Episode #91: What to Do When a Client Doesn’t Like Your Designs

Frustrated male designer.

Have you ever sent off a design proof only to have the client not like it and ask for a bunch of design changes? Find out what to do when a client doesn’t like your designs.


Show Notes


We’ve all been there. We’ve sent off a proof of a design we worked so hard on—that we were so proud of—only for the client to not “get it.” Or, worse, they rip it to shreds and request a ton of design changes.

Why does this happen in the first place? Is it because the client just wants to be a jerk? I mean, on a rare occasion, that could be the case.

Some people simply feel they need to assert themselves and put their stamp on things, like a dog might pee on something to mark its territory.

They might have something to prove to their boss. You never know.

Or maybe you missed the mark.

Don’t take feedback personally.

When a client doesn’t like the designs you’ve just presented, the first thing to do is not take it personally. I know that can be hard.

As designers, we get personally invested in our work. But graphic design is a business, and you need to separate yourself from the work.

Don’t take it as a personal attack. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you.

Also, don’t assume they’re out to make your life miserable. Heck, sometimes I’ve later found that my contact disagreed with some of the requests they were asked to pass along to me, the designer, but their opinion was vetoed by a higher-up.

You just never know, so don’t assume anything.

Take a deep breath and put your ego aside.

Acknowledge their concerns.

When you get feedback from clients, it’s important to acknowledge any concerns they might have, because this isn’t you versus them. The client is not the enemy. Clients want to feel heard, not dismissed.

You’re on the same side and should be working together. You want to make the client feel that way too, because they might be thinking you’re just trying to get your way, instead of what’s best for their business.

Consider their feedback.

Consider their feedback.

Remember: they know their business and their audience better than you do, so it’s important to look at things from their perspective.

Try to be objective when you review their feedback.

If they thought your design missed the mark, think about why they said that.

  • Did you not follow a creative brief? Did you not create one in the first place?
  • Did you not discuss goals and objectives up front?
  • Did you not ask about the demographics of their audience, meaning gender, age, education level, etc.?

That is helpful feedback that will help you with future projects.

If you designed something using a lot of red and green, for example… If they serve a predominantly male audience, that’s a problematic choice of colors. One out of 12 males has color blindness, and the most popular type of color blindness is red-green color blindness.

If you designed something using script or handwritten typefaces, and they serve an audience of senior citizens, well, that makes it harder for them to read.

If you used pastel colors for an audience of lawyers, those colors probably aren’t appropriate.

Get clarification.

It’s so important to get clarification from the client on some of their feedback, especially when they’re dictating how to make a design change. And these kinds of requests would really get in my craw.

What I’m talking about is when they ask for something to be larger and bold.

Really, you should be deciding the “how.” Ask them what are they trying to accomplish instead of just doing it.

This does three things:

  1. It gets you out of order-taking mode and back into the expert seat.
  2. It lets them know you care about finding the best way to resolve their concern and that you’re interested in understanding more.
  3. It gives you the leeway to address their concern in the best way.

Maybe larger and bold is the solution, maybe not. Maybe it’s something else.

Finding out what the issue is will help you understand how to solve the problem.

If they say they want larger and bold, and you ask why, they might say that element just needs to be more prominent.

Great! Now you can fix it in a way that works well with the design rather than relying on art direction they’re usually not qualified to give. I mean, why are they hiring you if they could do it, right?

Offer your professional opinion.

If you disagree with the request—not the reasoning behind it but what they’re asking you to do—it’s important to offer your professional opinion.

After all, they’ve hopefully hired you for your expertise and guidance. You’d be doing them a disservice to not let them know that what they’re asking for would be a mistake or not the best way.

I like to approach this by using phrases such as “In my professional opinion…” or “In my experience…, this might not be a good idea because…” or “a better approach might be…” and then use objective data or examples to back up what you’re saying.

They need to know this isn’t just another portfolio piece to you, that you care about the end results for them.

Being able to provide objective information to help them understand this is crucial.

Show them options.

Sometimes you have to show them that what they’re proposing won’t work. Most non-designers are not visual people.

What I’ve done in these situations is show them what they’re asking for but then also showing my proposed version based on their feedback. That means I’ll give them an alternate version of a page if I need to and then explain why it works over the other version.

It’s up to them to decide, but you need to steer them in the right direction.

Pick your battles.

Picking your battles is essential to maintain your sanity and the client relationship.

It’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, it’s their business—not yours. Don’t get too attached or invested. You can only do so much. You can’t force them into something.

Just do work that aligns with their objectives, give your professional opinion, get paid and move on. Don’t care more than they do.

Prevent the design wars.

It might surprise you that something you’re doing could be contributing to how someone responds to your design work. After all, design is very subjective.

You can usually prevent the design wars by taking certain actions before you even get to the review stage.

One way is by asking the right questions up front, before you even design anything. Not sure what to ask? Get my free guide, 17 Questions You Must Ask During a Design Consultation, at creative-boost.com/questions.

Also, how you present your work also goes a long way in preventing design wars.

When you present your designs with confidence and demonstrate how they align with their objectives, that instills trust and makes them less open to their personal opinion. It also might make a client consider a design they might otherwise not be open to. Learn how to present your design work in episode 24.

 

2 comments

  • Thank you for these wonderful tips. And can you create some blogs on tips for infographics too? That would be quite useful. Again thanks for the wonderful content.

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