The meddling client

The Meddling Client | Design Talk postA reader writes, “I work as a designer at a small print/marketing firm and am presently dealing with a client who is beginning to rely much less on our design expertise when it comes to executing their work. Our qualified suggestions are being routinely discarded in favor of their own, uneducated opinions.

“While client input is undeniably necessary when it comes to spelling out initial goals, being micromanaged throughout the design process, especially when forcing me to design against my better judgment, I feel greatly devalues my worth as a designer.

“Unfortunately, I have little to no influence, since I have no direct contact with the client.

“My question is, how to handle this conundrum?”


I hear you! So do a million other designers!

Your case is impossible to diagnose from a distance. But meddling, fiddling, second-guessing clients/bosses/committees are a fact of life.

The issue, though, has many cross-currents, one of which is that . . .

People enjoy design. Design is fun, and not only for us. Many non-designers have an affinity for it. Before & After subscribers include engineers, producers, marketers, writers, singers, scrapbookers, photographers, craftspeople, modelers, decorators, painters, and more. Design touches many. I’ll say that design belongs to many. Art runs deep.

Design looks easier than it is. This still fakes me out, and I’ve been at it 40 years. It looks easy, I think, because seeing is so easy. Similarly, writing looks easy because, well, everyone writes! So design gets underestimated, especially the communication aspect of it.

Design means more to people than they realize. We are visual creatures. We want the good-looking sunglasses, not those other sunglasses. We want the good-looking car, not that other car. Apple spends untold dollars getting the edge one millimeter thinner and thereby making it perfect. How things look has a huge effect, also underestimated, on how they do.

Not much can be done about the meddler who’s secretly unhappy, anxious, or afraid, other than your best to give him what he wants, and perhaps needs, if for no other reason than to be merciful — or, disengage from the job. Not much can be done about the closet designer who actually wants to design the job herself! Do your best to satisfy her vision (i.e., give her what she wants), or disengage. If you encounter a client who’s just plain evil, run!

While it’s poor interpersonal practice, not all meddling is unfounded. If the design goals have not been well articulated (more on this in a moment), you’ll get meddling. If you, the designer, do not understand the goals, you’ll get meddling. If the client does not trust your eye, you’ll get meddling (or fired). If you appear condescending (“our qualified suggestions” vs. “their uneducated opinions”), you’ll get meddling (or fired). And so on.

So step one: Be sure you know what you’re doing. This is a big deal. Are you sure your “qualified suggestions” are correct? Are you sure your “judgment” is better? Design is not math, you know; there’s always more than one answer. Can you articulate yours?

(Try this: In the privacy of your office, make the strongest argument you can against your own design. Be serious, not wishful, facetious or trivial. If it’s convincing, you’re not done.)

Along those lines, do you have the skill to make work what the client wants? Say the client likes your design, except that he’d prefer this other (kooky) typeface or that other (ugly) color, for whatever reason. Can you find a way to make his choices look good? The better you are at this, the less you’ll be bothered by left-field requests.

Accept that others see differently from you. That diamond shape with the little curve may look to you like the perfect mark, but he sees a playing card in it, and she sees up-and-down elevator buttons. These associations are valid (although not always germane) and can often be valid critiques.

The best way to avoid the hassles and get everyone on the same page is to start with a creative brief that articulates, in writing, every design goal. Work this out together with the client until everyone is satisfied, both of you sign off on it, then design to that. It gives both of you a clear goal and keeps the conversation at a high level — i.e., does this look/layout/whatever satisfy the goal?

Above all, stay humble. Accept that you often don’t know, you can’t always (or even often) see the best way, and you may not be inspired. But you have good eyes, good hands, a good mind. Show them your best work and articulate it clearly. Receive the voices and views of others, and use them to make you a better, broader, designer.

