True story: I was on the phone going over some proofs with a new client just last week and he starts the conversation by saying,
“I hate it.”
Those are pretty harsh words to swallow for any designer, especially coming from a client I don’t know very well. Part of me appreciated his honesty (so we could go about making something he does like), and part of me was, well, a little crushed…and scared I’d just lost a client.
I asked him what he didn’t like about it, and in which direction he’d like to go. His answer (condensed for relevance) surprised me.
“Well, actually, I like the color…and the font. The text looks pretty cool overall. But I don’t like the center element. Maybe all of the elements should be the same height. Oh, wait, these companies that I like have different sizing…so maybe that’s okay. I think just the center element needs to be fixed.”
That’s a far cry from “I hate it.”
In my book, “I hate it” means let’s throw this away and start over. However, clients are people, too, and people don’t always mean what they say.
What clients say and what clients mean can be totally different (I’m sure you each have a zillion examples). Your reaction to their unpleasant criticism can either make or break not only the project but also your relationship.
Beneath that strong opening opinion lies valuable information about how to create something your client does like.
Good designers keep their emotions in check and gather that data. Narrow down what, specifically, they do and don’t like.
Just one color?
The placeholder photo?
Often times, clients can’t see the forest through the trees. They get hung up on one element of the proof they dislike and struggle to look past it. I think that’s what happened to my client. He saw the one element he didn’t like and dismissed the entire proof.
Through a little bit of perseverance, I was able to decipher his generalization and identify which element to improve.
(P.S. – The rest of our conversation was rather pleasant; we’ll be conferring again in a week over version two.)
How do you handle harsh critiques from clients?
Have you ever had a client criticize your work harshly? How did you respond? How did your response affect the project and relationship? Leave us a comment on this post!