How To Explain To Clients That They Are Wrong

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GIFs of spinning @s on the “Contact us” page. Common usability mistakes for the sake of visual appeal. Splash pages. Fancy search box. No whitespace. Music on page load. Home page banner of a jigsaw-puzzle globe with a piece missing. Sometimes you just know that what a client is requesting is wrong and that you have to find a way to tell them. But how?

Is The Client Wrong? Link

Before getting into how to explain to a client that they’re wrong, ask yourself, “Is the client wrong to begin with?” Just because you don’t approve of the direction they’re taking or of a request they’ve made doesn’t necessarily mean it is not a step in the right direction for the project. To be able to answer this question effectively, you need to train yourself to be completely objective and humble when dealing with client requests.

First of all, appreciate one critical thing: the client probably knows their target audience a lot better than you do. Just as web professionals quickly learn personality types among their own clients, your client interacts with their target audience on a daily basis and knows what makes them tick… and that may be just what makes you cringe.

You can begin to establish if the client is wrong simply by exploring why the client is making such a request and what the business case for it is. It could well be a situation in which they spoke to many people in the target audience demographic, and they all said that they were more likely to click an animated Flash banner link than a static one, or that they felt more engaged by a website that had stock images of smiling people everywhere.

It could be that the picture of the jigsaw-puzzle globe with a piece missing actually sums up the client’s sales pitch quite well and that similar messaging has proven to win over potential customers in the past.

A Rubix cube style graphic with a heart logo and one cube piece fallen off
Image source: Lady Madonna1

Of course, when faced with such a situation, a good web professional would understand the business driver and suggest alternative solutions that convey the same message and achieve the same goal but that are unique, original and creative.

Whatever the case though, always keep an open mind. Don’t assume the client is wrong before seeing the evidence. One guarantee in this business is that the more you design and develop websites, the more often you’ll find yourself in situations where, six months after a project’s launch, you hear that the most positive feedback from users wasn’t the cool bit of JavaScript you implemented using groundbreaking technology, but rather something that you considered boring and unoriginal but that excited the client during development. We deliver websites for the client’s target audience, not our peers in the web community: sometimes painful to swallow, but always true.

That scenario aside, let’s put our cool hats on again and assume that the request for the jigsaw-puzzle globe has come in, and that it clearly has nothing to do with the client’s business, and that it has made you curl up in a corner of the room, banging your head against the wall, muttering “Why? Why? Why?”

What approaches can you take to explain to the client that, in your professional opinion, they’re wrong?

Speak The Client’s Language Link

One of the most common problems, especially among freelancers, is an inability to speak the client’s language. Being able to speak in a way that relates to the client’s business sense is crucial at all stages of managing a web project, but never more so than when challenging a client’s decision.

If you’re trying to explain to a client that a rotating banner (or any other feature) may not be the most effective use of their budget, rather than say something like, “I just don’t think it will work,” or “I’m not sure you have the budget,” ask instead how they think implementing it will benefit their business, generate more quality leads or increase conversions.

Always emphasize the main goals, or KPIs (key performance indicators), of the project. You’d be surprised by how often such a question will result in a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, as the client realizes that they want the feature because they think it looks cool, when in fact they can’t connect it to a KPI.

Building a website or web application should be treated in the same way as growing a business:

  1. Know what you want to achieve.
  2. Define some measurable KPIs or goals.
  3. Develop a plan.
  4. Begin executing the plan.
  5. Evaluate every decision along the way to make sure it supports a KPI, thus taking repeated steps towards achieving the project’s goals.

By maintaining this approach, you will also radically change the client’s opinion of you, from that of a creative hippie-type to a business-savvy web designer or developer whom they should listen to if they want to stay focused on the purpose of the project.

A screenshot of a Buzzword Bingo board

Being able to speak the client’s language will undoubtedly help greatly when the time comes to tell the client that they’re wrong. Beyond using Buzzword Bingo2 words with confidence, you need to be able to back them up with valuable advice drawn from your area of specialization.

Establish Yourself As The Expert Link

One of the most important ways to make the ordeal of explaining to a client that they’re wrong as stress-free as possible for both parties is to establish yourself as the web expert. If you do this, the client will completely trust you and your recommendations without a moment’s hesitation. Perfick!

