By Simon Oudiette

10 misconceptions on how to work with your clients

In this article I will outline common misconceptions that I fell for early in my career and still encounter when I do consulting work with young studios and freelancers.

While overcoming them came with experience, the significant shift in mindset that it caused proved successful in my business relationships, which is why I think it can’t hurt to be shared here, especially since these topics are rarely addressed within the community.
1. Compete on expertise, not price

In a competitive market there are many ways to tackle demand and lock down a contract.

Lowering fees is usually one way to go that comes to mind to beginners, but there are many reasons to not go down that road, especially lately.

The first reason is that there will always be someone cheaper than you. Competing on price is a race to the bottom that over time will degrade the quality of your service as you try to stay profitable while continually trying to do more for less.

The second reason is that the only thing it proves is that you don't value your time.

The third reason is that you can't logically lower your fees if you price based on the value you're producing for your client instead of pricing based on the job you're doing.

Last but not least, while some client are indeed looking for the cheapest solution, they’re not the clients you want to go after, since the outcome of the partnership will always be price-based and not value-based. Neither of you will learn much in the end, except that this type of partnership is time-consuming, and produces poor quality results for everyone.

Another thing to keep in mind when lowering your fees, is that it is much harder to increase them afterwards.

Another way to go would be to showcase expertise in your field and use that as the main selling point to build a successful business relationship with your clients. Properly demonstrated, expertise will usually lead to higher fees, long-term business relationships, stronger referrals, more open-minded clients and less tedious work.
clarify your process - Horoma studio
2. Bring your own methodology to the table

The main mistake that most people do early in their archviz career is to try to fit in their client's methodology or approach to the project at hand.

The truth is that you need to impose your own methodology early in the process and convince the client it is the most sensible way to go.

Note that I'm not saying you have to impose your ideas or brief, but to bring your own methodology. The main justification for that is that if the client came to you in order to work with you, their main drive will be to get the best result you can produce in the constraints that he or she will set. And the only way to reassure a client (and yourself) that you will deliver high quality is by tying it directly to the consistency of the process you've used in the past for other clients.
3. Serve the client, not your portfolio

Beginners often mistakenly see a client as a way to work on cool projects and get nice images down the road.

This mindset can only lead to frustration from both parties since it will mean you're not collaborating towards the same goal. Your client doesn't care if you're happy with the result, because you're not the client. The only thing a client cares about is their own satisfaction. And you will only be happy with the result when you understand that and work with them towards that very goal.

If you bring your own methodology to maximize great outcomes, you also have to start caring more about what your client thinks is a great outcome, by understanding their wants and needs. What you want out of this relationship is immaterial. Otherwise, all you do is reverse the roles of the client and the service provider.
4. Stop presenting, start conversing

Another big misconception comes from the relationship hierarchy that sometimes arises with a client. Quickly break free from the idea that you are presenting your work to a client and that they just get to choose what is good or not, and shift it towards a conversation aiming at finding the best solutions for the thing you've been hired for.

For the conversation to be fruitful, you first need to deal with the highest ranking person working on the project. The one that has the deepest knowledge of the overall project, and the one that has the most leeway in terms of strategy.

This could be a project manager, or even the actual owner of the firm you're working with.  Dealing with people lower in the hierarchy, or worse with someone with zero knowledge of the project, can have huge consequences on the efficiency of your process and the outcome of the conversation.

Seeing the relationship as a conversation ensures that you're both looking toward the same goal and treat each other as equals. Interestingly, a successful conversation will consist mainly of questions on your side, and answers on the client side rather than the opposite.

In order to lead the conversation properly, you need an overall framework of what this conversation is about and what information you need to take out from it.
without knowledge of the intent you can only judge aesthetic rather than success - shortlisted entry for Architizer One Rendering Challenge - Horoma studio
5. A beautiful image is not necessarily a successful image

Usually the only thing an artist will strive for is trying to make the most beautiful image they can. But the most beautiful image can still fail to do its job. That’s why you need to understand the key to separating a good looking image from a successful image: clarity of intent.

As mentioned earlier, the whole point of you working for a client is not to highlight your skills and make a nice image, but to showcase the client's project intent and successfully translate his aspirations into visuals.

This is why it is important to understand that you need to let go of your artist persona and that concessions can be made on artistic point of view if it maximizes the legibility of the intent of the project. Of course, the more skillful the artist, the easier it will be to combine both a compelling artistic approach with a successful communication of the client's intent.

