How to explain change to clients

What a year.
Few of us will exit this year the same way we entered.
Adaption is the new black.
Many of us will have changed the way we work.
Studio/no studio. Staff/freelancers. Full service/specialisation.

Just how much if this change should we explain to our clients?

Are clients interested?

The first question to ask is are clients interested in changes to our business model? and the answer is probably no. Not unless the change negatively impacts them.

It’s not rude, it’s because clients are struggling through their own challenges. Infact, one of the client responses in our recent ‘What clients want’ survey was: “I wish designers had more empathy for my world. Designers do a brilliant job of meeting the need of my market, sometimes more so than the needs of me”.

So, clients are not interested in our world because they are so busy with their world.

I wish designers had more empathy for my world. Designers do a brilliant job of meeting the need of my market, sometimes more so than the needs of me.
Anonymous client comment

So, what is of interest to clients?

Surviving. Clients are interested in what they need to do to survive in a rapidly changing marketplace. When we asked clients: What do you perceive to be your main business challenge? The majority answered: It’s difficult to form any long term strategy. Why do they find it difficult? Here’s some of the reasons:

  • they spend so much time putting out spot fires
  • they lack funds/budget from head office
  • they’re constantly chasing a dynamic / diversifying market
  • and they’re understaffed.

What’s happening elsewhere?

Our findings correlate with the UK What clients think survey, where 71% of clients stated that they are unable to give as much consideration to longer term brand building as they would like. A number of clients said they were increasingly firefighting with little time for longer-term thinking. So, it seems a universal problem.

Are clients even interested in design?

Yes, absolutely. A majority of clients surveyed believed their organisation benefited from design and many expected design to play a greater role in the next few years. But not one client mentioned being worried their design partner’s business was too small, too large, had the wrong business model or was working from home.

Infact, even when asked what could your design partner do better? the answers had nothing to do with business model or location. It was all to do with communication and initiative.

Here’s some of the (unprompted) quotes:

  • they’re too comfortable, I want to be constantly pushed (More about these findings here)
  • I’d like them to be more interested in the outcome that results from their work – basically, did it fulfill the bigger brief of engaging and communicating effectively? They just want to move onto the next project. They chase bright and shiny. (More about this topic here.)
  • Be more proactive with offering input on their areas of expertise (more about these findings here)
  • I wish they would communicate more – initiate conversations, specifically let me know immediately if the wheels fall off so we can fix it together.

So, we couldn’t find a client worried about the ‘behind the scenes’ studio challenges of their design partner.

So, what does this mean?

Our design industry is largely project based and this naturally results in some lulls between projects. Plugging the gaps with a continuing stream of communication is important, but all our research shows clients will be more interested in information about their world and their market than yours.

The objective is to use the communication to prove to clients you’re up to speed with their ‘fast moving market’.

I think it’s fair to say clients don’t mind (care?) if you are up to speed at home, in the studio or in a café.

Got an opposing view? As always, happy to discuss, just email.

Carol Mackay

Want more?

Here’s five more articles about our What clients want survey:

  1. Do clients look at designer’s websites
  2. Do clients think designers are proactive or reactive?
  3. What clients want to hear in a pitch
  4. How clients find designers
  5. How clients prefer to meet designers
  6. A summary of our 2019 UNseminar – we invited three clients to be grilled by designers.

Want more information like this delivered to your inbox every Wednesday?
The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with research, mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of my previous career is at
My current work can be viewed at and

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.