But even if you are a web expert, the position is not always easy to establish, because it usually only becomes apparent over time, after you’ve gotten a few successful decisions or projects under your belt with the client. It doesn’t help either that many clients still regard creative digital agencies and freelancers as either kids living in their parents’ basement or shady professionals out to take them for every last penny.

Though a challenge, you can establish your credibility quickly using a few methods, some of which are relatively simple to do.

Be Professional Link

Before they’re convinced that you’re a digital professional and that they should trust your recommendations, you must first demonstrate your professionalism by doing the basics well:

  • Be punctual at meetings and teleconferences.
  • Always speak in a professional manner.
  • Deliver pre-sales paperwork on time.
  • Present all documents and images on professionally branded templates.
  • Use correct grammar and punctuation in emails.

You’d be surprised by how quickly clients pick upon deficiencies in these basic business skills. Their perception of you and your recommendations will be immediately affected. Unless you come across as the consummate professional early on, shaking off this reputation will be difficult.

Don’t Be Shy About Citing High-Profile Clients Link

You could well be a digital guru who has spent years working in the industry and earned the respect of the web community, but most clients won’t understand what this means. They have never heard of websites such as Smashing Magazine or magazines such as .Net3, and they probably won’t grasp the gravitas that comes with being a speaker at web conferences such as SXSW4.

However, all clients tend to respond when you say you have worked on a high-profile brand website. When clients hear that you’ve been hired by a big name that they’ve heard of and whose products they perhaps use, they sit up like a meerkat and think they’ve hit the jackpot. Simples!

While some web folk aren’t always comfortable selling themselves, and while big brand experience is not always proof of ability, it almost always resonates with clients and makes them see you as more credible. This reinforces your position as an expert whose advice should be heeded. After all, if big brand X thought you were good, you must be, right?

Sometimes, of course, no matter how much credibility you demonstrate, a client may choose not to listen to your recommendations. But perhaps they’ll listen to others…

Back Up Recommendations With Evidence Link

How often in life have you volunteered your point of view to someone for months, only to be beaten down each time; and yet when someone else comes into the picture and says the exact same thing, their advice is seized upon as revolutionary. This is human nature and happens just as much when explaining to clients that they’re wrong.

If a client is, for whatever reason, unpersuaded by your arguments, you might want to consider going all CSI on them and producing evidence that backs up your recommendations.

This evidence can come in many forms. For example:

  • Blog posts from world-respected web experts.
  • Statistics from large usability studies.
  • Well-known cases where the same thing was tried and had negative results.

A screenshot of the Five Second Test website header5

This kind of evidence is obvious. But sometimes, the less obvious kind can be just as effective:

  • Guerrilla usability testing, by asking the client to obtain feedback from employees within the company.
  • Using free tools like Five Second Test6 (or dozens of other tools7) to flash test designs.
  • Submitting designs to communities dedicated to providing design feedback, for example Feedback Army8.
  • Feedback from customers with whom the client has a good relationship.
  • Setting up a poll on the website that presents both ideas.
  • Web analytics from the current website.

Common points of contention will be which browsers to support, which screen resolutions to optimize for and where to put the fold. But no matter the debate, backing up your point of view with trusted third parties can sometimes tip the balance in your favor and improve how the client perceives your dedication, enthusiasm and passion for getting it right.

Sometimes, Being Direct Works Link

When all else fails, you could always tell the client flat out that they’re wrong. This is always a risky move, because clients will react differently. Some will appreciate it, while others will find it disrespectful or personally insulting. But if you feel strongly about it and you’ve tried every other method, being direct might do the trick.

Personally, I’ve been in situations in which I’ve had no alternative but to tell a client that their request is “naff9.” To my surprise, despite the ferocity with which the client initially defended their opinion, they backed down immediately and thanked me, saying that this is what they were paying me for: to be strong and stubborn and to tell them things like this. However, merely saying that something is naff and nothing more is not ideal; you have to offer an alternative solution.

Use this approach with caution. Take into account your rapport with the client, and be passive in your tone of voice. Also, choose your method of communication wisely; for example, being so direct by email is usually a big mistake because of the possibility of misinterpretation.

A close image of the Hulk character with an angry face
Image source: Darren Hester10

If possible, be direct with the client face to face or by telephone. This allows you to deliver the message directly and set the right tone. You will also be able to observe the client’s body language or hear their response instantly and then quickly adjust your approach if needed. Generally, if a client turns green with fury, their nostrils emit a trace of steam and their clothes rip at the seams, you may want to back down and move swiftly to the next item on the agenda… or call an ambulance because they may be ill.