Clarifying what the project is about and what your client wants to achieve with his architectural concept is the most important yet often overlooked step. A badly executed diagnosis phase can lead to major mistakes.

The main one to avoid is giving advice and diagnosing way too early. If you can't refrain from stating your point of view, try at least to phrase your ideas in forms of questions in order to not sound like you're already imposing your views on the matter.

The other common pitfall is to go with the self-diagnosis that your client did. It is quite common to have a client asking for a specific way of doing things and then discover that a more coherent and compelling approach existed but was not explored or discarded too early. The best example is suggested point of views that the client thinks are great but are in the end not as compelling as imagined.

This is where architectural knowledge can become important. While archviz artists do come from quite diverse backgrounds, you still must have a working knowledge of the process of architecture design, how concepts are translated into spaces and understand the hierarchy of ideas so that your input on the matter displays proper expertise.

A project’s intent usually can't be boiled down to a single word but will usually cover several concepts. Depending on the type of clients and the type of images you're about to do, the intent will also vary in type. This can literally range from highly conceptual topics (social interactions, light, transparency) to down to earth ones (the way you treat the context, connection to a heritage building). Ideally, you will have a bit of everything because down to earth intent will lead to down to earth visuals, which can give quite underwhelming results.

Once you're done covering the fundamentals of the project (program, conceptual approach, references, hierarchy of elements you need to show, potential constraints, demographics), you can start defining the brief more clearly.
6. Set the brief with the client
Setting the brief is basically setting the boundaries of the exploration you're about to do to serve the vision of your client, as well as revising the overall process of the service. This step needs to be done together with your client instead of them sending you the final brief out of nowhere.

Here you can end up either with an open or a closed brief, and it will mostly depend on how risk-averse your client is. The good thing about dealing with people high in the hierarchy (ideally the founder of the firm) is that they are usually the most entrepreneurial and are actual stakeholders in the situation. So they might be the most receptive to an approach that brings higher returns than a more conservative one.

One of the most important topics you need to tackle quickly in the brief is how much you want to stay within the boundaries of what a viewer is expecting to see. This applies to the creative side as well as the administrative side. For the creative side, it may seem like making a visual for a school under the rain might not be the most compelling idea, but it can make sense if it fits with the intent. For the administrative side, points of view are sometimes directed by the brief of the competition organizer and don't necessarily fit the architectural parti-pris. It is the client only who can decide if it is worth exploring views outside of the constraints or if it is better to stay within these boundaries.

A closed brief will basically be quite limitative and set many restrictions on how to tackle the topic (atmosphere, type of lighting, type of entourage, etc). This is not necessarily bad since it will save you time of useless exploration, but if potential interesting options are pushed off the table, it can be a bit frustrating. It is your job to suggest bringing them back if you think they could potentially be of interest.

Usually, by explaining how the exploration phase is necessary in making new possibilities emerge, and reasserting the importance of your process as a tool to achieve great results, the client might loosen up the constraints on the brief. Trust acquired through repeated successful projects can also help in ending up with a more open brief.

Closed or open, you still need to be the one defining the process and intermediate deadline (when you need to have all the base materials, how and when you need feedback, the step validation, etc.). This of course depends on your own workflow, but don't let your client rush you if you know you work slowly (within the timeframe set) or let you wait for days if you know you work fast and need feedback on a daily basis.
produce, then prune - exploration of possibilities for a hospital project in Belgium - Horoma studio
7. Pruning is more important than producing options

While I don't think there can be excess of freedom, there clearly can be a lack of discipline.

The more open the brief is, the more leeway you have in exploring ideas. While this can seem like a good thing, it puts usually more pressure on the artist. It is important to test all your ideas against the brief, the overall intent, and against themselves. You have to avoid being creative for the sake of it. Usually if you can't justify an option with at least 2 or 3 reasons, it means you're going with a gratuitous approach which might work, but would be hard to sell to your client and might throw off the final audience. Original or different is not necessarily better.

Just because an interesting idea occurs throughout your exploration doesn't necessarily mean it belongs to the current project. Make sure to keep it in a reference folder for later use, but don't force it onto the project you're currently dealing with.

There will always be a strong discrepancy between the amount of research work you produce in house and the amount of work you present to the client.

The research process can be based on quantity over quality, since the idea is to grasp all the potential options within the brief you set with your client. But the culling and refining part should be done cautiously.

