Designers: Learn how to properly deal with clients

I read an article that, as a consumer, rubbed me the wrong way. It is sad how many people simply do not understand how to work with others. Trying to force someone, or giving them an ultimatum, isn’t the way to go. Instead, learn from past experiences and show you have wisdom.

I read an article today and I thought to myself, “Wow, people just don’t get it”. The article was “Why Designers Shouldn’t Settle. Let’s put this in terms everyone can understand (I hope).

Don’t start an article with a false premise

Ugly designs abound on the web, and behind each and every one of them is a “designer”.

MySpace is filled with ugly sites that are “designed” by people who have no desire to be a designer. So are websites, especially blogs. There have been many times I hacked at a design and I liked it, but designers said it was ugly. However, I have zero desire to be a designer. I think that stating that there is a designer behind each and every website is inaccurate. Actually, I know it is. I’m proof.

It’s all a learning experience

Have you ever been warned not to do something and you did it anyway? Everyone eventually receives advice they don’t listen to. I have been on both sides of the fence. People warned me not to date a guy (for example) because they saw things I did not see. I learned the hard way they were right. I have also warned people in different aspects (for example, business) not to do something, had proof to back up my point, but the person couldn’t see what I saw. My archives are littered with me warning against something and later on down the line, it happened.

Now put yourself in the frame of mind when someone was advising you not to do something and you did not listen. Your mind was made up, for whatever reason. In the end, when it all fell apart, you had your friends and family there to support you. Perhaps you were teased about it, but hopefully they didn’t hold it against you.

That is exactly what is happening with clients, designers and the situation described in the entry. For example:

After all, a good client recognizes that you’re the designer, and that while it’s their business, you have more experience than they do when it comes to design particulars.

They’ll appreciate it when you say (tactfully) that the giant flashing banner on the home page and all that scrolling text just isn’t going to give the impression they’re after. While it’s important to listen to your clients, don’t be afraid to step up and tell them why something isn’t a good idea.

Sure, you might lose some clients if you refuse to bend to their every poorly-thought-out decision, but the clients you retain will be easier to work with and will likely give you more design freedom. These clients will also likely refer more work to you, both directly and indirectly.

So “bad” clients are the ones that don’t do exactly what the designer says? Basically what the article is suggesting that if the designer recommends an alternative idea (which I agree) and the client does not accept it, the designer should dump the client. I read the article and thought WTF? You want to know why?

Do YOU listen to every piece of advice given to you…even by experts? Absolutely NOT. Never expect from people, strangers no less, more than you are willing to give yourself. Instead of doing something stupid (yes, I said stupid), put yourself in the client’s shoes and remember each and every time someone who ended up being right advised you against doing something and you didn’t listen. Learn from that experience.

What if the designer is wrong?

I could come up with a design that would be wacky to a designer but work perfectly with my audience. I can imagine discussing the concepts with a designer and he or she politely telling me I was wrong and why he or she thought I was wrong. I would still want to go with it anyway.

Why? Because I know my audience. Very well.

Perhaps the designer is correct and the flashing banner is the wrong move to make but what if the client is right? Don’t get me wrong, I know clients can make some outlandish requests at times but is it right for a client to go against their gut instinct because the designer said not to?

Ever been told something was going to break very soon if you didn’t take the more expensive option, you took the cheaper option and didn’t have to replace the object for years? Did your parents suggest you should be a doctor, you opted to be a lawyer (insert occupation here) and today, you are happy with the choices you made? Each person will have many stories over time where someone told them to do one thing and, going against their gut feeling, went with their advice and regretted it. You will find hundreds of articles from writers suggesting to follow your gut instinct because who knows what is best for their company better than “you”.

This is what designers (and just about anyone who works with people) have to deal with. It’s their business and in the end, the business owner should always do what he or she feels is the best decision…even if it is stupid…so they have no regrets. There is no way to know if the designer’s suggestion will work miracles. Let’s be real: just as there are a lot of bad suggestions from clients there are a lot of screwed up designs by designers who swore their design was the optimal solution for the client.

Wisdom prevails

Now that you are in the frame of mind that people make mistakes, you are going to realize that clients will not always accept your advice. What do you do about it? Dump clients? That’s not very smart is it? With the age of social media and people sharing their experiences, do you really want your ex-clients putting on Twitter how a designer wouldn’t take their work because the designer didn’t agree with the them? Want to know how that will play out? The designer will seem like the biggest asshole because even if the client wanted floating ducks across their site, it is their right…and people will side with the client.

Since designers don’t have to put every project in their portfolio, simply remove the ones that don’t project the image the designer wants to convey. That has NOTHING to do with working with a client that doesn’t agree with the designer.

Give the client what he/she wants (after warning them of course) and let them go through the learning experience of finding out, first hand, why the design didn’t work. If you provide them with a positive experience when things do not work out, the client will most likely remember that the designer warned them on what would happen and come back to have the job done properly.

I know…why not just skip the first design and skip to the one done properly? For the same reason you didn’t listen to the wiser person when he/she warned you not to do something and you did it anyway…it’s a learning experience.

If the past cannot teach the present and the father cannot teach the son, then history need not have bothered to go on, and the world has wasted a great deal of time. – Russell Hoban


However, this time when the client comes back, a lesson will be learned and there will be more respect for the designer. Remember, respect is something that is EARNED not freely given. Look at the bigger picture. Instead of dumping the client, realize the client (with new found respect) will be more likely to recommend you. Word of mouth is a stronger recommendation than any other type of marketing.

Or you can take the advice of the person writing the article but I guarantee you this…unless you have other income, if you turn away those clients, you WILL eventually end up settling. To eat and pay the bills. Instead of thinking of it as settling, think of it as helping someone learn a lesson.

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