Of course, sometimes no matter what you say or do, a client will overrule and insist that you follow their request. You know what? That’s okay. It happens. That’s life.

But that doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of the debate!

Know When And How To Admit Defeat Link

Occasionally you’ll try every known method of explaining to a client that they’re wrong, and nothing works. They’ll continue insisting that you design or develop whatever they want or else they’ll go to someone who will. And yet you feel with complete sincerity that they’re making a mistake that will have a negative impact on their business. This is never a good situation to be in.

There really are no hard and fast rules on what to do in such a situation. Each case should be treated on its own basis. But with experience comes the instinct of knowing when to admit defeat and do as you’re told.

This feeling is never nice, but sometimes that’s how it is. And if you have to sit in the corner and be quiet, do it professionally and politely. Under no circumstances should you throw your toys out of the pram and give the client attitude. Simply explain to them that you have put forward your recommendations and given your reasons. At the end of the day, it’s their business and their decision. It stings, but you’ve done all you can, and your dignity remains intact. But don’t give up yet!

Treat Defeat as an Opportunity Link

Saying that good entrepreneurs view every defeat as an opportunity is almost a cliché these days. But it’s true, and these situations are no different. There’s admitting defeat, and then there’s pretending to admit defeat! Once you’ve been beaten down by a client, accept it, get over it and think positively about how you can turn defeat into a win/win for everyone.

For example, suggest to the client that if they choose to press ahead against your recommendation, then your next recommendation will be to implement some custom web analytics to monitor the outcome of the decision.

A screenshot of Google Analytics graphs and figures showing positive results

For example, if a client insists on giving the home page banner a small call to action that, in your opinion, is difficult to read or not prominent enough, persuade them to let you implement some A/B testing11: one month with their banner and one month with your proposed solution, and let the statistics do the talking. No client on earth would continue to insist on their solution if yours delivered a better return on investment.

If you’re thinking, “What the heck is A/B testing?” even better! This is an ideal opportunity to learn a valuable skill while getting paid and giving your client excellent service!

Summary Link

Explaining to a client that they’re wrong is never easy. It could blow up in your face and damage what was a good relationship. But everyone is wrong sometimes, and clients are no different. Always start by asking yourself if the client is, in fact, wrong. Or are you trying to impose your opinion (based on a narrow web-only view) on what is ultimately a business decision that affects the client’s entire strategy, both online and offline.

If you conclude that their direction is still misguided, open a dialogue with them in language they relate too: business language. Rather than say it won’t work, ask them what goals or return on investment they think the direction will help achieve. Establish yourself as the digital expert from the moment you make contact with the client by conducting all aspects of your work with professionalism. Do everything you can to position yourself as someone who has the experience to suggest alternative solutions. And where possible, back up your recommendations with third-party material and user feedback.

If all else fails, be direct with the client. But know which clients you can be direct with and when you will have to back down. Finally, don’t let being overruled be the end of the debate. Suggest testing periods, and let the web analytics do the talking. All clients respond when they see important metrics go up rather than down!

What are your favorite ways of telling clients that they’re wrong?

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://www.flickr.com/photos/lady-madonna/147065021
  2. 2 http://bingo.adactio.com
  3. 3 http://www.netmag.co.uk
  4. 4 http://sxsw.com
  5. 5 http://fivesecondtest.com
  6. 6 http://fivesecondtest.com
  7. 7 http://www.noupe.com/how-tos/usability-testing-toolkit-resources-articles-and-techniques.html
  8. 8 http://feedbackarmy.com
  9. 9 http://www.thefreedictionary.com/naff
  10. 10 http://www.flickr.com/photos/darrenhester/3934149502
  11. 11 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A/B_testing
  12. 12 http://ramonaiftode.com/blog/what-do-you-do-when-your-client-is-wrong
  13. 13 http://www.admixweb.com/2009/06/08/10-tips-to-improve-interaction-with-clients
  14. 14 http://www.headscape.co.uk/head
  15. 15 http://clientsfromhell.tumblr.com
  16. 16 http://designm.ag/freelance/communication-with-clients
  17. 17 http://vandelaydesign.com/blog/design-process/communication-tips
  18. 18 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/07/22/how-to-communicate-design-decisions-to-clients

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Sam Barnes is a Development Team Manager at Global Personals. Although a little short for a Stormtrooper, he can be found posting articles at thesambarnes.com, a blog dedicated to the subject of Web Project Management.

