It's my first time designing for any one

Email sent:.

Hi [Client]! If you wouldn't mind answering a few questions I need to know so I can communicate your brand better and have a better sight as to how you want the design :)

  • What does [Company Name] reflect (what's the brands identity, why you chose [image company name evokes] etc.)

  • Who's your ideal client for shop and e-liquid (target audience/who you ant to reach)

  • Who do you see as your e-liquids direct competitors

Please will you throw together a mood board of labels and images you like to give me a better feel for whats in your head

when you have the time

Cheers! Designer hat on Chloe

Email received:

you know what i want crisp, simple, perfect & clean, easy 😊🤟🏻

Also i have decided i will let you put your name on as the designer credit!



I don't think he understands the design process, and it's unpaid — but I don't want to design the whole e-liquid graphic range for nothing — it's a lot of work.

How do I bring this up? how do I price? I'm a beginner/novice!
Any help appreciated.

  • 5
    Politely point out you must have a proper briefing, to avoid any miscommunication, extra work which you must bill, and a disappointing result.
    – Jongware
    Nov 12, 2018 at 17:15
  • 55
    As you're new to the industry and already doing free work, I strongly advise you to watch the talk "F*** you, pay me". The idea that work should be done for free seems to be peculiar to the graphic design industry. Nothing wrong with doing charity work, but many graphic designers do free work as if they're the recipient of charity, oh-so-grateful for the chance to do this free work for the "exposure." There is a lot of crucial advice in the talk; probably a good investment to watch it a few times.
    – Wildcard
    Nov 13, 2018 at 1:35
  • 9
    I read random questions on Stack Exchange to learn things ... I'm an outsider and not a graphic designer. That said, if I had hired someone to design something for me, I would expect their communications with me to also be polished. Perhaps your communications above are an example, but I wouldn't use smileys. Also, the ending is a bit off. "when you have the time" seems tacked on at the end and unnecessary, and also misses punctuation and capitalization.
    – Steve
    Nov 13, 2018 at 5:36
  • 6
    As an aside, I prefer numbers to bullets. Even in casual correspondence, it makes referencing so much clearer and easier.
    – Strawberry
    Nov 13, 2018 at 10:43
  • 6
    I'm not sure what the situation is, but I strongly advise you to avoid doing unpaid work for potential clients. If you want to get design stick time in a professional setting, volunteer your services for a charity that you love. Don't give it away to clients because you feel you're too green to charge.
    – 13ruce
    Nov 13, 2018 at 15:38

10 Answers 10

  1. Make a phone call. Do not use an e-mail for this interview.

    You can't even know if he is answering this questions or he is just mentioning some previous ideas he has.

  2. If it is unpaid... do not do it. You are not only damaging yourself but the whole industry.

    The "Oh, I'm new" is not a reason at all. Either you have practiced a lot and have become good at designing or don't do it.

  • 25
    "You are not only damaging yourself but the whole industry." Dual-edged sword here. Yes, you can certainly damage yourself by working for free. People simply do not appreciate your efforts if you give them away for free. Also there is this idea that if you give it away for free, it's probably not worth much. Still, I like the idea of 'paying it forward'. So I still do it sometimes. But I have this rule. If I'm doing it for free, it has to be fun. Nov 12, 2018 at 20:46
  • 4
    It's maybe been said enough times already, but I would like to reinforce that being a newbie is no reason to work for free. If new doctors and dentists don't work for free at first, graphic designers starting out should not have any reason to go unpaid either.
    – Joonas
    Nov 13, 2018 at 5:56
  • 1
    @Joonas At least doctors are working for free at first in a variety of internships in most countries as part of their education. That's the thing, a lot of designers are self taught and need something to take the place of the projects and internships that would normally be done as part of a traditional education in other fields. Nov 13, 2018 at 22:35
  • @DavidMulder, internship is a different matter. If OP was an intern, this question wouldn't need to be asked.
    – Joonas
    Nov 13, 2018 at 22:43
  • @Joonas All I was saying that a lot of people work for free early in their career. Whether it's in the context of internships, open source projects or even random portfolio building jobs. Doing a job for free can be worth it, the important thing is to ensure you aren't being taken advantage of and clearly communicating expectations upfront. Nov 13, 2018 at 23:26

Asking for a "mood board" is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much to ask any client. That's perhaps a designer's tool and a client should never be asked to do that work. That's what they are paying you for (or not paying as the case may be).

Rafael is correct when he posted make a phone call. Often in emails people skim and don't actually read. So things get missed, overlooked, and just forgotten about. In a phone call you can ask, if he evades, ask again. If he isn't clear, ask for clarity, etc. There's no skimming or forgetting during a phone call. It may take asking several times. It may require you explaining why you need to know. But I'd try to not end the phone call until I had answers.

