Ever have one of those clients who is referred to you by "a friend," and when you contact them about the (insert job here: flier, business card, etc.) they give you the briefest of ideas about what they want but then when pressed they basically have no idea what they want, they just want it to look good? Yeah, I get a lot of those.
I realize that as a "designer" it's mostly my job to come up with the concept for the piece. However it seems to me that more often than not, when someone claims they don't have anything specific in mind, they actually do. Which means it can save a LOT of time and heartache to dig a little deeper to see if there's even the vaguest idea in the back of their minds on how they want their project to appear. There's nothing more frustrating than spending time putting together a job and then upon sending the proof to a customer who has previously said "I don't know, just put something together," comes back with a response of "that's not really what I had in mind."
Maybe it's a cop-out, but often times I'll ask them if there's another business that they like their style, or a competitor that they want to distance themselves from - therefore making sure that their piece doesn't look anything like said company's pieces.
It can be tricky trying to get a read on some people, and in our "over the computer" age where I do most of my business via email, cell phone and the like, it can be especially hard. As a work from home mom, it's tough to arrange, but it can be really beneficial to actually meet with the client face to face if at all possible. Despite all the advances in modern technology, there's just still a lot that gets lost in translation over the lines of digital transactions.
So, what's the point? Well, basically, take some time to really learn your customers. Don't just take the info they give you and go, you might be missing something important. When they say they don't have a preference on something, be sure to dig a little deeper - they might not realize themselves that actually, they do. Ask the questions, throw some suggestions out there, even if they're just off the top of your head things and see what happens. You might hit a stoke of genius, or you might get a good idea of a design idea you want to steer clear of. Either way, I bet you'll be surprised at how much information you can gather that will come in handy down the road.