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  1. 1

    Gisli Viglundsson

    December 10, 2009 1:06 am

    I’ve had a client that was persistent, and didn’t want to listen to any of my advice, it ended up that I turned him down cus I had other clients that had full faith in my work.

    That company got themselfes a pretty bad website for 10 times more than I asked for, complete morons.
    And it didn’t even look good, or wasn’t user friendly at all.

    If they would’ve listened to me in the first place, they would’ve gotten a website that didn’t cost them 10 times for than they bargained for and I would’ve done it much faster…

    2
    • 2

      I see it this way: If you would’ve done what they wanted to do, you could’ve charge them 10 times what you asked them. You short changed yourself from the very beggining just trying to ve the one who knows it all. It is professional to treat the client for who they are, the client. You’re just providing a service. The client is no always right, the client is the client. Now you just described what’s wrong with this article. Who’s the moron now!?

      0
      • 3

        Yeah, you’re right. But just partly.
        Some people, including myself, just cannot get enough steam power to create something they are sure is BAD and WRONG.
        I have had such clients couple of times, and you know what – those cases has ended as first comment authors case.
        At first, I listen to client. Carefully. After that I describe my vision of concept. If client disagrees with me in any point, we discuss it out and get to compromise. If a compromise cannot be achieved and client still wants CRAP, I usually QUIT.
        Some examples:
        1. An empty splash page with language selection – thats for a news portal! (fail)
        2. Flash gallery with heavy and annoying animation effects for an informational galleries site (fail)
        3. First page (index page) containing info text “about us” – some usual bla bla bla nobody ever reads. And nothing more. For an online shop! (fail)
        And there are more….
        I just CAN NOT do this to my client. It is bad for him at first, and bad for me at second, because of I would not want anybody to know I have created such a bad concept. And I just don’ t do it.
        Peace :)

        2
      • 4

        You’ve done a poor job for the money & now you’re name is associated with that work…nice.

        3
      • 5

        @Juan,

        If you’re willing to produce work that is not up to your own standards, you really shouldn’t be in the business and frankly, aren’t a “professional”. Of course there is a line – and often you do give a little and then a lot… but if you find yourself putting out work that you’re not proud of, it’s going to hurt in the long run. Everything you put your name on is a reflection of your work – do you really want to be associated with work that you aren’t proud of?

        2
      • 6

        Gisli Viglundsson

        December 11, 2009 1:48 pm

        @JS what work ? You didn’t even understand what I wrote, I did not create anything for this company.

        I quit design work 2 years ago for carrier change, so I don’t care anymore about my name in the design biz, I just do artwork for fun and personal.

        I have had alot of clients through the years, I even coded the websites I designed myself in php…

        0
      • 7

        I understand where you are coming from. However the one thing is a I personally hate making things I’m not proud of. It can be difficult finding additional jobs when all your past work says bad decisions made by some HR person within a company that doesn’t know anything about design.

        1
    • 8

      You should have charged ten times more and kept your mouth shut! JUST KIDDING!

      Maybe the problem was that you didn’t charge them enough! If you sell yourself cheap, they don’t respect you… you could have charged 10 times more!

      2
    • 9

      @Gisli: Dissing the client doesn’t sound professional no matter what the client did. When you do business, you never burn your bridges.

      I could be wrong, but treating yourself like you are above flaws and imperfections of any kind could be disastrous. Of course if you look at it from a standpoint of your work references, it makes sense, but at the same time what kind of attitude would you be projecting towards your clients. I would guess an arrogant and high-and-mighty one.

      And in the long run, it’s attitude that makes the difference between winners and losers. And don’t tell me you don’t care about winning because you really do.

      1
      • 10

        And in the long run, it’s attitude that makes the difference between winners and losers. And don’t tell me you don’t care about winning because you really do.

        1
    • 11

      @Gisli I don’t blame you for not not doing the work. What some of those who have responded to you do not realize is that we each have to ask ourselves if any amount of money is worth dealing with a nightmare client. In my experience, clients who insist on using very bad concepts are often not worth the money or headache. I once had a client who wanted things done that were so bad, I finally said, “to illustrate just how bad of an idea this is, if I do it for you, I will not put my name on this site”. She replied, “I don’t care”. She paid me for a very bad site. I’m not willing to deal with that ever again.