Illustration courtesy of iStockphoto
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45 Responses to The meddling client

  1. mary jane says:

    Well said as usual, John. I have been a freelancer for 20 years now, and I’d say the key reason I am still working is that I listen to my clients. True, as a result I do not always produce something that I think is destined for the Communication Arts Design Annual(!), but that is not our purpose as paid designers. The purpose is to communicate through design what the client wants you to communicate. Sometimes you make an argument for a design and give it your best shot, and all the client can articulate is, “but I don’t like red.” You have to respect that and move on. They are paying. This is a hard lesson for newbies to learn. Some design magazines (like CA?) will have you believe that clients will pay big $$$ for your unique vision — that clients want to be told what it is they want. Maybe that is true for a handful of top-shelf designers and clients, but most of us who work in the trenches need to work with what we are given: wanna-be client-designers, tight budgets, and, God forbid, the “design-by-a-committee” scenario. Your success will depend on how creative you can be within those constraints. If you as a designer cannot abide by that, perhaps you should be a fine artist instead, where people will pay for your work only if your vision matches theirs. I’m not meaning to sound too pessimistic; there are times when you will be in total sync with your client, and then the job becomes easy — fun, even! — but it is how you choose to deal with the “other” clients that will make or break you.

    • Bud Wood says:

      You’re correct. The client is usually right. It is unbecoming to assume that your stuff is always great and the client is a clod. Design is mostly about communicating — and a client typically knows what it takes to communicate with customers.

    • JR says:

      Right on target, as always! This is probably one of the most important things I’ll ever learn about design. In the schools, you’re taught you can be creative without restraint. In the real world, clients hate blue or want too much on one page. You have to be reasonable . You also must never show a client something you hate, because chances are, they’ll pick it!

  2. Larry says:

    I’ve managed to fend off most meddling by using the creative brief. In fact, I’ve made it a practice to discuss WHY I have designed pieces before I ever present the work to the client. It seems that the client reacts positively to your design if they understand why you’ve taken the direction you have before they actually lay eyes on it.

    • Chris R says:

      The issue that keeps coming up for me in my work life doing design for academic “clients” is that even a creative brief does not stop the barrage of requests for design solutions that are not really effective in meeting the stated goals. One month, the group of clients is committed to X goals, and next month, after they’ve thought some more, the goals change. And even when I can refer to the creative brief and give sound reasons for why I did X or chose Y, it often just does not hold weight with them. They want what they want, and, unfortunately, what they want can change from month to month.

      Yes, my hair is a lot sparser these days.

      • Kerry says:

        I used to work in an academic environment, and what you say is true. I think part of the problem is that goals are not often tied to revenue generation, but to perceptual (and sometimes theoretical) objectives.

        However, a creative brief is still important. What I would do when the goals change is to create a new or modified brief with the new stated goals. And get their agreement before proceeding.

        What usually happened is that these academics would argue amongst themselves until we had a solid direction. In other words, I’d demonstrate that the problem is not just my problem.

  3. Francis says:

    “This is a common problem dealing with any client. Once they’ve fallen in love with something you don’t like, the only way to really move them off of it is to show them something better.”

    The client Ken Seagall is talking about is Steve Jobs: Steve Jobs Almost Named The iMac The MacMan, Until This Guy Stopped Him

    I’ve come to accept that part of a designer’s job is not just to design but to convince, and that I had to become good at it if I wanted to be a good designer. It takes years of education (and then some) to learn design, so now I’m reading books and taking training on negotiations with the same level of engagement. I would recommend Getting More by Stuart Diamond.

  4. R. Shandy says:

    I work primarily as a designer, but on select projects I adopt the role as client with various ad agencies and design firms. And I agree with John — in my 25+ years of experience, I’ve found that difficulty pleasing the client usually stems from a basic lack of communication/understanding.

    You note, “Unfortunately, I have little to no influence, since I have no direct contact with the client.” Many times I have found that it is the go-between who is not communicating the client’s wishes adequately or perhaps failing to clearly state the designer’s intents. I think John’s suggestion of using a creative brief is an excellent one. I would also suggest that in cases when the client isn’t accepting any of your designs that you request a brief meeting with that client and your company’s liaison to get everyone on the same page. Or if you aren’t allowed to meet in person with clients, at the very least try to arrange a designer-to-client phone call. I’ve found that when I am the client and haven’t been happy with the designs presented to me, that these are excellent ways to resolve the issues. In most cases, it’s our account rep who has been interpreting my requests to the designer (and vice versa) much differently than I would have in person. Usually these brief exchanges clear up any miscommunications, and the design goals are met much faster.

  5. Andy S. says:

    This is something I run into from time to time, and I’m glad a fellow B&A reader asked about it. I completely agree with John.

