How I Use Pinterest to Read My Client’s Mind

By: Wes McDowell | January 28th, 2014 | 3 comments

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Whenever I take on a new design client, the first step in the process is the “kickoff meeting.” It is here where I get to ask all of my questions that I need to know the answers to before I can dig into the project. I have a list of about 10-20 questions, depending on the type of project, and they are all helpful when it comes to getting inside my client’s head.

After the questions, I then ask my client for examples of finished projects that they happen to like. If it’s a logo design client, I ask them to provide me with samples of logos that speak to them. If it’s a web design client, I ask for websites that they like. This is pretty standard practice, and it serves a very important function: it allows you to get a peek at the styles and approaches that your clients will respond well to. While it’s our job as designers to take the information provided to us and come up with a winning concept, there are always multiple ways of skinning a cat. At the end of the day, it is your client who has to sign off on a concept, so the faster you can get to an idea that is both appropriate to their business and well-received by your client, the more efficient your process will become.

Most designers ask for this information, but the problem is, it usually results in a bulky and awkward list of Internet links, usually delivered in several email strings that you then have to keep track of. Then one day I stumbled upon a great idea: Why not use Pinterest to curate all of these client samples? That way, they will be organized in a visual manner, and all in one easy to access place. I tested it out on my very next client, and have been doing it this way ever since. Here’s how I do it:

Step 1: Create a new Secret Pinterest board for your client

Assuming you have a Pinterest account, all you will have to do is set up a new board for each client. I prefer to make these boards secret, for the anonymity of my clients, and so it doesn’t look as if I’m trolling around for ideas to steal. (Note: this method is NOT intended to steal or plagiarize the work of others. It is simply to see the styles that your clients like. It is always up to you to come up with a new idea based on this research.)

Setting up a secret board is easy: Just go to your boards page, scroll down to the bottom, and you will see the “secret boards” section, where it allows you to create up to four secret boards at any one time. As long as you go back and delete your old ones, you should always be able to make room for new ones.

secret pinterest board

Step 2: Invite Your Client to Pin on Your New Secret Board

Inviting others to pin on your board is just as easy. Simply click “Edit Board,” and type in your client’s email address into the “Who can pin?” field, then click “invite.” Your client will be notified via email that they are allowed to start pinning their samples.

After inviting them to the board, you should send a separate email with two very important instructions. First, you want to provide them with a starting place. After all, if they are to start pinning logos that they like, they may have no idea where to find them. In the case of logos, I like to send them to logopond.com, which is a great free website which features a wide variety of logo designs. For packaging designs, thedieline.com is a great place to start, and for web designs, there are many sites that feature the latest websites, including cssmania.com.

You will also ask them to make brief comments on each pin, describing what they like about the design they are showing you. These comments don’t have to be complex, but the clearer they are, the easier it will be to hone in on the winning design.

Step 3: Interpret the Results

Once your client has pinned enough examples, take a look. Hopefully a common theme will emerge from all of the different images. Are they mostly clean and simple? Heavily textured? Are the fonts serif or sans? What about colors? Does one particular color scheme emerge more than the others? These are all things to look for. Maybe the samples are more varied. In that case, read the comments carefully to see what your client likes about each image, and you should start to be able to piece together their taste profile from the various elements.

But don’t take everything at face value. If your client is coming to you with a web design for a bank, but all of the samples they are showing you have a youthful, playful vibe, you need to figure out what they like about those sites, while still designing a site that is appropriate to their goals and their customers.

For more information on how you can use Pinterest to your advantage as a designer, listen to this episode of The Deep End’s podcast, The Deeply Graphic DesignCast: DesignCast 14 : A Pinteresting Turn of Events

Final Thoughts:

In an ideal world, we as designers would be unconditionally trusted to design a unique solution for each clients using our talents and research. However, whenever you deal with clients, their own taste preferences will almost always play a part, even when they claim to be impartial. After all they are human, and even business decisions are made on a gut-level in most cases. Knowing this, the more you can get inside your client’s head before you begin the process, the easier your job will be to create something that is unique, appropriate and well-received. Using the Pinterest-method will allow you that access, and organize it for you, so you can get on with the design project at hand.

3 Responses to How I Use Pinterest to Read My Client’s Mind

  1. Cheryl says:

    Excellent use of private boards. I do the same with wedding planning clients; it’s a great starting point and clients like using a tool they are aready using daily.

  2. Rob says:

    This is a great tip, Wes. I recently discovered the Deeply Graphic DesignCast and am enjoying listening to all the information you, the other hosts, and guests have to offer from your collective experiences.

  3. Arianna says:

    Excellent and useful tips that really helps me a lot to increase my web design company business leads.

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