      This article did a good job of explaining how to handle clients wanting bad ideas for their site. I’ve done these things myself over the years and mostly, it works. But on a rare day, we’ll get a client who can not be budged from the decision they’ve made. From there, we’re on our own to decide how we want to handle that.

      Those who are berating you for your choices and willingness to discuss what you did are the ones who are making a big deal over nothing. Simply because we don’t all handle clients the same way doesn’t always make one person more or less professional than the other. In some situations, there is not a right or wrong answer.

      Each person has to decide what works for them and stick to that. After all, some of us work for ourselves because we like being able to call the shots and not put up with this kind of nonsense from clients. I have a line as to what kind of behavior I will tolerate from clients too. I have let a client go for crossing that line. IMO, a professional does not allow themselves to be walked all over by clients.

      2
    • 12

      Here is what you do. You say “yes I can”. But, you let them know that no matter what – you do not want your name or your company to be mentioned as ever having a part in their request. This always gets a client second guessing themselves. After that they will ask you for your opinion. That’s when they’ll listen.

      0
  2. 13

    Excellent post Sam. Now, my question is this: Let’s say for instance, the client wants a pink website with yellow and green and blue text. How many designers actually tell them that they shouldn’t do that because the colors clash.

    Most designers usually just skirt around this and just do anything that the client wants, even though they know that it isn’t good. I think we as freelance web and graphic designers need to start telling the clients our opinions and that some of the decisions that they are making is wrong. That’s why they hire us, as experts.

    3
    • 14

      Great post Sam!

      In regards to Design Informer’s comment about telling the client is wrong about design related issues. I think you should address these before you even start design. Why has the client picked these colours to target their audience in the first place?

      As Design Informer mentioned most clients are hiring you based on your expertise and experience and will greatly value your contribution this is the added value designers provide.

      If a client is hiring you purely for your knowledge with the applications there is something wrong, you’re just artworking and pixel pushing.

      0
  3. 15

    Gisli Viglundsson

    December 10, 2009 1:09 am

    How about that, they still got the old website intact.
    This was about 8 years ago I could’ve helped them re-design their logo and website.

    They payed over 100 000 SEK Kr for this pice of crap

    http://www.svema.se/

    0
    • 16

      What is that crap> It’s not even in English – lol

      0
      • 17

        They…aren’t an American/English company. Why would it be in English?

        As for the site…yeah..they got screwed BIG TIME. Looks like it was done by someone who just started learning o.O.

        0
      • 18

        Gisli Viglundsson

        December 11, 2009 1:54 pm

        It’s a Swedish marketing research company.

        Can’t believe that they still got that crappy page someone else did 8 years ago…

        I offered them my proffessional advice, I even came to their office and sat down in a meeting with 2 of the ceos.
        They didn’t want to listen to anything I had to say and were completely rude.

        0
    • 19

      Omg! That IS a horrific site! Someone should bring those guys to this decade and century.

      0
    • 20

      really bad very bad…

      0
  4. 21

    thanks….a very essential article… keep up

    0
  5. 22

    Excellent article Sam with some great humor, too! I love your choice of photos used throughout the article ;D

    0
  6. 23

    Nice article. I usually speak with client if there is something wrong what he is saying. If if he insist on wrong thing, I don’t take the project

    1
  7. 24

    Yes, Thats Right.
    Thanks SM for wonderful article.
    :)

    0
  8. 25

    VERY NICE.

    0
  9. 26

    Sam, this is so true… respect!

    0
  10. 27

    I usually find that explaining the theory behind certain design principles works wonders. It may be 90% mumbo jumbo to the client, but it drives the point home that critical design choices are more science than art and instils confidence in your decisions in the client. Suddenly, (exaggerated example) it’s not about green being a ‘nice color’ (which anyone can rightfully disagree with) but about green making the customer feel at ease and more susceptible to buy the customer’s product.

    After all, you’re not hired just to make something people think is pretty. The customer wants your expertise to make something pretty THAT WORKS.

    1
  11. 29

    Great article !!!!! very useful

    0
  12. 30

    Fantastic post. I have these clients right now and it’s very irritating. Guess who they are? Friends of friends! The worst kind of client.

