Be Your Client’s Best Client

Apple founder Steve Jobs is often quoted for his take on innovation: “How does somebody know what they want if they haven’t even seen it yet?” Designers excel at seeing the potential in spaces that others don’t and providing solutions clients didn’t even know they wanted. Jobs used himself as market research for Apple products; he was his own “best client.” You have to respect your client’s wishes, but don’t stop there. Delve deeper to give them more than what they think they want.

A recent article in Entrepreneur provides some useful tips for finding out what your clients really want or need without relying on them to tell you. Although the article pertains to e-businesses, the basic principles apply to any service provider.
• Observe real actions. Instead of asking questions about how the client uses their home, do some fieldwork. Ask to watch them cook a meal, help the kids with their homework, or prepare for guests.
• Collect data, not wish lists. When the client mentions something they want, probe a bit deeper (e.g., “Tell me more about that.”) to get to the facts that lie behind that wish. Don’t rely on the client to presume to know the best design solution for their problem.
• Gather unfiltered feedback. Studies have shown that when people are being interviewed they try to give answers they think the questioner wants to hear. Leave some photos or other material for the client to review and check back with them later to gather their impressions of what they liked and didn’t like.
• Listen for key words. Are there certain words or phrases the client tends to use over and over? They are likely “shorthand” for something of deeper significance you want to learn more about.

Discovering what motivates clients will help you to be their “best client.” To find out more about what clients really want, I invite you attend my upcoming design marketing Master Class at High Point Market, Wednesday, October 17, from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM at the High Point Theatre at the Transportation Terminal. For more information, visit or register at


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