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.

Related Content

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+.

This was published on Jul 17, 2013


elviz Jul 17 2013

“It’s not important that you like the design I’m going to make for you.”
“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.”

There is nothing clever about above statements. This is manipulation.

Meaning: “Maybe my design is not cool and good looking but it doesn’t matter if you don’t like it. Pay me now and your business clients will love it but if they won’t… well, too late. I got the money”

Steve Jul 17 2013

Great tips, Wes, thank you. I just started a job yesterday and I already have the impression I’m going to have to tell them it’s for THEIR clients, not them.

Lars Faye Jul 17 2013

I totally agree with this, but I’ve yet to find a client that could truly get with the idea of this. At the end of the day, it’s their business and they write the checks, so it’s tough for us to say “I know YOU don’t like it, but your customers will” when they are paying for premium service. But, again, I do agree and still attempt this line of logic when I can. :)

Wes McDowell Jul 17 2013

Thanks Steve and Lars, I agree, it’s usually a bitter pill for clients to swallow, and honestly, they don’t always.

Elviz, those statements aren’t meant to be clever, but rather to let my clients know that they would not be doing themselves any favors by being slaves to their own personal tastes. In now way do I tell my clients to just pay me even if they are not happy. You might want to go back and read the entire article.

Chris Jul 17 2013

Great article, Wes. You can definitely tell the service providers from the clients in the comments. Anyone that thinks that “cool” and “good looking” are barometers by which to measure the quality of a project is obviously missing the point of this article, and the point of design in general. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to comprehend the fact that we build websites for our client’s clients to use. The intelligent, goal-oriented client will embrace this and encourage the process, while the “my opinion is the only thing that matters and is therefore representative of my target market” client will hijack the process and either screw the budget or the results. So frustrating.

David Jul 17 2013

I wish I had read this article years ago. I hate many of the sites in my portfolio and find myself apologizing for my previous work and explaining it away with, “It looked great when I started but someone who knows law (or whatever field) also thought they knew web design and messed it up.”

Your starting the relationship off with “It’s not important you like my design” is in a word, “Brilliant” sir!

Well done.

Pashminu Mansukhani Jul 18 2013

Yes, this is very much true. But is important to understand that not all clients will have the humorous side open. With deadlines and enormous pressure, most of the ‘workers’ in companies have transformed only into auto-bots with no human elements remaining what so ever.

Matt Mcnamee Jul 18 2013

Elviz, it seems quite clear you didn’t read the article champ.

If you read more than the first paragraph, you’d understand that Wez fights for producing the best result for the client’s business. This is seen as the article provides numerous examples of ways to communicate and research best practice for example. This is compared to just caving in to get paid, and giving the client unicorns and rainbows because they like that look for their accountancy firm.

Well, I would say that this might be true for a minority of clients. Speaking from an ecommerce design perspective (which is what I mostly do), the issue you are missing is that your clients know their target market 99.9% better than you do. They know what their target market likes, how they shop, and their competition way better than you ever will. So, yes, you should design something that looks good, but telling your client that they don’t have to like what you’ve done is going to get you only 5% repeat business where I come from.

Nice post Wes. The key to success is to define target audiences, target audience goals for the new site and success criteria. Then, design solutions for the audience that help them achieve their goals more effectively than the existing site (if they have one). And even then, you’re only half way home.

Next, you have to present the solutions by telling the story of why & how the new design solves the audience goals. How the new design will save time, make money and feel good.

From there, if you’ve done your research, any change requests can be associated with potentially positive or negative results. If you’ve done a good job, the client will more or less be asking you to make a negative impact on their success criteria – be able to tell them why, and changes go away real fast.

All that said, keep an open mind. 50% of the time, you’ll be wrong 100% of the time.

Wes McDowell Jul 19 2013

Thanks for all the positive comments guys! You all have it right.

And Tim, I totally get that, and if the client is coming from the standpoint of knowing what their customers want, then I obviously welcome that information. The problem is when clients just “want” something for the sake of wanting it. This is especially true for startups that don’t really know their customer base yet.

John Harvey Jul 19 2013

Hey Wes,

nice exposition,

But it’s hard to find such clients who after listening “It’s not important that you like the design I’m going to make for you” on the very first meeting stays long.

The main problem arises here is that, you being a developer/designer, what should be your preference client or client’s business or your approach of working.

Anyways after going through your article, one can definitely make up his mind about what kind of client you should choose “(Where’s The Project Money Coming From?)”

Keep doing good work bro…

Joel Newcomer Jul 23 2013

Brilliant indeed! Well said! I plan to add an adaptation of parts of this article to our company’s welcome packet and credit you.

Joe Tuckwell Jul 23 2013

While it is important that business objectives and user needs are met, it is also vital that the client also likes the design. That doesn’t have to mean aesthetics but they must understand how the design works and why it is effective. They have to believe in the design enough to confidently promote it themselves. Websites are sure to fail if the owner of the project doesn’t get behind the end result.

I usually give up on talking to a client, when he asks something like “Will this website work on a mac?”


Oh, and great article, Wes. Worth reading.

OMG! Valuable insight, Wes. The best clients are ones who understand that the website is not entirely about them but their clients. Besides being seen by the masses, the point of even having a business website is to get money. Unless it’s a personal blog, etc. the design isn’t necessarily about the client’s personal feelings. If someone is a daycare provider and loves the color black and wants that color throughout their site, I can’t say that they’ll get parents entrusting them with their children. Be serious here. It’s a good and fine balance between want the client wants and what their customers will respond to. Yes, there’s the whole thing about color theory and emotion evocation from certain hues, but when you throw in the mix functionality, clients don’t know how to make or what “that picture thingy slide in from the side of the screen” is called – they only know that they want it. If clients could do it themselves, what would they need a designer for? It’s the job of a good designer to help clients understand that a website is more than something pretty, it’s a money making machine. I appreciate when clients get the bigger picture, don’t hover and allow the designer to do their job and help them increase revenue with a well done design. Besides that, design is subjective.

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