    You can’t change a meddling client. Sometimes, unfortunately, I’ve found the best thing to do is to step away (if you have the means) after trying to do what’s reasonable. If you’re talented and have the experience and results to prove it, bend, but don’t be a doormat or a means for the client to become the “designer.”

    If you interface at all with the client, one approach I’ve found to work when tensions are high and options are exhausted is to very judiciously and politely remind the client that they hired you for your design expertise. If they’re standing over you and tying your hands, then what’s the point of the exercise? This might sound a bit harsh to some, but it has worked for me (again, when said at the right time and with the right tone and phrasing.)

    Even if you have to walk away, take heart. After a lot of back and forth, I finished a logo treatment for a client almost a year ago. The client was the dictionary definition of a meddler. I convinced him in the end to go with my design. It was not an easy process for either of us. At the end of the day, I think it was a combination of his management style, my passion about the design, and his need to be too involved (in my opinion). He adopted the logo, I prepared a beautiful design for his fleet of service trucks, finished the job, and we parted ways. What happened next? Nothing . . . until yesterday. I received a glowing email full of praise about all the positive comments, recognition and (most important) new awareness and business he’s received as a result of people noticing his new, bold, crisp logo. We’ll see where the relationship goes from here . . .

    However, poetic justice does sometimes happen, and I believe good design speaks for itself in the end.

  6. Phyllis says:

    One of the important things that was mentioned — but almost as an aside — is that the designer has little direct contact with the client. To me that signals a problem right there. How does the designer know what the client actually wants? Is the designer being given a project by his/her boss? Without interaction, I don’t see how the nuances of the client’s wants, needs, and expectations can be met.

  7. Lissa says:

    Ultimately it’s your responsibility to create the vision that the client “sees,” whether you agree with it or not. I always give my two cents when I don’t agree and offer a suggestion of doing it differently, but, if they insist, I create it the way the client wants it. And I make it look good and effectively communicate the messaging as best as possible within that framework. I’ve been in business for over 12 years, and taking a deep breath and leaving my ego at the door has worked successfully in many situations.

  8. John Pruett says:

    “find a way to make his choices look good, or walk away”

    I think a designer can make a great piece with a blank canvas, but it’s the restrictions that are placed on you that show your true talent. When a client insists on something that goes against your every fiber, your comment above rings true. I like the challenge it brings to the table — at least any day but Thursday!

    • Josh says:

      I would say this is what sets good artists apart from great designers. Anybody can design on a blank slate with no directions, but the true great designers meet the wants and desires of the client and look good doing so, even if the client provides terrible pictures or color choices. These limitations bring great challenge and yet show your true talent in the graphic-driven, client-oriented market of today!

  9. Art Kilgour says:

    That’s a pretty darn good response, John, to our perennial problem as designers.

    Here’s what I like most about it: it often IS possible to re-work a design you thought was perfect, taking a client’s serious feedback into account — and come out with a better product!

    I’ve often resisted a client’s initial feedback, but when they articulate why a certain photo won’t work, and their reasons are sound, I have to find another solution, don’t I? It’s not such a bad thing. Getting the ego out of the way often does clear the decks for a different approach, which ultimately meets the client’s needs a lot better.

    The person who wrote you is in a tough spot. “No direct contact with the client” is the key phrase. Ouch. How many intermediaries? As a one-person shop, I’m never in that position. It sounds confusing and daunting.

  10. Amanda Lubow says:

    In my experience, I’ve found that the best way to deal with this is to show the client exactly what they’re asking for. Usually, they see what a bad idea it is and then either concede or make a new suggestion.

    I agree with you, John, that it is very important to make sure that you aren’t pushing your own design ideas on someone. There are lots of ways to solve a single problem in design, so make sure you’re being open minded to other people’s opinions. Just because someone can’t sit at a computer and create a logo doesn’t mean they don’t have an eye for design.

    I think the most important thing for me has always been having a good reason for everything I do. If I show a client a draft, I have already thought through every element of the design and have a reason for why I did what I did. I find that when people hear a good reason for something, they are more willing to accept it, even if they don’t like it initially.

