Clients post COVID – what’s changed?

Late 2021, when many in the design industry were surveying the damage and pondering their future, research found clients were doing the same. Difference is, where designers were energised by new opportunities post COVID, only 28% of clients felt the same way.

A whopping 72% of clients did not feel energised.

Do they not like change or are they just too busy picking up the pieces to be energised? Either way, I think it’s OK to assume they’re comfortable for others to take the lead.

A quick stocktake of industry sectors shows COVID left the graphic design industry in a better state than many others. Most designers own laptops so we were already portable; most have worked weekends to meet deadlines so we’re comfortable working remotely; and we’re a technology-savy lot, able to problem-solve communications, cloud storage and tech issues.

Working independently was part of our daily routine.

Not so much our clients, many of whom sat at a desk, looking at a monitor networked through a faceless IT department. Not portable, nor independent. Working remotely was a complete change to the way they worked. It’s no wonder they did not emerge energised and ready to embrace (more) change.

Designers are perfectly suited to help clients embrace change

Research about clients

The research I quote from is from the UK, based on UK clients. It’s research conducted each year for the past six, and the results are always interesting. The only problem is, we’re unsure how accurate the findings are in the Australian market.

Take this fact:

74% of clients said digital transformation is a major business priority

This is interesting because I’d assumed – obviously incorrectly – any client wanting to improve their digital offer would have done it by now.

Apparently not.

Of the 580 UK clients interviewed 26% said COVID exposed weaknesses in their digital capacity. Better than that, they added it had been difficult getting resources, but COVID had got the attention of the Board. I think that’s fair to assume that will translate to a larger slice of the budget, and more resources, especially for digital projects.

In the UK, nearly a quarter of clients expected their digital budget to grow

Wouldn’t you like to know whether that holds true in Australia? What Australian sectors are (still) looking to improve their digital offer?

(As an aside, remember, digital activity and growth is not limited to marketing and/or communciation departments. Revisit the value chain to identify where other digital projects might lie across an organisation.)

85% of clients want to discover a new creative partner rather than be sold to

The same research confirmed what we all knew: clients dislike cold calling as much as designers. It also confirms new business is about being seen, rather than knocking on doors.

And one last piece of research too good not to repeat:

The top three expectations clients have of their studio/agency:

  1. Be an ally. Have their back. Responsiveness and pragmatism is in high demand. Share industry insights to show you understand their business and their challenges.
  2. See the bigger picture. True experts are tunnel visioned with their subject-matter expertise and clients are no different. It’s hard for them to see outside their industry sector, but most are  hungry for interesting observations/insights.
  3. Deliver on time and on budget. Reliability is often underrated by designers but not clients. Delivering late or over budget had the highest potential to embarrass clients or make their life in the C-suite difficult, to the extent they rated it more important than creativity.

Next steps

Year after year these UK reports deliver valuable insights. Insights clients are pleased to share – the only problem is, they’re UK clients and UK insights.

We’re fixing that.

Ask your client what they want…

We’re conducting our own What clients want research to compare the Australian design market with the UK market. We’re asking designers in our network to ask their clients to take 10 minutes to fill in the survey. In our experience, clients have been pleased to be asked, especially when the objective is to improve the client/designer relationship.

Wait there’s more…

Ask yourself: what do you think your client wants?

We’re also asking designers to complete a survey asking What do designers think client’s want?  It should take about 10 minutes – complete the survey with a client in mind, trying to walk in their shoes.

The surveys are now open across Australia, and will close in August.
Please take part in the research: results will be published in September.

Got a comment/question? As always, happy to discuss further, just email.

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These articles talk more about the designer/client relationship:

  1. More details about the survey
  2. What to say to a client you’ve been stalking
  3. What if clients found you?


Carol Mackay
Co-founder Design Business Council.

We help designers build confidence in their business decision-making skills

We do that by
• supporting creatives to learn management skills
• helping business owners identify and target better clients
• introducing tools and systems to increase a studio’s productivity, and
• focusing on a sustainable work/life balance.
We share our knowledge in a library of free resources, workshops, group and one-on-one mentoring.


About Carol Mackay

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, Carol pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry.

Carol’s special power has always been an ability to use design to translate difficult to understand or complex messages. She believes design brings clarity to complex issues. From clarity comes understanding, and understanding leads to knowledge.

As a designer she used those skills with clients like The Magistrates, County and Supreme Courts; Ombudsman schemes and Emergency Service agencies. At DBC she uses the same skills … she helps designers de-mystify the complexities of managing a small business.

Outside of DBC Carol mentors graduates and is a Board member at Never Not Creative, a community of creatives pushing for change in the creative industry.


The round table has been invaluable to me professionally and personally. It has helped me to step up from a sole trader to a business operator mindset. The combined insights from Carol, Greg, and round table participants have broken down what seems a large undertaking into achievable micro-steps. Most importantly, the support that the monthly catch-ups have provided has given me drive to push forward.”

Georgie Batt, Founder, Creative Director, By Georg Design

In the past few months I have learnt more from the DBC round tables than I have in the previous year of being in business. Not just from Carol and Greg but from the fellow designers ‘at the table’. It’s a non-competitive, safe environment. I’m definitely re-signing … my only regret is not joining one of their roundtables earlier.”

Julie Schroder, Co-founder, Studio Hoopla

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