When you make compromises to satisfy client demands, are you compromising your integrity?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: You’ve just received feedback from the client on some designs concepts. They love where you are going with it, and think that it’s almost there. Now, if you could just change the background color to blue, add some gradients (so it looks more 3 dimensional, instead of so flat), and change the font to a sans-serif (as serifs will make the site look outdated, and the site should look modern). Also, if it’s not too much trouble, please add a dropdown with some “quicklinks”.
When it comes to web design, the client doesn’t always know best. In fact, that’s why they hired you, the expert. Part of the deal is that they expect you to produce quality work. The catch is that they also expect you to give them what they want.
So how do you determine when to bend to the sometimes misguided will of the client?
It’s the client’s project and the client’s money, so it’s reasonable for the client to expect that you’re going to give them what they ask for. Look at the example above: you know, I know, and the client knows, that those requests are straightforward and easy to implement. You could make those changes, and quite honestly it would make your life a helluva lot easier if you did. The client would be pleased, the designs would get approved, and the project would quickly progress to the next stage of development. It’s tempting. You may even get pressure from the project manager to do just that…just give the client what they asked for. But for many of us it’s not that easy. You’ve poured passion and problem solving into a design which is both well thought out and remarkably tasteful…and there is a pride of ownership that goes along with that. Relinquishing control of your creation can be very difficult, especially if the client wants to strip away the elements that characterize it. And you certainly don’t want to fall into the trap of letting the client dictate the design. In that scenario, nobody wins (an equal partnership based on mutual respect…remember?). Congratulations, you’ve just become the stereotypical pain in the ass designer.
Disputes that often start as simple discrepancies in taste, can often escalate into a passive tug-of-war for control over the project.
I should back up a second and mention that there are all kinds of great tactics that can help you sell your client on a more effective design. It’s really important to be able to communicate the rationale of your design decisions to the client. What I am talking about more specifically here, is avoiding stalemates between designers and clients that arise out of stubbornness, when neither is willing to compromise. The designer does not want to sacrifice her integrity by delivering a design that she feels is not the best solution (i.e. deliver crap), and the clients do not want to accept a website that they, well, don’t like. You can’t, and shouldn’t have to, talk someone into liking your design.
When this type of conflict occurs you may need to put your ego aside. Sure, you might know more about design and user experience than the client does, but how drastic is their request? What would the actual consequences of implementing those requests be? Are you fighting for your design because it’s truly the best solution, or because you are stubbornly married to your idea? Client involvement is part of the web design process. In order for the project to be deemed successful, designers need to be able to objectively listen to the client, and give them something they want.
Design for the client and the users, not for your portfolio.1
A few tasteless decisions made by the client should not be sufficient to ruin a well planned design. Remember that this project is their baby, and they (and their audience) are the ones that have to live with it. There is a big difference between style and usability. Audiences will be much more likely to tolerate “ugly”, than to tolerate “unusable”.
You DON’T Have to Give the Client What They Want!
Always be an advocate for the user.
As web designers it’s our job to act as the conduit between the client and their web audience. By disregarding the needs and perspective of the audience, even upon client request, we are failing to accomplish the fundamental purpose of our profession, which is to create the vehicle of communication.
If what the client is asking for will have a negative impact on usability or accessibility, then it’s your responsibility to let them know. Try to educate the client about why you have designed it the way you have, and how their suggestions could hurt the effectiveness of the site (i.e. the bottom line). In this situation, when you stand up to the client, you aren’t feeding your own ego, but rather you are fighting for the needs of the site users.
It’s not easy to tell a client no, but you need to decide: Do you build easy to use websites that help people find information? Or do you design complicated sites that are hard to use and navigate? I have yet to find the web agency that boasts the latter, yet look at how many bad websites are out there.
If you and your client have established a mutual respect and trust, and you’re good at your job, you should be able to sway them away from any ideas that may hurt the user experience.
Blaming an ineffective website on the result of poor decision-making by a difficult client, will not change the fact that ultimately you build ineffective and unusable sites.
If you face this dilemma often, you need to also ask yourself why you are in this field. Is it to become the instrument of the client and to garner their approval? Or is to bring value and quality to the client and their users through design thinking and industry insight? Your client is not the boss of you. If a client does not respect your professional knowledge or trust your judgement and experience, then it may be time to end the relationship.
Be flexible and accommodating when it comes to matters of personal taste. Be firm in your objections to demands that reduce the effectiveness of the design or impede usability.
When design does not achieve results, it loses value in the mind of the client. Strive to create effective designs that the audience will respond to. The results of good design will benefit your clients, and will increase the overall value of design services.