  11. Adding to John’s comments, my advice would be to have the ability to back up your design choices with examples and solid reasons for your suggestions. Don’t insult the client by saying things like, “Your typeface is cheesy,” or “your colors are too trendy,” or “I don’t like the logo.” That will just stop the conversation in its tracks (and you’ll seem like a prima donna and nobody wins). You will have better luck if you can rely on terms like rhythm, proportion, scale, hierarchy, etc. . . . “If you were to choose a serifed typeface instead of _____ , it would better represent the strength in your brand, while adding to the readability of your _____.”

    I know that sounds preachy, but it has worked for me in the past. Most clients will see your point of view and go with your suggestions. Offer them insight as to why you see things your way, and stay away from the subjective adjective: cooler, hipper, etc. However, knowing your client will go a long way, and there is something to be said about speaking their language.

    Another point is to make sure you have a creative director who will go to bat for you when talking with clients. If your CD or AD will not stand up for your work, it may be time to find a new gig. Trust in ideas speaks volumes and lets you be more creative.

  12. JMK says:

    I once submitted a logo (that I hated) to Dynamic Graphics magazine and was selected for the makeover edition. Luckily, my boss liked their final design. I immediately took their design (made a couple of minor tweaks) and used its ideas throughout our website. It was then selected for a subsequent publication showing the implementation of the logo makeover design. One of the reasons that we were selected to do a follow-up was that so few previous winners had ever implemented the makeovers. Plus many makeover candidates were submitted by graphic artists with the hope of getting a bad design their bosses liked ousted. Much to the dismay of the submitter, they weren’t allowed to use the makeover designs in many cases.

  13. Amber says:

    I’m very interested in others’ responses to this. The piece of advice I often hear is to simply get rid of clients like this, but sometimes that’s not feasible for one reason or another (i.e., you need the income, want to keep the client for the long term, it’s a family member, etc.). I don’t have any clients who I want to fire, but I know other designers who do!

    One thing that’s helped me a lot is the creative brief. I get details about the target audience, what the client is trying to say, etc. Even during the creative brief process, I’ll get kooky requests that I know from experience will not communicate effectively with their target audience. I can state my case, but ultimately they’re the client. I then have to detach a bit and realize that it’s not my company. Designing things that I don’t really like used to bother me a lot. But hey, I don’t have to put it in my portfolio! :-)

  14. Dan Coggins says:

    Sure it hurts when the client doesn’t go with your ideas or your execution. But as a designer who’s been at it for 39 years, there are other factors at work.

    It’s more than just you and your design — and maybe your ego. Here is the bigger picture:
    • You are not the one who is risking their money on this project.
    • You are not the one who has to defend the design to their board or their investors.
    • You are not the one who has been going through hours of meetings with stakeholders about this project.
    • You are not the one who has been dreaming about this project for years and sees it as a major item on your life’s “to-do” list.

    Rather, you have been brought in to make the design. To give it a face. Doing this work is a great honor. So dig deep into your design skills and come up with a design that both you and your client love.

    • Rufus Dogg says:

      No more needs to be said.

    • Dave says:

      You’re The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I love your voice.

    • Johanna says:

      As has been suggested by others here, I always tell myself — and oftentimes, the client, when they sense I don’t agree with them — the client is the one who has to live with the final product, not I. They know their organization / clientele / market far better than I. If a client insults your work, or is abusive, yes, walk away (easier for freelancers, obviously). But never from a client who merely wants to see their vision executed. Be positive and adopt the attitude that you are so good at what you do, you can even make their silly ideas look good. Go so far as to tell yourself, “Dang, I sure made lemonade out of that lemon of an idea.” Sometimes a little personal brainwashing is required to keep a positive attitude. Because once you adopt a negative attitude, your work will fail. And as has been suggested by others here: Execute their design, and then show them your own take on their idea, an improvement. Think of it as a “before and after” project!

      • Dan Coggins says:

        “Think of it as a ‘before and after’ project!” Such a good idea! And so appropriate for this blog. ;-)

  15. I’d make sure you work only with clients who you have direct contact with. If I don’t have that, I charge more because it always turns into a “s/he’ll know it when they see it.” You’re basically designing in the dark.

    Some clients have great ideas. They’ve pushed me to create better designs. If they seem to want to participate and you want to keep this relationship, why not include them in brainstorming sessions?

    Instead of fighting it, go with the flow!


