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How a single-fighter designer convinces big clients

So, now you’re a designer working for big clients. Ok, cool. And you’re the only designer on the team. Uhm, ok.

It was summer last year when I first joined my team. I got hired by a New York-based digital agency, a subsidiary of the considered world's largest advertising company, as of 2019. Considering its name, the company has numerous huge clients under the hood. The directors who interviewed me said I would work specifically for a global leading automaker company. Yep, exciting.

When my team told me I would lead the UX design for the US market of the automaker company, it was like throwing a sequoia tree on my shoulder. I supposed everyone was an expert in their fields, so that’s also applied to my case. However, looking at myself, sure I had 4 years of design experience, but I just graduated from grad school and was only in my mid-20s. I felt so threatened. It was a huge responsibility.

Being the only designer on the team was a common practice in agency life. But, I didn’t want to just get the work done and please the clients. I wanted to be impactful to society. There are plenty of things I’ve learned from being a single-fighter designer to impact conversations to educate the clients about user experience.


Understand the problem

Don’t say yes easily. I used to think that some clients already knew what they wanted. They didn’t. They could be very delusional until we showed them a thousand examples before we finally had an agreement.

It is problematic when a designer and the clients don’t share the same understanding and goal from the beginning. I’ve learned that asking at least 5 whys is the key to understand the core problem.

Clients hire designers to help them solve their problems. But, sometimes they come to designers without knowing what’s the core problem in their business. The 5 whys strategy is an effective tool for uncovering the root problem. Start by asking the clients why they want us to help them with their business. Make sure the answer is grounded in fact, and then ask 4 more whys until we discover the root cause of the problem.

The 5 Whys Technique
The 5 Whys Technique

The 5 whys method helps both the designer and the client focus on finding the root cause of the problem which leads to a clearer goal.

It’s okay to be very annoying asking millions of questions. Don’t move forward if we don’t know what’s the core problem. It will be a waste of time and resources.


Learn from other perspectives

See the whole picture. A designer’s job is not only to make things pretty but also to bring a greater impact on business and society. To see the whole picture, we need to see from other perspectives. I believe that diversity brings the best ideas to the table.

A designer might not have expertise in data or technology. But, a designer who seeks solutions that consider other perspectives such as strategy, content, data, or technology could bring the most effective ideas that lead to a bigger impact. Ask other experts in their field to gather more insights in order to make the best decision.

In the end, to create a product that has a delightful user experience, we need to implement a data-driven design framework. Design thinking that is combined with data science and analytics can help the business to unlock new opportunities and reinforce long-term innovation capability.

By having understandings of other fields, it helps the designer to convince the clients to invest in user experience for better conversion rates and user retention.


Ask for help

There was some time when I lost confidence in convincing the clients with big design decisions. They were the leading automaker company in the world. A single mistake could affect millions of users and lead to millions of dollars lost.

I always thought that it was the sole designer’s responsibility to design the end product that converts. But, my team reminded me that I wasn’t alone. The decisions we made, they weren’t a single person’s decisions. They were the team’s, or we could say the company's decisions.

I’ve learned that if our voices are not strong enough to convince the clients, reach out to the higher-level people to back us up.


Improve communication skills

A designer’s responsibility is not done after delivering tangible designs. A designer needs to be a good communicator to sell the ideas.

My senior colleague once told me that we had to understand the clients’ backgrounds in order to improve our communication skills. European clients are different from Americans. To make a deeper connection, we need to humanize the relationship as we’re trying to be more empathetic towards them.

Whenever we communicate our solutions, I’ve learned that we shouldn’t get defensive. Be an active listener. After all, both the designer and the client are going towards the same goal. Always keep things positive even though sometimes it’s not ideal. Letting loose can be the key to build trust and in the end, we could convince them with the greater decisions.


Show don’t tell

Yes, it is our job to please the clients to gain their loyalties. If the clients are not convinced by words, show them data. If they don’t give a clear brief, show them visuals. Communicating with visuals always help to get clarity on both sides. Being it a quick sketch or high-fidelity prototype, showing clients visuals is more effective than words.

I’ve also learned that to win the clients’ hearts is to always go big. Go beyond the clients’ expectations. If they want an apple, give them an apple tree. If they want a wireframe, show them a prototype. The clients might not ask for it, or we could spend extra time than we should have. But, showing them that we could do more can impress them which leads to a stronger relationship.

This can be exhausting to always push things further. But, this can also unleash our creativity. Stepping out of the comfort zone and push ourselves further could lead to more opportunities to come. Either now or later.


Be confident

Confidence is king. The more confident we are in our abilities and skills, the less likely we will allow ourselves to get pushed around on a design decision.

I didn’t have that confidence to be able to convince big clients in the first place. I’ve had always thought my experience wasn’t enough to make big design decisions to convince them how important a user experience was. But, I cared about the product and the customers. If I didn’t have the courage to speak up from users’ perspectives, no one would. This gave me the power to be more confident in making decisions.

We’re the expert in our own field. Show the clients our passion for the project. Keep our skills and experience at the forefront of their mind.


It might take a lot of effort and time to convince the clients, especially if we’re the sole designer in the team. The hardest part might be to stir their thinking from only about revenue and business to be more about customers’ experience. However, it’s not impossible to persuade them, one step at a time.


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