Your Clients Don’t Have to Like Your Work

Your Clients Don't Have to Like Your Work

Whenever I meet with a new client for the first time, I always tell them this: It’s not important that you like the design I’m going to make for you.

It’s always humorous to see the client’s reaction to this statement. Most look inquisitive, others look downright baffled.

I then expound on my initial statement: "It’s a bonus if you like it, but the main objectives are that your business needs are met and that your customers like it."

In almost all cases, they go along with this logic.

A few clients, however, will still have a personal need to like the finished product for themselves. But the smartest and most awesome types of clients get the concept, and I prefer to work with them. Why? Because they approach the design project with their business foot forward rather than let their personal tastes and biases control the process.

Personally, I approach each design project by looking at the needs of the users and the client first — so it only makes sense that I would expect the same from my clients.

The key difference between clients that need to love your work themselves versus those that go about the process in a much less personal manner all depends on who is paying the bills.

Where’s The Project Money Coming From?

Nine times out of ten, when a client is paying you out of pocket, they’re going to be much more hands-on throughout the process. Examples of clients that may be in this situation are startup entrepreneurs bootstrapping their company, who may have a powerful and very personal attachment to their business. It’s only human nature. They’re paying for it — or more specifically, they’re paying you for it — so they may want very fine control over the outcome. They may make the process too personal, because by the very nature of the situation, it is very personal.

I absolutely understand that situation. But the problem I see is this: The more a client takes the project personally, the less objective they become, and the more they tend to exert their own personal tastes towards dictating the direction the project takes.

On the flipside, clients who are merely overseeing the project on behalf of a large company aren’t paying for it themselves.

They will also have a compelling desire for the project to turn out successfully, but they tend to make it much less personal, and much more about what is good for their company.

Of course, those are all vast generalizations, but in my experience they tend to be true for the most part.

Making Your Clients Understand the Concept

Whether your client is a big multinational company or a fledging startup business, it’s your duty to make them see the forest rather than the trees when they are caught up in their own personal preferences.

If you’re designing a new website for a client — and you have done your due diligence at the beginning — you have probably asked many questions relating to their customer base and business needs, and are producing the website accordingly.

So what happens when you have done your job correctly and have created the perfect website that will connect with and engage their target market, but your client still doesn’t like it?

Ask Why

Ask them to point out specific parts of the design they don’t like. Then ask the client why they don’t like those parts of the design.

Then, ask the client if the parts they don’t like fail to fulfill the objectives of the project or if it helps achieve the objectives.

Often if you can get them to admit that although they might not like something, that it still matches with the objectives of the project, you will have a much easier time convincing them to go your way.

Ask for Examples

If you can get your client to point to examples of solutions that they like better, one of two things can happen. Maybe their solution is actually a better one. If not, collect your thoughts and explain why your solution is better for the job.

Point to Facts

If your client is adamant about adding an audio loop or splash screen on their homepage, send them references and resources that show why those are horrible ideas. Point to facts that show how these things affect user experience and usability.

If they want an overly complex logo, show them examples of successful logos in their industry, and point out what commonalities they all share (typically, good logos are simple and created using vector illustration software).

And if you can’t point to facts, then consider the alternative that the point of contention is debatable.

Know When to Give In

Having said all of that, there will come a time when it’s best to just give the client what they want.

Many designers will have a different point of view on that statement I’ve just made.

But in my experience, if I have a client that is firmly digging in their heels on an issue, I state my case, and leave the ball in their court.

As the saying goes, you have to pick your battles. Good design is definitely worth fighting for; and as for the rest, they don’t matter in the broader scheme of things.

Final Thoughts

While most of my clients have hired me for my years of experience and my body of work, some of them trust in these credentials more than others.

I always prefer to work with business people rather than people paying out-of-pocket, because they understand the end game in a much purer way.

While I love the situation where my clients love the finished product, it’s never my goal. If the project doesn’t hit home with their customers and business objectives, I can’t chalk it down as a success.

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Lead image source: "Workers at computers at the Huichon Machine Tool Factory in Huichon, Chagang Province"

About the Author

Wes McDowell is the Principal and Creative Director for The Deep End, a web design firm in Los Angeles. In addition to client work, he’s authored several books for freelance designers and co-hosts a popular graphic design podcast called "The Deeply Graphic DesignCast." Follow Wes on Google+.