    • Dan Coggins says:

      I so agree! Clients can push you to do better design. Working with clients has stretched me greatly. Do like Dr. Phil and “love every idea for 15 minutes.” See where that takes you!

  16. Bob Long says:

    All of these comments and John’s article have hit this button before, and correctly, from my experience.

    As both a designer and a client, one recent problem I ran into was an illustrator who almost completely ignored my 1-2-3 instructions to him (I was in the process of having a logo designed for something specific).

    I asked the illustrator why he wasn’t following my guidelines (not suggestions). He said he was using his “artistic expression.” In plain English, I told him, “I want what I want!” I returned his artwork with arrows and notes on it, re-emphasizing what was to be.

    He said he was okay with that, and work proceeded. A week later he was back to his former idiosyncrasies!

    I sent some more 1-2-3 and told him, “If it isn’t done the way I want it, forget it.” (i.e., no $$$)

    He did it the way I wanted, except, in one small, last piece of defiance, he made one “change” that I didn’t want. It was “good enough” for now; I will have someone else (another designer I have used before who was just too busy this time) fix it up later.

    When he saw a copy of the final look, along with my type, he expressed “amazement” at the effect. That is, he loved it, and he wanted to know if we could work again!

    No way.

    P.S.: Bad thing? On his own stuff he exhibits talent, so it’s not that he’s incapable; he just can’t seem to help himself. I do not have time to play shrink. BTW, I paid him the same day I accepted. But I don’t want to hear from him again.

  17. Ray says:

    One of the most satisfying moments is when you “fire” a client. It takes such a huge psychological load off while freeing up your creativity and energy to go after better clients. You can be very nice about the process and still terminate the relationship. We simply refer them to a competitor by saying, “XYZ firm may have some new ideas that will give you additional options.”

  18. Susan says:

    As the owner of a small marketing consulting and design firm, I have come across this scenario often. My husband taught me to always include a “bay window.” He says this idea was developed by Frank Lloyd Wright (although I have never researched to verify this). Apparently, Wright always included an obvious architectural flaw in his designs so clients could point it out and eliminate it. The purpose of the “bay window” was to allow clients to have input and contribute to the design; they felt as though they were part of the process.

    Sometimes, after hearing the client’s input (“make it red,” “use Times New Roman font,” “I want it to be circular,” etc.), I will design a graphic using all of their input. I then develop my own design (as the prior post suggests, showing them something “better”). To date, when the client compares the two designs side by side, they have always chosen my design. They sheepishly agree that their original concept was not really what they wanted after all. As I said, this approach has worked to date, but the risk is that someday the client may elect their original design. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

  19. Ilse says:

    I’m glad that you posted this because it relates to (seemly) all of us.

    My best advice is to win the alliance of your employer. The firm you work for has a vested ($) interest in the successful completion of the project. That is one of those hidden benefits to working with a firm: support.

    But first you need to prove your point before they will step out on your behalf.

    Just a thought. One that makes the decision to step out on your own as a designer BIG. We made that choice during a time when the economy was on a roller coaster. Happily, our own principals and steadfast customers have kept us hanging on.

    For now, I suggest you funnel your concern through your employer. It will show your concern and your untapped creativity. You may get shot down, but the impression you leave will be lasting.

  20. Tamara Smith says:

    Great post, John and awesome responses everyone; thank you! We’ve probably all dealt with “difficult” clients (some of us have even had the “impossible” client) and suffered through those projects. But understanding the psychology of the client-designer relationship, as you so clearly presented here, will alleviate a lot of suffering in the future!

  21. Amelia says:

    From my experience I have learned that the mark of a great designer is the ability to take the client’s wishes (most often not anything the designer would ever imagine or think could look good) and make them look great. Just because the client says I want it puke green doesn’t mean you have to do the obvious with the green or make it look bad to show them the error of their ways. If instead you can find a way to make the green work in a great way, you have won the heart of the client and in the end created a fine piece of design.

    The article is right — what we do is fun, and everyone wants to do it, so I find with my clients that they love to feel heard, told their ideas are valid and worth considering, and then the best part is to take their wacky ideas and make greatness. They will love having a part in it and feel their contribution mattered, and you get the praise and repeat business. I would far rather make the client happy in a way that looks good than just simply do what they want to make them go away or make them leave angry or discouraged because I’m still not getting it right. When everyone is happy, it’s a good day.

