Client Collaboration

Filed under Clients, Project Team

Client Collaboration

One of the most important aspects of design is client collaboration. Do you notice how I said collaboration? Some clients and some designers feel the process of design should be one sided, but home design always starts as one thing and evolves continually as the designer and client get to know each other and work together.

So, how do you ensure smooth sailing during a project? I follow these four principals to communicate with my clients, but I also use them when I collaborate with vendors and artists:

  1. Listen
  2. Interpret
  3. Establish a common language
  4. Reiterate what you decide

So how do you do such a thing??


The first thing I do, is ask questions- both verbal and written. When I design a kitchen, I ask tons of questions to find out how to interpret my client’s likes and dislikes. OK, some of my clients call it homework, but this really helps me understand what they want in a project- even if they don’t know what they want!

Of course, I have opinions and yes, clients often want to know the answers right away, but I always encourage them to follow the process. It’s hard for Type A people like myself, who want all of the answers ASAP, but during the design “relationship,” and yes, it is a relationship, you need to take the time to listen, so you can interpret their words!


Words should be defined together. I have a list below of words that I define- and this list is by no means comprehensive. If your client or designer says a word over and over, ask them to show you a photo to describe what they are saying.

  • Traditional
  • Contemporary
  • Dark
  • Moody
  • Light and bright
  • Classic
  • Organic
  • Gray- or any other color!

I love to hear answers to my question, “What elements are included in a traditional kitchen?” One client thinks, dark wood floors, white painted cabinets, wainscoting, moldings, and paned windows. Another client thinks, walnut colored floors, with lots of grain showing, wood cabinets and soft hues for the walls.

How do you go about interpreting? Take the words that you use to describe your vision and apply a visual to it. If someone wants more “texture” in their design, then have them show you an example of what kind texture they are talking about. It may be a course, distressed floor or it could be a nubby fabric. So, get some specific examples up front. It will save you a TON of time!

Visual Options

  1. Pinterest– share a design board
  2. Magazine images- an oldie but goodie
  3. Houzz
  4. Photos
  5. Design boards- virtual and physical

Establish a Common Language

Once you get your definitions straight, then you have your common language. Did I mention that this language is different for a husband and wife? Yep, it is individual so I like to have the all decision makers take my “quizzes” and do my “homework!”

Reiterate, Reiterate

Redundant? You bet! Once a decision is made, write it down and share your decisions via email or on paper.

The hardest thing about design is when the other party is let down due to a mistake or a misinterpretation. Why does this happen? There are sooo many decisions to be made during the design process! Sometimes, we make decisions by ourselves because we don’t want the other person to be overwhelmed. Sometimes, we think one decision maker will tell their partner. Other times, we rely on a vendor to communicate with another vendor. Sometimes, the incorrect item is delivered and installed. You can see where this is going and it never ends very well!


  1. Take notes at your meetings
  2. Send out bullet pointed notes to everyone. If this seems painful, print out forms to keep in your car and handwrite them.
  3. If you are selecting several paints for your project or want tile installed in a certain pattern, yes, you send spec sheets to your contractor, but also print out the specifications on a paper and tape it up in the room where the work will be done.
  4. All contractors and vendors work differently, so even if they have their own style, you have to be one step ahead.

Lastly, remind everyone that sh** happens! Something on every project doesn’t go as planned or scheduled. Yes, we try to minimize this with all of our due diligence, but it happens anyway. Designers must be creative solutions experts. Ooh. I like that! I think I will put that on my business cards! That along with marriage counselor and interpreter:)

Anyhow, everyone must be flexible! If something goes wrong, there is another way to do it. Guess what? You will probably have a better result because of the extra thought you put into discovering a solution. I know, at the time it doesn’t feel like it will be a better solution, but that is why I have a laughter policy. Yes, I only work with people who can laugh- with and at me. I really believe that comic relief gets you through everything!! I call that a collaborative laugh!

Good luck with your next collaboration!! I hope you enjoyed this post and that you were able to glean a few tips to help on your next home project! For a collaboration tip sheet, click HERE and bring it to your next meeting!

Collaboration Tips

Download Your Collaboration Tip Sheet



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