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What to do when a client doesn’t understand design?


An angry businesswoman shouting toward her colleague

Here’s a specific situation I remember having with a past client:

“Can you move the website’s navigation from the top and put it vertically on the right side? I spent a great deal of time investigating website design and did an informal presentation of this. Everyone liked the buttons on the right.”

They spent a great deal of time investigating website design?!

This was a real “client from hell” situation where every email from them made me cringe.

They had no real training in graphic design, and I’m guessing they “investigated” in all the wrong places due to the revisions they would ask for.

Unfortunately you might find yourself in one of these sticky client situations, and you’ll need to know how to handle it.

The solutions below can give you an idea of how to handle a situation like this, but may be easier read than done – seeing that every situation is unique.

Feel free to share you situations and solutions in the comments on this post!

1. Explain your solution and educate the client

Stay calm, stay positive and don’t take their feedback personally. Use this as a chance to educate the client.

Explain to the client why their changes might not be best, and what your solution (as the professional) is for the situation.

Always try to respond with confidence and show them that you’re reliable.

If there’s a problem that arises be sure that your response is always solution-oriented (and not defensive). You don’t want to complicate the situation and client relationship.

It’s more than likely that the client will understand, value your professional input and go with what you think is best.

BUT what happens when you’re dealing with a stubborn client? In this case, you’ll need to take your input a bit further…

2. Give factual data that proves your solution is best

If your client is a hardheaded person then it might be best to backup your input with some proof that shows your solution is best.

The easiest way to do this would be to mock it up. Actually show the client why your solution is best.

Another way to sway their thoughts would be to provide reputable sources, i.e. other websites with a usable layout, a print design with proper white space, etc.

Tell them to spend a few minutes using/reading those sources. This might help educate them in your solution.

Again, whatever you do try not to argue or respond defensively if the client still stands by their decision. Remember that it’s ultimately their project, and you want them to be happy with the final result.

3. Do your best to work with the changes

Not every project you take on will be portfolio worthy (it’s the honest truth), and sometimes you just have to work with the client’s ideas to please them. If they’re happy – you’re happy.

Due to the client’s stubbornness, if the final result is completely horrifying, you might want to do a couple of things:

  • As with every client project, keep a copy of all dialog exchanged between you and them. This way, if the client gets any complaints about how terrible their website’s usability is or how hard it is to read their copy, you have something to use as a backstop.
  • The second thing that you might want to do is pull your name or brand from the project (like a website footer). If you don’t enjoy the project, then you can choose not to take credit for it.

Again, I can’t stress how important it is that you keep your communication with the client professional. You don’t want to burn any bridges, even if you don’t plan on working with them in the future.

4. Let go or pass on the project

This solution is a bit drastic, but if you are completely against the client’s changes, then you have every right to back out.

Be completely honest when discussing this with the client. Whether you don’t believe in the work they’re having you produce or if you can’t seem to be apart of a project that goes against everything you’re trying to make better in your field of work.

Again, try to respond in a solution-oriented manner. Give them your best input and they can move forward with their project taking your advice or not.


Recommend the project to someone else willing to take it on. (It might be smart to give that person a heads up before they waste any time as you might have.)

I want to hear from you…

Have you experienced a situation where you’ve either educated the client or backed out of a project entirely due to their horrible changes?


Courtney Meyers on January 24, 2014 AT 05 pm

This seems to happen all the time in any creative field. People just don’t understand that you study this for a living and your ideas are straight from experience. I would say these points hit it on the dot.

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