    It’s peculiar, it’s not actually the client, but the clients partner! He always insists on making ridiculous suggestions. So, without being rude, I’m now ignoring the partner and only acknowledging, talking to and arranging meetings with the client when she’s alone. It’s working great. I just wish he didn’t have access to the email.

    0
  13. 31

    This article could not have come any sooner! I’m currently ceasing a current project due to hostility that grew after the design process. I tried being professional – but sadly they couldn’t do the same. SBO’s are the worst.

    0
  14. 32

    excellent article, some things i wish i’d know instinctively when i started out in this game! many thanks for an interesting read.

    0
  15. 33

    Good article, of course in practice some of it is harder than it first appears, but there’s a few things mentioned I’ve not considered before that i’ll have to try.

    In a perfect world I’d be sacking clients that made too many ‘wrong’ decisions as it’s likely it won’t ever get better.

    0
  16. 34

    Yes, it´s awosom, a great article and Smashing mag rocks and keep it up and you are so right and Thanks for the excellent research and thumbs up and anyway, I like to comment things. It rocks and is awosom. Did I say it´s a good article and that it rocks?

    0
  17. 35

    Seyfi Cem Baskın

    December 10, 2009 4:14 am

    I’m a motion graphics designer and nowhere near being a web coder/designer, except my 10 years old basic html skills. But hey, I read every single post, article written on these pages. Most of them takes me rolling down till I hit the footer.
    An excellent article again. I’m trying to implement this to my customers now, which is not so hard as other technical stuff.
    Congrats.
    I’ll be around, hoping that, one day, you will dig into technical stuff for motion graphics as well.
    Until then.

    0
  18. 36

    I have someone from the marketing department, with no web knowledge, whose requirement is to use a Calibri font size 10px on a 100% width for an online shop. He’s going to flood with painful to read text where he should be concentrating on making money and allowing myself and the designer do our jobs.

    he’s completely wrong and hopefully these tips above will help me tell him so.

    Usually i say ‘that won’t make money’ in as a polite way as possible.

    0
  19. 37

    Two of your points in particular go a long way:

    Speak their language
    Be direct

    The latter is a real no-brainer, and learning to practice that will do WONDERS for your business

    The former is the most important, and the one people have the hardest time with. Everyone’s position differs, and thus so does their language. Learn to bridge the gap, and you win. A lot.

    0
  20. 38

    Fantastic post!

    Sam i really like your writing style and you have given a lot of really great advice here.

    I always love to get other people’s view on client relationships and yours is an excellent one!

    Thanks you

    0
  21. 39

    Excellent article! Well written and your solutions are spot on.

    Clients who know me will know that if I’m proud of the result it gets added to my portfolio. If the client insists on things that I know won’t work it doesn’t get added to my portfolio.

    All you can do is offer your expert opinion. If they fail to take heed then I will still go ahead with the job because I did my best to warn them. Chances are they will be back to me when they see their bounce rate in the 80’s instead of the teens.

    May I offer another solution?

    When I’m sure they are making a mistake I will sometimes compromise and say once it is done can we A/B test their version and mine and see which one produces the best sales and lowest bounce rates. This can be quite an eye opener for them and will prove beyond doubt that you really do know what you’re talking about.

    0
  22. 40

    Hey Sam.
    Really nice job with this post.

    0
  23. 41

    Great article! I particularly like the section on establishing yourself as the expert. I think a lot of folks fail in the “being professional” area.

    0
  24. 42

    Interesting article.

    I personally wouldn’t make that much of a trouble though, trying to convince a client he makes a mistake. I would simply explain once.. After that, if he doesn’t get it, it isn’t worth the trouble trying to convince him in my opinion and doing so could harm the relationship. Even when using statistics, because: people don’t like to be wrong. And people don’t like people desparately trying to prove they are wrong. You have to think about your own interest here as well.

    0
  25. 43

    Additionally, when the client later arrives at the conclusion he was wrong after all, he won’t blame you bacause you mentioned it and he didn’t listen. Then he will ask you to correct the problem, which you will, off course, happily do for him.

    0
  26. 44

    Great article, but I think it there’s an important point that has been left out: “Know when to let the client go”. Clients can be utterly stubborn, and not always you have to settle down and do what the client wants. If you know that what the client is asking will be a stain on your profile (or a really hard blow to your professional ego), then you should think carefully if it’s really worth it, sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

    Also, I think that is OUR responsibility to teach the client, even if we end up not taking the client’s project or vice versa, and if we dumb down our speech, it will only make the clients ignorance not to go away (and maybe even assure it), and harder for us.

