How to Deal with the ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ Design Client


We’ve all been there (and some of us are there at this very moment). You book a new project and the client just can’t wait to get started. They gleefully sign your proposal and cut you a deposit check. Things are rolling along at near light speeds.

You get to work on a prototype and are determined to knock the project out in record time. You submit your ideas to the client and…silence. Just when it like seemed everything was about to really happen, the client becomes hard to reach. What gives?

My friend, you’ve just met the infamous ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ client! It’s where great ideas hang in suspense for weeks or months at a time. By the time the suspense is over, so is your interest in the project.

As designers we have to deal with this sort of thing more than other professions. Nobody calls a plumber all excited about their leaky sink only to delay the job for six months. You don’t often call the veterinarian about your sick cat only to finally take her in for a checkup eight weeks later. But, in our line of work, it’s just par for the course.

Let’s figure out just who the ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ client is and figure out what we can do to try and get that stalled rocket ship moving at light speed again.

They Want It Done Now…Until There’s Work Involved

They Want It Done Now…Until There’s Work Involved

There are many reasons why a project suddenly gets put on hold. Some are even quite valid. It could be that the person you’re dealing with thought they were the decision-maker on the project, only to be overruled by their boss. Maybe there was a major event that required the client’s immediate and full attention. Life happens – and it’s understandable that even well-oiled machines break down sometimes.

But then there are those who are simply gangbusters to get things done – until they’re the ones who have to make the next move. In the example mentioned earlier, the client doesn’t really respond to your prototype. Other times you’ll get to working on the final product right up until the client has to provide you with content or other materials. Either way, the project hits a brick wall when the onus is on the client to do their part.

What’s the Holdup?

Often, it seems like a design-by-committee mentality takes over. Everyone in the organization wants their opinions heard and implemented. If there’s no clear decision-maker in the group, things tend to get stuck.

Lack of Time/Resources
Many times, the person you’re dealing with has work duties that extend beyond just this one project. Depending on the organization, they might even be an unpaid volunteer. Finding the time, energy and motivation to press on can be difficult when there are other things to deal with.

Not Knowing Where to Start
When working with small or medium-sized organizations, you might find that some contacts have never done the type of work required to keep things moving. For example, perhaps they’ve never written copy for a website. Thus, they aren’t sure what anyone’s expectations really are.

How to Steer the Project Forward

How to Steer the Project Forward

When you’re faced with a project that is stuck in neutral, you have a couple of choices:

  1. Move on to other things while you wait for the client to get their act together.
  2. Become more proactive in your efforts to get things moving again.

While the first choice is tempting (and one I’ve chosen more than a few times), there is a certain risk that comes along with quietly waiting. While you’re working on other projects (and continuing to book new ones), the stalled project may suddenly come to life again when you least expect it. That can, in turn, interfere with the other things you have on your plate.

Sure, you can tell the client that they are now the ones who are going to have to wait on you. But that can lead to hard feelings and might not bode well for your future relationship.

The other tact is better for both sides. Be proactive with your client by:

Opening the Lines of Communication
Get in touch with your client and find out what the status of the project is and try to identify any specific pain points they are having. At the very least, you’ll have taken some mystery out of the situation.

Offer to Help
If there is an area where you can help, offer to do so. Whether it’s a matter of content strategy or of dealing with a group of varied opinions – your expertise could be both welcomed and sorely needed.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that your proactive involvement will start the wheels turning again. Some organizations really are an immovable object. But, more often than not, you’ll have made at least some progress. You’ll also create a bit of good will that can carry over if, at some point in the future, the client has to wait on you for something.

In Conclusion

It’s inevitable that you’re going to run into a project that goes from full-speed to zero. That’s part the business, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean you have to take it lying down.

While you can argue (and I have) that it’s ultimately the client’s responsibility to take care of their end of the bargain, sometimes you still need to be the one to step up and take some action. It shows your leadership, how much you care and it may just lead to finally finishing off that stalled project.

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