There are two main reasons for that.

The first one is that you want to make sure that you only present to your client options that you really believe in. It would be a shame to successfully follow your process, set a nice brief with your client, to then paint yourself into a corner by proposing an option you don't believe in and ending up with the client choosing it.

The other reason is that the more options you present, the less strength they will have to the eye of your client.

Generally speaking, coming up with 3 really different options per image works nicely. You can bump it up to 5 if you really feel the need to, but more generally means you've not curated the options properly against the brief you set.

This principle applies to all the preliminary steps for point of views setting, atmosphere, etc.
use common language to convey your ideas to your client.
8. Don't talk like an expert. Be an expert and talk normally

To achieve clarity and make sure that you understand each other, the best way is to refrain from using technical words, jargon, or even worse, subjective emotional language.

This applies to both parties. If your client insists on using technical terms that belong to your realm of expertise, just make sure that they are using each word correctly. It is quite common to hear someone ask for a "longer focal length" when what was actually meant is "feel further away from the subject to see more", which is a shorter focal length. Anything related to optics, or colors is usually filled with misused words. If you can, use more commonplace words.

One final important thing, still related to vocabulary, is the way you should receive feedback in each review session. While for things related to technical architectural aspects, it is fine to let the client ask for a specific look ("this concrete should be more reflective" "this door is in frosted glass" "the RAL we'll use for the framing is darker than that"), everything else that is more related to the image itself and your creative approach but not the project should be dealt with slightly differently. Instead of letting the client ask for a specific fix ("remove this person here" "make this part brighter" etc), always ask why he feels that this is necessary and expand the realm of possibilities to address this issue if there is indeed an issue. Diagnose the root problem (why your client thinks something needs to be changed) instead of going to the quick fix (do what your client ask). Always keep in mind the intent and the brief before moving forward and changing things.
9. The final audience matters more than your opinion

Understanding that you’re here to serve your client and not your portfolio is a good first step. The second step is to understand that you also work for your client’s client — the final audience for your work.

Depending on the project the final audience can range from the mayor of a city, to a private client building his own house, or a young family intending to invest in real estate. These diverse profiles can have an impact on the way you tackle the brief as well, because each of them will be sensitive to different aspects in the image.

Studies show that even though most people tend to agree on what is of interest in a picture, it is often tempered by individual preferences. People will roughly scan your images, focusing on things they find interesting, and then review them with the same process over and over again until they're happy with what they took out from the image, or until they're unhappy and leave.

Concretely, it means that you can try to appeal to the final audience by integrating items or topics that could speak to it. Of course, this process is entirely subjective and built on heuristics, but one thing that I think is important is to not think that what works for you and your client will also work for the end audience.
10. Don't keep clients that don't fit

The drawback of identifying these misconceptions and building a strong process and standing by it, is that sometimes you can have clients that are not receptive to this approach and will resist to lead the process. It is of course entirely understandable and I'm not blaming anyone for that. But do remember not working together doesn't mean that you can't still turn this encounter into a fruitful one later or for someone else.

The most logical alternative is to refer this client to another fellow artist that you think might be a better fit. It is important to have a notebook of some other archviz artists you deem competent, so that you can point your client to them. A short list of around 5 to 10 contacts is more than enough, as long as you know how they work, what they charge, and can inform your client about them properly.

Interestingly, I often see that artists are reluctant to do so because they feel that they are giving away contracts for free, that they're losing a client with which they could maybe negotiate something.

Reality is slightly different.

First, if you still can’t convince someone to adopt your process after explaining its benefits, it means you’re going to have to adopt the client’s process (or lack thereof) if you want to work with them.

In my experience, this won't lead to a fruitful relationship. It could even degrade the reputation for expertise you've been trying to build (high quality deliverables, strong process). Damaging your reputation won't lead to new contracts with this client, and this client won't have any reason to refer you to his peers.

Second, you can always take a commission on the work done by the artist getting the job, and trust that they will return you the favor later down the road for a job that would fit your requirements.

Remember that the more you work with a strong process and achieve great results, the more you're building your expertise, actually putting together a strong portfolio, and, more importantly, a pool of clients that will be strong referrals for your work and your methodology.

This will ensure that future clients approach you with a more open mind, and this includes past clients that you didn't close back then because they didn't understand yet the importance of your way of working.

