Three Fundamentals For Working With Clients That Have Unrealistic Expectations About The Design Process

If you have ever had to design a product for a client that has unrealistic expectations, and those expectations led to people feeling frustrated or stuck on both sides, then I understand where you’re at.


It’s a pretty common problem. Personally, I’d had it with clients that had unrealistic expectations because they didn’t understand the design process. These were always the same clients that demanded changes, rework and fixes that dragged projects on forever.


We dealt with this until I had the realization that I could automate an onboarding process that prepared our clients for an ideal relationship with us.

We built this onboarding process on a few key fundamentals that seemed to really help our clients.  As a result, it reduced the number of frustrated clients we worked with as well as the number of projects that didn’t seem to ever go away.  And, did I mention, work was much more enjoyable when we implemented this?


The three key fundamentals we needed them to understand were:


  1. The full design process, in particular the Design > Test > Iterate process.
  2. The cost and difficulty making changes later in the design process.
  3. Getting clear on their requirements in the beginning saves lots of time and $$ later.


Understand The Full Design Process

Most people think the design process is just that…design.  The reality is that design is just one step of an 8 step design process.



This is one of the biggest reasons most products fail. People don’t know what they don’t know. Because they’re not familiar with the design process and design thinking they typically skip several of the steps just because they are totally unaware of them.


We’ve found most people start with Ideation (Step #4) and think they’re finished at Design (Step #5) because they hired a professional that knows all of the answers.  They generally get the most frustrated during the Test > Iterate phases when something goes wrong. In reality, even when something goes wrong, it’s a giant leap forward.


When they understand this up front, things go better.


Know The Cost And Difficulty Of Making Changes Late In the Design Process

“We just need to make one simple change”….Oh, those infamous 8 words! When a client wants to make a change or add new criteria late in the design process, they usually think it will be very simple.  They don’t understand that making a change late in design is like building a house, and you’ve already dug and poured the foundation, built the first floor, added the second floor, and you are about to put the roof on….only to find out you have to go back and rip out the foundation.


Fundamentals of Client Expectations Cost of Design Change
Click to Download a Full Resolution PDF to Use With Your Clients


We use this simple graphic to help our clients understand the relative cost of making changes throughout the design process.  Download a free copy for yourself here.


Get Clear on Requirements Up Front


Product goals are the very first, rough blueprints for what clients are building and help define what the final outcome should be.


Most people fail to define them and don’t uncover many specs until they are more than halfway through the design process and are ready to start prototyping.


When clients fail to define Product Goals early on, it always causes delays, design changes, frustration, and additional costs.  It’s important to take the time upfront to define as many product goals as possible.


This is a really difficult step for most people. I recommend creating a systematic and predictable processes that helps each of your clients flush out their goals before beginning design work.


I hope this has been helpful to you. Download a high-resolution PDF of our graphics to use with your own clients here.

Josh Taylor