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Miss Manners Design Client Do’s and Don’ts

by Margaret Penney | October 30, 2017

When I was small, my family had the Miss Manners book that described all kinds of things that people should know about etiquette, ethics, and friendship. My sisters and parents would read it together and sometimes I think about that book when I am figuring out how to approach a client relationship and ask myself “What Would Miss Manners say?” With that in mind, I’ve collected some Miss Manners quotes that relate to design client truisms discovered over the years.

“It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help.”

So true. When working with a client and ready to send of your initial designs don’t over-describe your work. Keep it simple and understandable and most importantly don’t brag. Try and let the work speak for itself. If the work is truly good then there will be no need to write too much. As a rule of thumb, one paragraph will suffice, in some cases, less.

“If you can’t be kind, at least be vague.”

I find this quote useful when asked to respond to a client that may have a negative reaction to your work. Instead of being reactive yourself it is usually best to be more positive yet vague.  An example of this kind of response might be: “I understand what you are saying and will work to improve the design.”  Absolutely nothing wrong with this kind of response and it can provide a way to start a new dialogue with your client.

“When virtues are pointed out first, flaws seem less insurmountable.”

For me, this quote relates to working with other web professionals. If you work with web developers on websites sometimes all your design changes don’t go through on the first go. The best way to move towards having the website look like your initial design is to provide feedback with the positive first, followed by less positive comments.

“Email is very informal, a memo. But I find that not signing off or not having a salutation bothers me.”

Miss Manners may be being a bit old-fashioned here but she is probably right about signing off on emails, especially to new clients. Signing off on emails to new clients also provides an opportunity to give them your website, social links and other details, making it easier for them to contact you.

Email etiquette is key when working with clients today. Another thing I think best to do, that Miss Manners might approve of, is to never send out invoices over the weekend. Even though today one can email a client at any time, it’s best to try and send out work emails during regular business hours when possible.

“Many people mistakenly think a new technology cancels out an old one.”

Designers work with more technology than they used to do, and with each new feature and automated process it can seem like the role of the designer is diminished. It would be a mistake though for designers to think that new technologies cancel out the old or that they don’t matter. Good design is about careful choices and interpretation of visual culture and is not like paint-by-numbers.

As designers, it’s not always necessary for us to work on the cutting edge in technology. Ideally one wants to have an understanding of many technologies and techniques throughout design history, so one can combine them in interesting ways, or choose the right technology or approach for each unique design assignment.

What client etiquette tips do you have to share? To learn more from Miss Manners read the Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.


Margaret Penney is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Margaret is a teacher, designer, writer and new media artist and founder of Hello Creative Co.


If you are interested in developing your graphic design skills, Sessions College offers a range of graphic design courses for students at all levels. Contact Admissions for more information.

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