This article is part of a two-article series of which you can find the second part here, tackling the mirror topic : misconceptions architecture firms have when working with visualization studios.
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Great write up Simon.

Thanks Simon, Great read

Thank you Simon! I appreciate the clarity, and it's really good to be talking about these things. Looking forward to another article!

Hi Scott,
Thanks for the kind words and for adding some interesting thoughts on the topics mentioned.

Indeed the diagnosis part has to be thoroughly done otherwise you can end up focusing on the wrong aspect of a project. Here I guess experience is key. Even if "every project is different", you can still know which approach works and which one doesn't for a specific result expected. As you mentioned, it is also quite common that the architect doesn't uncover properly the problem at hand, which is a topic I want to tackle in a similar article I intend to write but tackling the inverse problem (architects misconceptions on how to work with archviz artists). I think the diagnosis quality is also really dependent of the type of client. It's likely that architecture firms that work more with concepts and diagrams can give you a stronger and clearer diagnosis to work with whereas more "operational approach" firm will maybe miss the underlying power images can have and will only focus on more basic things thus giving a less elaborate and underwhelming diagnosis to work from.

You're totally right regarding the potential disconnect between beautiful and successful and the client's interpretation. I think it comes down to the clarity each side has to have in their communication, and maybe even honesty. The client has to be crystal clear on what is the real intent behind the images they are paying for, and the artist has to be as analytical as possible of his/her own work, as well as being transparent regarding what the image crafted really conveys because sometimes the client will often just take your word for it and you can basically pass a "beautiful image" for a "successful one" even if there were actually better options out there. And as you mention, the architecture business health itself relies on successful image rather than beautiful, making this point all the more important.

I hope this addresses your comment correctly and raises some ideas.

Kind regards,

Simon - thank you so much for sharing your process with us! I really enjoyed your insights. It's great to shed some light on archviz business practices as this topic is usually avoided or simply overlooked. I'm glad to see you address topic #'s 3 and 9 (serving the client not the portfolio, and understanding the final audience) - I believe these are deeply related. Just want to expand a little bit on these two items.

At the project kick-off the artist should try to learn as much as possible about the end-user / final audience, and more importantly answer the question, "what is the problem I am being brought in to solve?" Sometimes it is simply to "check a box" for a client's submittal or something similar and you can get in and out very quickly. But often, the real problem needs to be uncovered with the artist's help. Once properly diagnosed, the artist can then propose an appropriate solution. This solution is a big part of the value proposition stated in topic #1.

Per #3 (and also #5 as well?), I see a lot of beautiful archviz imagery that feels meant only for the portfolio. If not communicated clearly, these images can create a disconnect between the client's level of expectation and the real constraints imposed upon commercial work. It is essential that the client understand what they are seeing, and that the artist is upfront about the effects of the given constraints on their timelines and methodologies. I have seen this disconnect become a source of misunderstanding and conflict when not addressed properly. When hiring an artist, it can be very difficult for a client (or art director) to tell if an image is "successful" or only "beautiful". A business' health relies on its ability to be successful in this case.

I hope it's okay to add these points to the discussion - I'd love to hear any thoughts or comments, as this has traditionally been a very under-discussed area of the creative business. Thanks again for the contribution!

Thanks for the very kind comment Duy Phan, glad you found some useful pitfalls and I hope you'll manage to spot them if they ever happen to you so that you can better avoid them.

Pruning is definitely a tricky part especially when you're freelancing and can't get feedback from other experienced archviz artists. The worst case scenario still being to flood your client with too many options so that they can't really weigh them constructively.

Kind regards,


This is really a "play-book" level of sharing spirit. It slashes those client-related problems to the bones. I have learned some of the points the hard way and I am warned with the others from now on!

I enjoy so much when you covered the pruning part. As being (so so much) creative and explorative, artists sometimes lost their way in the journey of reaching the project's needs by finding and developing "miles-away" discoveries. Yet, to be honest, filtering your own ideas, especially fascinating but not so irrelevant ones, is a process that needs toughness and self-critical or in other words: f*-hard!

Thank you for sharing your valuable experiences with us, Simon and look forward to seeing more published works from you!

Duy Phan

About this article

In this article I will outline 10 common misconceptions that I fell for early in my career and still encounter when I do consulting work with young studios and freelancers. Double check you're not victim of these pitfalls!

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About the author

Simon Oudiette

Founder at Horoma

placeStrasbourg, FR