trade tales | Sep 10, 2021 |
7 designers share how they deal with indecisive clients

Nothing throws a wrench in the design process like a client who just can’t make up their mind. We asked seven designers—Mick De Giulio, Lauren Evans, Christine Lin, Ruben Marquez, Louisa McGregor, Megan Stein and Naomi Stein—how they help clients push past decision paralysis.

Mick De Giulio
Mick De GiulioCourtesy of Mick De Giulio

Happens to everyone
“Most clients have struggled in making decisions on a project, and that’s a good thing! It means they are engaged in the process and just need more time and information to feel comfortable with their choices. I think it’s important for designers to understand that this is a part of the process, and patience and understanding is a necessary part, as well. I like to try to remove any sense of pressure so the client feels more relaxed and calm in making decisions. Being well prepared and presenting ideas with my own opinion as to why one approach is better is also important.” —Mick De Giulio, de Giulio, Chicago

Louisa McGregor
Louisa McGregorCourtesy of Louisa McGregor

Weigh it out
“We do our best to narrow down our suggestions to options that meet the clients’ personal lifestyle and best aesthetics for the space. However, for the cases where a client may be unsure of an item or have another item in mind, we go through a pros-and-cons list for why an item may or may not work. Like, why white marble counters in a kitchen may not be the best idea, but suggesting using white marble in a bathroom. This process always helps clients make an informed decision, and that gives them confidence in all the choices and overall design plan.” —Louisa McGregor, Lolita Interiors, Boston

Megan Stein and Naomi Stein
Megan Stein and Naomi SteinCourtesy of Design Manifest

Three-part plan
“We have a multistep discovery process with clients, and while our goal is to understand them, we also position ourselves as the experts every step of the way. The second part of our strategy is to help clients see the whole picture rather than focusing on the details. In the layout stage of designs, we avoid showing even suggested colors and finishes, in order to keep clients focused on flow and layout without getting distracted. We also create full-color renderings for all presentations, because we find that this really helps clients see the design in its entirety and be less likely to nitpick one individual element. The final key to helping indecisive clients is not to give them a ton of options—we typically do not show multiple options at final design presentations unless we are genuinely in love with two options and want to let the clients vote. Having fewer options is scientifically proven to provide greater a sense of satisfaction. We all know about decision fatigue and option paralysis, so our philosophy is to hash it out internally, trust our guts and our intuitive sense of our clients, and deliver the seamless, well-considered vision that results!” —Naomi Stein and Megan Stein, Design Manifest, Philadelphia

Christine Lin
Christine LinCourtesy of Christine Lin

Get to the source
“We always start with figuring out the reason why the clients are struggling to make a decision. Do they need to see a lot of options? Are they not liking what we’re showing them? Are they having a hard time visualizing and need realistic renderings? Are their expectations not in line with their budget, the material constraints or best practices? Or do they just need us to be firm about what is the best design? When we understand why they’re struggling to make a decision, then we can help them get to a decision by providing the information that’s missing.” —Christine Lin, Form + Field, San Francisco

Ruben Marquez
Ruben MarquezCourtesy of Ruben Marquez

Be empathetic
“It is sometimes frustrating when clients can’t make decisions, so I often remind myself to have empathy. For some, this is the very first time they are investing in their home, so they need to process the available options. We always take a detailed brief on the clients’ desires and needs before offering design solutions. When they do struggle on pulling the trigger, we often refer to the briefing notes to remind them that this is what they’ve wanted since day one. Additionally, we are upfront about the potential—and often guaranteed—delays and timelines if they don’t make a decision. In other words, don’t take your sweet time. The longer you ponder, the longer you wait to get it!” —Ruben Marquez, Ruben Marquez Inc., Pasadena, California

Lauren Evans
Lauren EvansCourtesy of Lauren Evans

Break it down
“We find the quicker we understand how our clients tick and what their concerns are, the easier it is for us to assist them with making up their minds. When we narrow down choices, we make sure to add context to each choice that supports their concerns. We break down the pros, cons and reasoning behind the options based on their priorities and preferences. This helps clients feel organized and informed, ultimately freeing them to offer a decision they feel good about.” —Lauren Evans, Lauren Evans Interiors, San Francisco

Homepage photo: A project by Form + Field | Courtesy of Form + Field

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