When Design is Doubted

Whatever the reason, some clients just can’t be satisfied. Here are five ways to turn their objections into opportunities.

go visual & tactile
It may seem obvious that you should appeal to a client’s senses when proposing something new, but the importance of this cannot be understated. For most people, understanding of a concept or solution comes fastest from personal interaction.

“For floor plan layouts and material choices, almost 100 percent of the time, we sell our ideas by having great drawings, which are not only beautiful but are clear and easy to understand. We also present lots of samples of actual finishes so they can feel them,” says Tirmizi.

Two-dimensional renderings, three-dimensional drawings, site visits and mockups can all be helpful in selling your vision. This approach is also useful for situations where you are proposing a wholesale change and need to alleviate the fear of the unknown that often accompanies it.

“On a recent commercial project, we had to convince a client to go with an open plan workspace,” Tirmizi recalls. “For staff accustomed to working in private offices, you have to show them that in an open plan they will still be able to get their work done and be efficient in doing so. We were successful in convincing them because we were able to show them the feeling of openness and collaboration. Also, it was helpful to physically show them mock-ups of different types of workstations, which are much more inviting and softer than the stereotypical cubicle most people think of when you say open plan.”

power in numbers
Metrics are a solid ally because they make a hard case for your design. While difficult clients can always find things to argue with when it comes to matters of aesthetics, it’s hard to argue with numbers.

“When faced with a situation where the client is not buying into a proposed design solution, I typically present the client with metrics,” says Susana Covarrubias, design director and senior associate in Gensler’s Seattle office. “For example, we created a Workplace Survey, or WPI, that measures organizations against the best performing companies in their industry. This is a great tool that tells clients where they are. Most clients are hesitant to change unless they see a business case for such change.”

“Take for example the move from private offices to open work environments,” she continues. “Traditional companies may find it hard to take this leap without understanding the benefits of it. Open plan is more efficient in the use of real estate, which translates into additional square footage for collaborative spaces. It’s a win-win situation.”

innovation wanted
Don’t be tempted to play it safe, just because you think it’ll create less controversy with clients. As much as they may not want to admit it, they are depending on your innovation to succeed.

“Attracting and retaining talent is a huge aspect in a competitive market. Talent will always go where innovation is,” notes Covarrubias. “Because of this, many times we are designing more than just space for our clients, but also helping them position their organization in the market to gain a competitive edge.”

And while you are the expert, you also know that you’re in business because you’re good at what you do and you make your clients happy—which means giving them an end-product they can truly be excited about.

“It’s definitely a team effort. It’s not going in there, being the knight on the white horse and saying ‘This is what you need.’ It’s more of a collaborative thing,” Pniewski says. “Part of it is getting to know the client and how they want to work. Some just want you to tell them what they need; others want to be part of the process and will push back because they don’t want to just take the first solution. The better the communication, the better the project.”

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