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  27. 45

    To conclude: just because clients do not have your level of IT knowledge does not mean they are stupid. Some folks here seem to think that. They will usually actually understand that your request for A/B testing is intended to prove them wrong. And they will also usually understand that it is mainly your professional reputation that you are trying to save, and not their ROI. Pretending you are solely trying to save their business with your testing and searching third party opinions is being an absolute hypocrit, and people don’t like hypocrits as well. Next time, they will hire someone else.

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  28. 46

    The rubix cube pic is a from a Threadless shirt: http://www.threadless.com/product/207/Missing_Piece
    …if anyone is wondering.

    (Is it okay to use that picture in this article w/out a reference?)

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  29. 47

    Great post :)

    I always work with my clients to create what they want. If I happen to change their mind about what that is along the way to better help their needs and create a better piece of work in the meantime, then all the better.

    If they want something that’s not so good and they can’t understand why its not so good (when I explain to the best of my abilities), then I still give them what they want once I’ve aired my concerns. Some people (me) can’t afford to walk away from work.

    You can always go back later and point out why its not working, suggest a few changes (which you may have suggested the first time) to improve it, and get more work. You end up with more money and the chance to improve the work to a standard to go in your portfolio, they end up with a better understanding of what works on the web and realise they should listen to your wisdom… everyone wins!

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  30. 48

    This is a really good article, and it helped me right away, Thank you!

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  31. 49

    What a great topic, and something we have to deal with as service providers pretty often. It’s not always easy to get your point across.

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  32. 50

    Good article with some solid advice. Sometimes the client will tell you the HTML color code they want for the homepage…not much you can do about that…but at least when their browser wasn’t supporting my CSS I was able to prove w/ Analytics only 1% of their users was using that ancient version of Safari, so they upgraded. Win some lose some. :)

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  33. 51

    “If you’re thinking, “What the heck is A/B testing?” even better! This is an ideal opportunity to learn a valuable skill while getting paid and giving your client excellent service!”

    I have yet to see a client pay for the two banners when they think theirs is the correct option. Giving them the right result for free… yes, that’s good and makes them realise how excellent your service is, but it doesn’t get you paid!

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  34. 52

    First lines of this artice: “GIFs of spinning @s on the “Contact us” page. Common usabiltiy mistakes” — check spelling for USABILITY… spell checker??

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  35. 53

    This is a great article!! All design professionals have been in this situation at one point or another and this article gives great tips that covers the topic from all aspects!! Nice job!!

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  36. 54

    just wondering why you don’t give photo credits for the pictures you’re using?

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  37. 55

    I am surprised at the amount of folks saying they would refuse a job because they did not like what the client asked for. I work in a different situation where that is not an option. We have sales reps that sell the site and I have no choice, if it’s sold I am building it, end of story.

    What typically happens is we get a client asking for something that does not work, I will usually explain alternatives and the advantages of doing it that way and typically that is accepted. As mentioned in the article there is that occasional person that will not listen and in those instances I just try to solve the issue as creatively as possible.

    If they want a lot of flash style animation I will do something as similar as possible with javascript for example. I guess im luckly though to live in an area where most clients do NOT know what they want rather then being stuck on a bad idea, especially with the visual design. The best way to go is to always try and meet them half way or come up with a solution that will give them what they want but still work well for customers viewing the site.

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  38. 56

    I’ve been down this road quite often with clients. What works in one web environment does not always work in others. As the developer, we “owe” it to the client to complete a full assessment of their needs, likes, dislikes and current web presence. Most of that stuff is covered in my initial design questionnaire. One of the most important questions most clients overlook is “What do you want your website to accomplish or improve for your business?” You will be surprised how many overlook this question and give a full 3 paragraph answer on how they want their social network pages highlighted and why.

    In any event, I’ve had to let a few clients go in the past because they were more trouble than I wanted to handle. I rather have a happy client intead of an unhappy client.

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  39. 57

    Thanks for the great article! Effective client communication is something that, as a person just starting out, is a valuable skill!

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  40. 58

    Total respect for the Doctor Who reference!