    If you aren’t getting a face-to-face with the client, try to change that. Often great ideas come from talking it through with the client and seeing what it is they are going for. They often don’t know what they want, but if you can hear their desires, question to be sure you understand, and get more direction from them, you have a better chance to provide what they want.

    I also find that giving options is best. They want to have a say, make a decision, have some ownership. So if you have the time, make three great options that you love, which use their suggestions successfully, and more often than not you will find them liking one with minor changes rather than them seeing only one idea and then fiddling with it for months. Options are always good.

    And, if you hate the client and can afford to walk away, by all means give someone else a chance to make them happy. Otherwise, see it as a challenge to make greatness from their suggestions. Then everyone wins.

  22. bri says:

    I’ve had it where I’ve done exactly what the client wanted, plus provided an option of what should work better. Most of the time the client “gets it” and selects my option. However, I’ve actually had it where they use my advertisement, they receive a considerable increase in sales, then go back to the original design. Usually, it was because the design was their own or their spouse’s, and they’d rather let their ego get in the way of making good business decisions.

    I’d just do what they want and get it off your plate. This way you have more time to spend working on projects where you are valued. Don’t waste time on people who don’t treat you as a valued individual and designer.

    Just “whatever” it — file it and move on. It’s not worth getting in a tizzy about it. There are micromanagers everywhere; I figure if they want to get all up and in it, let them. I have better ways to expend my energy.

  23. michele says:

    We have all definitely had this experience. And these are all great solutions and suggestions. I have a two-time rule. When a client asks me to do something that I know is not the best and/or is expensive, I will explain why that might not be a good solution. I will do that twice. I’m diplomatic and direct. I figure that twice I’ve told them what I think and warned of the looming mistake, and if they decide to ignore, then, you know what? That’s okay. It’s their logo/brochure/project, it’s their money, they have to live with the final piece, and I don’t. What’s more, I’ve learned a valuable lesson about working with that person — so here’s the invoice; thank you very much.

    I’m also a believer in like seeking like, so the people I tend to work with are the ones who rely on my directness and ability to take so-so requests and find solutions that hadn’t been apparent to them. The ones who don’t like my (sometimes brutal) directness have moved on, and we are both happier for it. That means figuring out who your ideal client is while you hone your skills at finding out what kind of a designer you are.

  24. Jeff Seaver says:

    A well considered essay on a sensitive and difficult topic — thank you, John — and the comments have been equally helpful.

    There are also the occasional extremes where some of us have had to finally “detach from difficult personalities and poor-paying clients” (as I’ve heard it said) and find ways to gracefully fire them.

    I’ve read several essays on “firing bad clients” that have helped me find a way to end some of these projects, hopefully without burning bridges. I’ve also found that when I get over my “freelance fears” (“you’ll never work again”), the vacancy actually makes room, and more abundant and prosperous client relationships do come in.

    I also think that the “creative brief” concept is a brilliant idea, one that I have not used but will try on my very next excursion.

  25. I lead from behind. Having thought of what they’ve asked for, I slowly reveal what my response is and why, and I am sure to mention anything they have sort: why it’s included, or why what I’ve gone with is probably better. I show them what they want, and then also what I think might serve them better, which usually sells them on the better option. Sometimes, though, I discover that they are right due to me not knowing something I missed up front.

    At the end of the day, since they are paying for it, and if you’re not getting shoved pillar to post (if you are, you need to factor this into your quote), don’t take it to heart. Sometimes you are the gun for hire, and sometimes you’re just the gun. Keep happy, keep moving. It’s all good.

  26. Rochelle says:

    I feel your pain. In fact, I just fired a long-time client because I was so stressed by him and his never-ending demands and changes that I couldn’t continue and not commit murder (not really). His problem was that he over-researched each project. He would inundate me with competitors’ brochures and websites; copy text from elsewhere (I could always tell because they were well written, unlike his text). Mostly I nodded my head and told him they were great, but we’d do something even better. So 75% of the design was mine, and the rest was committee or other inspiration.

