yourself is that you get to pick who you want to work with, and you can always fire an undesirable client. Very cool. :-)

      Have an awesome day!
      Dan & Jennifer

    4. says

      Hi Zakman, haha it happened to me so many times! “can you change this and that?” or “I don’t like this, can you replace it by..?”. Had to learn how to make them understand that it’s not the first time I do this. :)

      Ellesse, thank you very much! Good point you bring, if they all understood exactly what, how and when to do our job, we wouldn’t be self-employed, we’d be unemployed. hehe

      Hi Dan and Jennifer (is it Dan or Jennifer?). Yep firing an undesirable client, I did that before, just have to think “long term”, if you can put up with the client’s attitude and requests and it pays well, don’t fire him, but if you end up working for 4 bucks an hour, you’re probably better off firing that client :)


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