Lack of Direction from Clients

I’m looking for advice or suggestions in regards to a couple freelance projects I am doing on the side right now. The projects have a very limited time/budget so we are attempting to move from rough sketches to a presentable “proof-of-principle” CAD model. It’s work that is being passed to me, so I have little information on the final uses of my work, sadly.

I feel like I have asked for their input, some inspiration-type images, and stressed that it’s not reasonable to jump too quickly through the process. The budget can’t really change. Now I believe the best I can do is to literally “do my best” given the information I have. I’d want the work, but I’m fearful that the final results could be sub-par. Thanks!

Feel free to explain to them the simple rules of design.

You could provide the inspiration and ask for feedback?

I don’t know what area of design you work in, but as I’m a footwear designer, I tend to make either mood boards or a research report (of relevant competitor product) , sometimes both and submit this for feedback. It creates a starting point so that I know their taste and needs before I start designing.

I love the graph Hoodzy. Shoe- this is for a consumer product… Thanks for thoughts. I think even if I create a 1-page/presentation suggestion for form inspiration that could help.

Creating the solid brief is a big part of a design job. If that wasn’t done in your part I don’t know if it’s fair to blame the client. I won’t take on a job that doesn’t have a well thought out scope or planning stage in the budget to avoid exactly the issue you mention.


It is a good lesson to learn. There are different types of projects, and that difference varies the scope, timing, and price.

Some projects are very clear cut, or can be made that way with some upfront alignment before the kickoff. Those are easy to to scope.

Other projects are more like adventures with more nebulous goals and a foggy path to success. Sometimes that is caused by the problem itself (ie, what is the future of the kitchen?), sometimes it is caused by a client who needs more understanding of the process. Either way, it is on us to scope that accordingly as it will take much more time.

@R- Thanks for feedback! I do partially blame my direct client (a small engineering group), not the individual client funding the project. I have had a couple of projects from this group- thankfully, and I’ve made it a point to say that direct contact with the individual and upfront research is critical. They have accommodated my requests slightly- once asking for research, another time allowing me to speak with the client (after a couple rounds of concepts in which the client still wasn’t giving constructive feedback). After I could work directly with the client things went smoothly, even though the concepts weren’t dramatically changed from the original presentation.

The engineering group decides the allotted hours/pay based on my costs. I have willingly given them more hours than allotted, because I appreciate their business and think it’s been necessary for the project. I’ve been clear with them and they know they are getting more of my time/work than allotted. Based on the feedback here I’m realizing that maybe the extra time I’m spending needs to go into some amount of upfront research (even if they don’t ask). It seems like it’s on me to continuously suggest the time/tools I need to effectively do the job. And I should try to become more efficient.

I’ve thought about not accepting the project if they don’t provide appropriate time/pay. Being a new and potentially valuable place to get projects from, I just can’t do that yet. I’m a junior-mid level designer trying to gain experience. The group has been very happy with the work I’ve given them, and that’s the most important thing to me right now. I understand (but don’t agree with) some compromise to ID’s role, but even this is pinching what I can accept for good quality work.

@yo- it is a good lesson, and I think the group I’m working for is learning what I need as a designer as well. My suggestions have been beneficial to the projects. Thanks for your input!

some clients need lots of ‘steering’ in order to gain the feedback you need, think of ways you can make it easier for them to give you the answers you need.

The good news is that they are happy with what you’re providing and it’s being used. But it sounds like they don’t fully understand what you’re providing them and are therefor not able to evaluate what you are providing them. For that matter they are probably not able to ‘protect’ it as it goes further up the chair or towards manufacture either. Both things will lead to dissatisfaction and frustration on your part.

If -say- a women’s fashion designer were asking me for feedback on their designs, I’d be quite stumped too -not my area of expertise. Even with features being explained to me, I would still be rather in the dark. E.G. “…this collar shape makes the woman feel more in control…” etc.

I would be more able to provide critical feedback if the designer would provide some other frames of reference for me -what alternatives he/she did NOT do and for what reasons. “… lower cut collars create an comfort feel, or this double-hemmed collar would attract attention to the ears -but these are not what our target market is looking for”. Knowing that we do not want to attract attention to their ears (!) I would now be more confident about the choice of design and more able to ‘sell’ it to others and protect that element through manufacture compromises.

Hope that helps, more than it confuses…