    When I first started out over 25 years ago, I felt that every project, idea, design was important to my reputation and professionalism. Then life teaches you that how you make others feel, what you do for their lives and well-being is far more important than doing it the “right” way. While not everything makes me happy or makes me want to show my work, I do feel good when my clients’ businesses grow, when they come back giving me more assignments and refer others to me. Along the way, I get to design lots of things my way — which makes all of us happy. One way I get my point across is that I design it my way and their way and ask them to choose. Very often, once they see my concept, they pick it.

    Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take a deep breath and smile.

  27. Robert says:

    When I first started designing (before I really knew what I was doing), when someone rejected my design, I felt like they were rejecting me, and they were, because the design was for me, for my ego. I finally realized that I was working for someone else. The design should be for them. Just like not everyone likes broccoli or sushi, not everyone likes my favorite blue or my favorite font. Some people like opera and ballet, some like “Jersey Shore” and hip-hop.

    If I give the customer what he/she wants, I get paid, I get word-of-mouth recommendations, and I get more jobs. Okay, maybe I don’t get to add to my portfolio this time, but I have one more happy customer, more money in my pocket, and more opportunities for more business. I prefer getting paid over building my ego!

  28. feetje says:

    Ah. Very recognizable. I have recently stepped away from a client who was, to say the least, holding my hand in the process. I found myself having to do things I could not agree with, and the client kept pushing for more. He was a non-designer who actually wanted to be one, I think. It was a terrible experience because, in the long run, he kept coming back to my original ideas. He kept pushing and pushing — a little light here, a little stripe there, totally losing the purpose of the total branding and the communication (I like blue and red, can we make it blue and red).

    It has cost me lots of time, but finally I decided to return the assignment. He still has not found anyone to visualize his ideas.

    However, I do agree with the creative briefs. Sometimes it just is not gonna work. I feel a lot better know — peace of mind etc. — and am in a position that I can make these decisions.

  29. Kerry says:

    It’s tough to follow directions that seem counter-intuitive. But, part of a designer’s role is interpreter. Everything hinges on good communication and understanding. Since clients want something for a reason, communication starts with the questions a designer asks. Asking good questions is a science and an art.

  30. Joe Panella says:

    I feel your pain, my friend. I have been a designer for over 20 years. One thing I have learned over the years is that money talks! I have had my fair share of meddling clients, and what John said is correct: have a clear design brief/goal.

    I let my clients know up front that I will create up to three comps for them to choose from that meet the goals of the project. They can have up to three revisions. After that, revisions are billed at an hourly rate (minimum of one hour per additional revision). I find that this helps my clients stay on track, knowing that if they become wishy-washy in their decision-making, it’s going to cost them additional fees.

    This works great if you’re working directly for the client, and you’re the boss. However, if you are a designer working for an agency, then this approach is not an option. If that is your situation, then I suggest what John mentioned — give the client what they want, and move on or disengage yourself from that account. I know it’s tough to give in and give the client what they want when you feel strongly about your design, however, that is the nature of the commercial design world.

    Another thing I have found to be extremely helpful is to pursue another creative outlet where you are 100% in control. My outlet is photography. Whenever I feel creatively frustrated or beaten down by clients, I go out and shoot some photos. When I’m shooting, I’m shooting for myself! I am the boss; whatever I decide to shoot, however I decide to shoot, it’s my way, period! This gives me the creative satisfaction that I don’t always get with my paying clients : )

  31. Loren Williams says:

    A tough pill to swallow is that the customer is always right (since they are paying for your/our work). It becomes incumbent on the designer to improve their ability to communicate the strength of their idea, often in the form of leading the client to believe it is actually their idea.

    Should the client still not agree, think of Burger King: Have It Your Way. Then swallow the pill and your pride and give the client what they ask for.


  32. Dimitri says:

    This reminded me of the episode described in Walter Isaacson’s recent book about Steve Jobs, when Jobs hired a well-known designer, Paul Rand, to come up with a logo for Jobs’ new company, Next.

    “When Jobs asked for a number of options to consider, Rand declared that he did not create different options for clients. “I will solve your problem, and you will pay me,” he told Jobs. “You can use what I produce, or not, but I will not do options, and either way you will pay me.”

    Then later, when Jobs asked for a small change in design:

    “Rand banged his fist on the table and declared, “I’ve been doing this for fifty years, and I know what I’m doing.” Jobs relented.”

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