3 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Design Email Workflow

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| December 29, 2014

Workspace image via andysowards.com

As a web and game designer, I’m always on the lookout for tips and tricks I can use to up my design game. I cultivate my coding skills, I keep up with the latest tech, and I follow designers online for a constant stream of inspiration.

Over time, I’ve become a better designer by doing these things every day. The reward is great, but as with most things, the payoff is slow. With just a few days left before the New Year, here are 3 things you can do today to become a better designer—just by changing your email workflow.

Hone your email workflow

How long do client emails sit in your inbox unanswered?

When I first began freelancing, I’d sometimes panic when clients emailed me with challenging questions. Sometimes, the questions were complex and required detailed, multi-part answers. Other times, they were probing questions like, “Can we finish the project a week early?” or “Why is the contact form taking so long?”

The longer these emails went unanswered, the guiltier I felt. The guiltier I felt, the less likely it was that I’d ever answer the initial email.

Finally, I imposed a strict 24-hour turnover for email responses. Here are my own personal email workflow questions. Feel free to run with them!

1. Is this an easy question that can be answered in a few short sentences?

That’s great! Answer that email right now. Not an hour from now, not tonight. Sit down, put that answer in writing, click send, and get on with your day. Answer more challenging questions within a 24-hour window and answer easy questions right away. You’ll appear prompt and professional, and your clients will appreciate your openness and accessibility.

My only exception to the “easy question” rule is when it comes to answering emails after business hours. As a freelancer, I like to keep my hours flexible, but it doesn’t mean I like conducting business 24/7. When an email comes in after dinner, on a Sunday afternoon, or when I’m on vacation, I try not to open it outside of my normal working hours.

2. Is this a complicated creative or technical question?

It can be helpful to put your thoughts down in writing, but before drafting up a 5-page manifesto, ask yourself if this question would be better answered by phone.

I encourage this approach with clients who aren’t very tech savvy, and with clients who are super tech savvy. Clients on both ends of the tech literacy spectrum are bound to have more questions following your email response. It may be easier to answer those questions in realtime than to email back and forth for days.

So, the next time you’re emailed a complicated question, try this quick response:

Great question! Let’s discuss this over the phone. Can I give you a call [x day and time] to discuss?

While it may seem like extra work to schedule a call, a realtime phone conversation that leaves no stone unturned will save you time in the future.

3. Is this a question about money, a timeline, or a contract?

It can be awkward to answer questions about time or money, but it’s part of the biz. These questions are best answered immediately, as it’s never a good idea to move forward on a project if there’s any confusion about the project expectations.

You’re welcome to answer these questions over the phone, but I recommend following up with an email to get things into writing. Here’s an example:

Hi Jane, It was great speaking with you today. As we discussed, you’d like to add three new features to the site: a shopping cart, a photo gallery, and a message board. I’ll bill at my hourly rate of [x] for these features and I’ll let you know when we reach the [x] hour limit.

When discussing money, it’s all about transparency and clarity! Don’t be afraid of a little redundancy here.

Do you have other suggestions for improving your design email workflow? Leave a comment below, or share with us on twitter @NotesOnDesign.


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