There are clients I like and then there are clients I love. There are loads of reasons why but the best clients always seem to share some of the same characteristics. These reasons might seem obvious to some but in most cases, my favorite clients have every single one of these traits. Feel free to leave your own favorite qualities in the comment section.
1. Involved in the process
Good architecture is the result of a back and forth process, needs versus wants. Clients that participate in the process of evaluating and setting priorities are in a better position to make a diminishing scale of values. This type of client involvement helps create ownership of the process, and ultimately the end product.
2. Understand their budget
This is not the same as knowing your budget. It’s sort of glass half empty versus glass half full mentality – but with money. One has an empty “budget bag” that they think they can put stuff in until its full; the other has a bag with their budget in it and they take things out until the budget is expended. It might seem like the same thing but it’s not. The group putting stuff in the bag will continually try to jam more stuff in, well beyond when the zipper will close (just sit on it and then try…). The other, well, when you take the last thing out, that’s it, there’s nothing left. Whenever we have clients that stress quantity over quality, it’s a harbinger of things to come. It’s not the clients job to know what things cost, but when they keep increasing the square footage of the project, or continue to add program requirements without ever thinking that these things have costs associated with them, it’s shows that they aren’t thinking about the very base fact that everything has a cost associated with it.
3. Challenge the norm:
The best projects are a result of clients who push the envelope, those who are not interested in what everyone else is doing but rather interested in getting something that is uniquely theirs. Again, it’s an indication of ownership, both in the process and in the result.
4. Willing to Change
These clients will listen to the advice of the experts they have hired. Just because you have lived in a house your whole life does not necessarily make you qualified to design one. Let’s take a look at the simplest of spaces – the bathroom. In a nutshell it’s a toilet, a sink, a shower, bath or some combination of the two. Used one before and you pretty much have the essence of the thing. Let interject some variables; finish materials, cabinetry, door locations (one door from a hall or single room or shared access between multiple rooms), accessories (bath towel, hand towel, toilet paper roll, etc.) do you have a warming drawer (like you might see in kitchens), is the mirror configured to not steam up, or is there a TV behind a portion of it? I could keep going on – and half of this list involves technologies that weren’t available a few years ago. We even joke with some of our clients that we get at least one “Do what I say” card that we get to play at some point, ha ha right? We always use it.
5. Don’t already have it all figured out
This one seems pretty obvious. If we have someone who comes in and tells us that they already know what they want, they just need someone to draw it up….I’m out. If this is you, don’t even bother calling me because I’m not interested.
6. Expectations change as the process evolves
This is really about enjoying the process. Part of the design process will be discovering the unexpected; which is really the best, most exciting part. Some clients get as excited as we do when there is a struggle to find a better way, to explore the possibilities of what we think we know. There is typically a “Ah-Ha!” moment when things come together and the results look so obvious and simple, you wondered how it was that you only just know figured it out. These are great moments and are always the best part of any day.
This is sort of extension of #6 but I’ll focus on something that goes wrong; because something always goes wrong during construction. There are too many moving parts with dozens of separate individuals working on a project for there not to be misunderstandings, gaps in the documentation or even omissions. A good project requires everyone working together towards a common goal, a great project requires everyone to be on the same page and collaborating. The by-product of this collaboration means that as the project is getting built, things will require the input of the individuals working and sometimes that input requires change. Clients who understand the value of collaboration have the ability to be flexible – it’s an extension of teamwork.
8. Enjoy the construction process
Instead of waiting for the project to simply be done, the clients who come out and do more than project their lives into the building. They want to understand and see what’s happening. When you see clients on the job-site, some might think, “oh no, what are they doing here…”. I think, awesome, let’s walk around and see how things are turning out. I really enjoy explaining what people see on a job site (“see that piece of wood right there? That’s a fire stop”). The construction process is another part of the process and I like clients who are as involved during the building as they were selecting appliances. In some cases, I enjoy the clients who come out to the job-site during construction a lot more.
9. Sum of the whole is greater than its parts
We have all heard this phrase but putting into action can be tough. The items listed #1 through #8 all contribute towards a great client and the more of those traits (to me) the better. All of these characteristics have value and I don’t have them listed in any particular order. That having been said, the benefit of these traits seem to exponentially compound on one another and more time than not, when a client exhibits a few of these traits, they tend to exhibit them all.
10. Owners with Ownership
This is sort of the tally line for the entire list. Clients that go through and invest themselves into this process validate the end result because they didn’t just order this project, they helped create this project. Being involved and knowing why a thing exists they way it does, helps support its justification for being that particular way. Every owner I know who has committed themselves to the experience through their involvement has turned into my greatest advocate. I believe this to be true because they choose to get involved and be a part an act of creation – but they didn’t just “place an order” for a product, they came along for the experience and the “product” just happened to be the end result.