Disclaimer: What you are about to read, though actual and factual, is intended for entertainment purposes (mainly) and is NOT (exactly) meant to provide any advice to my designer cohorts. For that, you should check out the designer questionnaire from Alycia Wicker over at Mupplebee.
In the meantime, enjoy this commentary from some lessons learned early on in my career about important design questions to ask clients.
How much do you want to invest in your largest investments (that is, you and your home)? In other words, what’s your budget?
This is now the very first (or second) question I ask. Some people are afraid to talk budget early on. But why waste everyone’s time (and money) if a potential client’s level of investment isn’t consistent with the products and services you provide? You need to at least determine that there is a realistic budget (or range) that will allow you to give them what they are asking for. Additionally, anyone who has “no idea” of their investment level is either afraid to say or is not really ready to hire a designer. Everyone knows how much money they have to spend, whether it’s $2,000 or $20,000.
What is your timeframe?
If they say, “Oh we aren’t in a big rush, we want to finish these 6 rooms by the holidays”, and the holidays are 8 weeks away, then it is likely this client has an unrealistic idea of how long a quality design project takes. Make sure that you aren’t over-promising with regard to time. It will set you up for extreme stress and an unhappy client every time.
Have you worked with a designer before?
If the answer is ‘yes’, why are you changing designers? If a client has a lot of bad things to say about a former designer, it is likely that soon they will have similar issues with you. Be aware of these red flags while you can still walk away from the job. Perhaps you can refer them to someone else who might be a better fit.
How do you envision the design process?
If the client has not worked with a designer before, it is up to YOU as the professional to clearly explain the process. If the client envisions lovely shopping outings and style discussions over lunch with you and you prefer to keep it professional – creating the design for the client and presenting to them in your (virtual) office – you are not on the same page. One of you is likely to be disappointed, or possibly downright frustrated. Be sure your expectations of each other are aligned before you sign on the dotted line.
Who makes the decisions on the project?
It can get very confusing (and frustrating) if you are working with a couple and it is not clear who makes the decisions. I recommend asking this question with all decision makers present, so you get an honest answer that everyone agrees on. This will help your project move faster and more smoothly in the long run. And keep in mind, sometimes one person controls the style direction and another the checkbook. You need both to get the job done.
Do you make decisions quickly or do you need time to think about things?
If they can’t even decide how they make decisions, then they probably don’t. Clients who are indecisive can drain the profits from your project. So, if at all possible, it’s good to know their decision-making habits before you price the job.
How did you hear about me?
This may not seem so important; I mean as long as you’re getting the business who cares right? Well, consider this…. If you get published in every online and print magazine, and operate a blog but the client says they found you in the phone book, they are probably not your ideal client. Referrals are typically best, but second best is someone who has seen and even researched your work and is very familiar with what you do.
What is your design style or vision?
If a client says they prefer ultra-traditional and you specialize in contemporary, this relationship is not a fit. Don’t try to make your style and practices fit theirs just for the money. Go out and find another client who appreciates and understands what you do/your specialty and you will both be happier.
Online tools can provide clues into a potential client’s design style and inspiration. For users who are not into technology, perhaps there are magazine clippings or even the type of mags that the client is drawn to can be a big clue into overall style, investment, and expectations.
What do you consider expensive? Inexpensive?
Last but not least we come back around to budget. Everyone’s idea of price is different and please be aware that it has little or nothing to do with how much a person can afford. One client may think a $400 lamp is a bargain and another client may think it’s extravagant(ly crazy). Be sure you are talking the same price language. When in doubt, just ask. Ex: “How much would you realistically want to spend on a new chair?” The same could be asked for flooring, artwork, accessories, etc. Also, people can and do value parts of a project over others so don’t confuse the furniture budget with the art budget, they may not be consistent.
“Laugh at my Pain” and learn from my mistakes!