Your questions are good questions to ask.

I would explain to the client.....

Hi Chris,
I can certainly create what you need but I really need these questions answered. Imagine if you hired a caterer for an event. They'd ask about food allergies, number of attendees, etc. All in an effort to do a better job. That's what my questions are for, to ensure I do a better job designing the [whatever it is].

If this is unpaid work then, frankly, I wouldn't keep "stalking" the client. I would make 2 maybe 3, phone calls and send 1 maybe 2, emails. Then explain that I can't move forward without some direction.

  • 2
    2-3 phone calls and 1-2 emails? From the client's perspective, that seems like a lot. From the freelancer perspective, it seems like a lot of effort for free work.
    – Sinjai
    Nov 14, 2018 at 20:53
  • 9
    Well.. I wouldn't take on free work to begin with.
    – Scott
    Nov 14, 2018 at 20:58

Your client doesn't know what they want, and they don't know what any of the things you ask mean.

You know the industry that the client works in, you know the name.

Throw together a few different ideas in very rough draft.

Send them to the client making very clear that these are rough sketches to get a concept not a final piece and ask them to rate each one by how much they like them and give feedback.

Iterate on the feedback.

I'm a software engineer not graphic designer but over and over again I find that if you ask someone what they want they don't know. If you present them with a few options though they will immediately know they don't want 1 or 3 but they sort of like 2 but can you add this bit from 4 and maybe X and sometimes a bit of U and then add a unicorn.

  • Very good point about people not knowing what they want -- I've found this to be the case time and time again in software engineering and have no doubt it applies to many other fields.
    – Sinjai
    Nov 14, 2018 at 20:55
  • 2
    "you mean ask" --> "you ask mean"
    – jpmc26
    Nov 15, 2018 at 1:21
  • 1
    Getting people to actually communicate what they want is a major life skill both inside and outside the workplace.
    – Myles
    Nov 15, 2018 at 14:14

First, It's not good for you nor for the whole sector to do free works. But I understand that at first is hard to take money from someone who trusts you.

I think that the problem is the questions you are asking and how you are asking them. These questions are made almost in argot, you are using a very straightforward and professional language.

My approach would be more human. If you have the opportunity to go to the company to talk to your client. Look at how they work, how is everything organized, maybe even you will see other things you can improve such as billboards, cards or catalogs and you can suggest expanding your contract.

But if you can't go there, just call him. Talk to him as a counselor, this way you are selling your own brand. Ask him what they do (I think you've already talked about it), ask him how is the company doing (probably will tell you about problems that you can identify with design or marketing problems, even they tell you about competence) why he thought about requesting your help, what he thought about improving (you've already done this for sure) ask him if you like any company style (probably he should have pointed other company logos right now).

The part where you ask about competence in my country at least would feel gross. You have to research the market. Which companies are the best, which ones are the direct competence, what's the difference between that company and your client's company, how to make that differences matter or not. All that is your work as a designer.

Have in mind that unless you are working for a really big company that has complex inner bureaucracy and needs to control every investment, you usually won't receive all these answers in a straightforward manner.

As a designer, you won't be only designing. You will be a "friend" of that company. Most of the people would come to you without really knowing their needs, even if they act as they know. You have to act as "visual communication therapist" to hear their problems and analyze what they need.


I understand the difficulty when it comes to communicating with clients and getting the information needed to create a cohesive design. With that said, Scott and Rafael are both very correct in that a.) a phone call is always an effective means of figuring out what is in a client's head and b.) the client is never the person to be creating a mood board.

It is not entirely out of line to request if there are specific logos or designs that come to the client's mind when they consider their own form or taste for a style, but this is also not often given in design processes.

If the client cannot be reached over the phone and will not provide any more information, there is still a lot of work that can be done. If the client will not tell you what they specifically want, they can certainly tell you what they do not want judging by the designs and sketches you put forward.

The design process begins by assembling all possible aspects of the company together and sketching every idea that comes to mind. Create more solidified examples of ideas you find strongest, and allow the client to pick them apart and choose details they like and would prefer to remove. Most clients have a hard time actually saying what they really need, and what they think they need is seldom what the best possible design is for a project.

Hope this offers some clarity.


Sometimes you have a client who doesn't know themselves what they actually want. They expect you as the designer to come up with the brand identity. In that case it can be a valid design process to just throw things at the wall and see what sticks. Give them a couple of different drafts and then ask them what they like or dislike about them.