    The last time I came across a client that wanted to implement a lot of naff ideas (in fact, she wanted to start up a new site in an already overstaturated niche market), I emailed her, pointing out that she was going to be up against some serious competition, and didn’t she maybe want to reconsider her approach?

    She didn’t seem to get my point, so I just shrugged it off and went along with her plan. Clipart graphics, mismatched colorschemes and logos sent in PDFs, the works. Ultimately I was getting paid to get *her* vision online (not mine). And at the end of it, I’d made my money, and she’s gotten her website, and we were both happy about it.

    Naturally, I skipped over the “done by” footer link. You don’t necessarily have to directly associate yourself to *every* piece of work you do…

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  41. 59

    We designers need to establish credibility with clients as early as possible. Use your proposal, contract, and information-gathering materials to demonstrate professionalism** and knowledge of your subject.

    If a client can’t be bothered to read your proposal or help you do your job by supplying info for, say, a creative brief, what does that tell you? That they don’t respect the process and, ultimately, your expertise. Sometimes it’s better to see the red flags and bail early.

    **Professionalism means all your materials have your logo and contact info, are impeccably designed, and are well written with concise language and proper grammar. Being a designer, you can handle the first two. If you can’t write, hire somebody who can. Anything less will not do.

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  42. 60

    This was a great article. If a client requests something that is out of the ordinary or something I believe will hurt their online site and not help it (like splashing ads all over, etc.) I try to get to the root of what they are really trying to achieve. Most of the time it involves them repeating something they heard at a conference a few years ago that was told to them to make sure they get when they get a website.

    Most of the time a compromise is met, but I agree with previous comments that you are being paid for a service and they are the client. It is your job to give them what they want even if you disagree with it. I always say, “it may not be a good idea to put a refrigerator next to your bed, but if that is what the client wants, then I will put one there.” Great article, and good comments

    LuckyFish

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  43. 61

    I developed http://iteenchallengetraining.org … only to have the client develop/promote http://iteenchallenge.org as the entry point.

    Said the “international community” needed to have the site explained to them upon entry. I tried integrating the information into my site, wouldn’t accept. I finally tried the blunt/direct approach last month. Still a no-go. Now I’m trying very hard to “admit defeat”. Not easy for me.

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  44. 62

    http://www.arngren.net/

    Take that one for example .. don’t just assume that they client is crazy – much study was done by the client to deduce that their target audience responds positively to visual diarrhea …

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  45. 63

    or as Zammo would put it … Just say no!

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  46. 64

    Great article on a never ending battle. The more perspective the better when dealing with these types of situations with clients.

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  47. 65

    One of the best articles I’ve read here yet…and on a very relevant and existing issue. Good work!

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  48. 66

    This post is great because it applies both to external clients and, for those of us who work in environments with other people (a la Sarte’s No Exit…), this is a great guideline for interacting with internal clients and bosses. Perfect timing on this article, too, since I’m dealing with this exact situation at work this week… again.

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  49. 67

    one additional item/strategy that has gotten the WIN for me many times… Tag team! If the designer alone can’t win, call in your head web developer or your all-business/straight-talkin’ boss to concur… but definitely make sure this seems like a casual exchange or they’ll feel steam rolled.

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  50. 68

    “To be able to answer this question effectively, you need to train yourself to be completely objective and humble when dealing with client requests.”

    I agree, but the implication is the client is afforded subjectivity? No snakry-ness intended.

    If more clients trusted and deferred to the professionals they hire to do the job to begin with there would be more successful endeavors and less bull. It’s a good thing for designers to have a no nonsense approach to clients, which includes firing them. The fact is they don’t always defer and I am not saying they absolutely have to, but a balance should be struck. Some clients are demanding and abusive. Some clients threaten to go else where while saying really nice things like I love your work, BUT…[insert retarded client comment]. This is the business of design we love where there are few GOOD clients and the rest are just clients. I believe, though I don’t have quantitative data, that the clients that defer to a pros meet KPIs. I believe these relationships should be partnerships anyway which affords accountability both ways.

    Granted, I am not speaking to the designer that has no business acumen right. I speak to those that not only understand design but what goes into building a business – MBA not required.

    My uncle a very well known award winning package designer said it rightly “the client is always right, but you need to let the client know what’s right”. That my friends is genius and if you TRULY know what’s right you’re obligated to tell the client though client has the right not to listen.

    My 2 cents.

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