This is of course a process where you will invest a lot of work which will end up unused. You also risk getting caught up in an endless cycle of review after review with the client never being completely satisfied. So if you decide to use this process, then the client needs to be aware that they are paying you by the hour and that you also expect to get paid for those designs they do not pick in the end.

  • 1
    The designer did not ask simply what customer wants. She requested basic facts about brand, audience, market niche, competitors. Client failed to provide any information on that. It is a red flag - it may be not a real client at all, because real clients have no problem answering those questions even when they have not idea about design. Nov 16, 2018 at 1:43

That's a nightmare waiting to happen. Dip-set. Find another client with money and an actual request.

  • 1
    It really is the right answer. This has "red flag" writ in blood all over its face. Nov 14, 2018 at 22:05
  • 1
    After being in same situation many many years ago, I can see how it will end. If designer gets this kind of response from the "client" - walking away is the right thing to do, ESPECIALLY for beginner designer to avoid frustration, time loss and unfair humiliation. It will undermine the beginner's confidence. Few clients who are not committed and not interested like that may even ruin your career. Nov 16, 2018 at 1:32

You're the designer!

  • They "hired" you for ideas, so you'll need to put some in front of them and get a sense of what they like. Make 3 quick very different mood boards yourself and ask them which one they like best.
  • Write up your questions in a numbered list, with space between. Word them very simply.
  • Tell the client "I'll need you to answer these few questions so I can have the information I need to do a great job for you. Please type your answers right below these questions and email it back to me by Friday."

You can't ask a client to do a mood board, but they may have an "ideas" folder laying around, so always ask. There are some clients who just want to hire someone good and let them run with it and they usually end up being great clients. So his behavior is not unusual.

Why are you working for free?

You may be starting out, but charge something - get 30 or 50 bucks out of them. Always charge money. You need to pay the light bill so you can run your computer. If they don't value your time they won't take the time to work with you properly. Give him some basic stuff for free - logo, whatever....then a price quote for anything else, maybe a bundle of ad materials for a flat rate. And then let him know your hourly rate.

If they don't answer the questions by Friday,you tried. Move on.

Good luck!


I came across this by chance, and I am one who could have hired a designer (not for free!). If you do this for free in order to get your "foot in the door", maybe ok - but don't do it more than once.

Anyway, he has actually told you what he wants: "crisp, simple, perfect & clean, easy". It is not CLEAR what he wants, but that's why we hire people from the outside, to help us do stuff we can't do ourselves. Don't expect people who hire designers to know how to order stuff from them. Very often, you will probably be surprised as to how little clarity there will be in some job descriptions. I know, I have written a few such myself, and only later realized that they must have been horrible to base any actual work on. Ordering is an art form :-)

I suggest you put in VERY LITTLE effort in a first sketch that is crisp, simple and clean (possible 2-3 variations). Then you can leave it up to him: If he wants to move forward he should pick which one to keep working on, and he should pay for the next phase of the project. If he doesn't like any of them, you are probably best off finding other projects and better clients. Good luck! Hard work often makes people stand out from the crowd, thankfully.


Start with what you have: “crisp, simple, perfect & clean”.

Can you use this to narrow down options for number of colors, font styles, illustration styles, etc?

Iterate with your client by asking yes-or-no, this-or-that questions:

Thanks for getting back to me. Based on your description, I'm thinking one or two colors (maybe red and gray based on your company name), san serif font, vector art rather than hand-drawn, ...

Am I on the right track?

From these two font styles, which do you prefer?


These two [logos/websites/posters] from the [different] industry illustrate different approaches that I would consider crisp, simple, and clean:


The first might appeal more to younger, urban demographic; the second to an older, more conservative demographic.

Which is more in line with what you have in mind?

  • The things is, after a simple conversation with any client, a designer should be completely aware if the client is targeting a "younger, urban" demographic or an "older, conservative" demographic. While a decent answer, I kind of feel this would be unnecessarily bombarding any client with too many choices. That's a very slippery slope for client-based creative work.
    – Scott
    Nov 16, 2018 at 0:07
  • As a non-designer, I tried to draw on experience getting requirements for software applications from a non-technical client. Having been the clueless client buying design work, it's always been an iterative process of either having the designer show me something and pointing out what I like and dislike about it, or having the designer show me a couple options, choosing one, and iterating. If Chloe doesn't feel she has enough info to create something to show, hopefully she can work toward gathering enough info by showing design artifacts that already exist and asking simple questions.
    – xn.
    Nov 16, 2018 at 0:46
  • Okay. :) I think those designers made you, as the client, work far too much to do their job for them. :) It really just takes a conversation.
    – Scott
    Nov 16, 2018 at 2:32

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