Four brilliant ways to handle client changes you don’t want to make

how to handle design changes graphic design blender
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Let’s say you’ve spent hours on designing a website mockup for a new client, only to have a huge list of changes sent back that will for sure ruin your work.

Have you ever dealt with a client situation like this?

It could be a simple color change that doesn’t go well together, or they may want to have you add an audio clip that automatically plays over their website.

I’ve dealt with a some situations like that… it was not fun!

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.

Or…

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?

Leave a comment and feel free to add more solutions!

 

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About Brent Galloway

Brent Galloway is a freelance graphic designer, founder of Your Freelance Career, and author of Start Your Freelance Career. Check out his blog and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Dribbble.

Comments

  1. I’ve had this exact situation before and when the client wouldn’t listen to reason I gave them something else to listen to… an up charge. I told them that making the changes would be very labor intensive on my part and I would have to bill them accordingly. All of a sudden it wasn’t that important to them.

  2. Remember: beggars can’t be choosers. Times are tough and turning away a client isn’t an option. Be polite and work through changes as recommended above. But when the project is complete evaluate the value to you – the designer. Are you spending more time being aggravated then solving the problems? Sometimes the time you spend being just plain mad isn’t worth the lousy end result. It also makes you second guess and over work the project. Some people are just not a good connect for your talent, you are better off finding someone who is. Life is much better when you enjoy work.

    On another note we had one difficult client that was a better designer then our person. We changed and changed and changed his booth display per his request. He racked up hours and hours of time only to arrive back at the original design. REALLY. He now doesn’t question our ideas as much. On the other hand he also paid 3 times the original cost if he had just trusted us in the beginning instead of acting like he knew more then a degreed creative with 20 years experience!

    • Beggars can and should be choosers. Don’t grab everything that comes your way. There is always an option. I have yet to have a turned down job be something I wished I had done.

    • Elizabeth Moore says:

      How did I know the above comment was made by a woman? “Be polite and work through changes”…

      As a junior designer I watched women designers acquiesce to the clients desires, politely and obediently. I also watched male-graphic designers, also politely but with the confidence of Genghis Khan, tell clients why their original design is the best way to go. That is being a good designer. That’s what we owe our profession.

      Yes, I’m generalizing, but that’s been my experience.

      • …you might have also guessed that the above commenter was a woman because said comenter’s chosen name is Susan. I found your comment to be rather rude, sexist, demeaning and (yes, you hit the nail on the head) an unfair generalization.

        *Ghengis Khan SMASH!!!*

        I would recommend focusing more on that individual designer’s comments and how they pertain to her as an individual, rather than taking it upon yourself to assign that quality to the majority of female designers (the nerve).

  3. Sue Mazur says:

    I encountered a similar situation with a client I had been working with for several years. Working with the PR / Development on an annual report for a high school in my area. Had already done several revision and the book was going to the principal for a last look before going to press. That’s when the ATHLETIC DIRECTOR got her hands on it. She had held the PR position in the past, but had left the organization, then asked to come back, so she was given the AD position because her prior position had been filled. She was a total control freak and could not stand the fact that this annual report was not her responsibility anymore, and she had the principal twisted around her little finger. Well, she convinced the principal that the entire book needed to be redone, even insisting that the landscaped format I had designed needed to be portrait. I was already charging this client at 50% of my rate as a favor to the school, as I had been doing for several years, and I basically had to begin the entire project again. I tried to persuade them not to make some of the changes, but was hitting a brick wall, so I completed the project exactly the way the Athletic Director specified. It was horrendous. I took my name off the piece (I had been given a credit line on the back) and made sure to tell the printer not to add it back in if the school caught the deletion in their proofing. When the next project for the school came up, I politely declined the work.

  4. Well said! We just had one of those and had to bite our lips and just do it the best we could.

  5. No! Stop telling designers that they are beggars. Even if times are tough (and times are never too tough to actively build your business by choosing your clientele carefully) you don’t need to be bossed around by clients. Be the professional even if it means losing the job. You are probably wasting time on the wrong client when you could be out there getting a bigger/better client anyhow.
    Don’t let anyone make you beg. Take control.

  6. I have this issue on a regular basis. Usually if I can’t convince them that they are wrong I try to work with their demands but still try and make it look good and follow design rules.

  7. I was working with a very close friend on a rebranding of her existing business.
    We kept it very professional with a signed contract and a verbal agreement to keep our friendship our priority. This was how it stayed throughout our entire process. Frustration on my side but I never let her know. It was challenging because she was very connected to several aspects of her image, colors and tag line wording especially. I tried to approach the project with my design sense while trying to gently steer her away from her colors. It was not a pretty sight. I was pleased with graphics but not the colors and wasn’t sold on the wording for the tagline. I suggested an online focus group. I sent out a few versions and was getting a variety of responses. At the ‘eleventh hour’ I asked if I could send out the colors that I believed were the right choice. She agreed and we received resounding agreement from our focus group. Within 20 minutes of a final in-person meeting (we were working long distance) she turned 180 degrees and was totally pleased with the colors. On the other hand, her tagline choice was in the majority. I could live with that and we were done! The main ‘take away’ – be true to yourself but time the presentation right. She never would’ve accepted these colors with out the focus group responses and it may have alienated her at the beginning of a process. AND…face-to-face personal time can seal the deal.

  8. Good article, real issues, good ideas for solutions.

    With over 30 years of experience I’ve seen them all…. Yes, at some point you just “take the money and run,” swallow your pride… Most of the time when a client suggests something stupid I tell him “not a good idea” and I explain why. It works.

    The way I work is, client pays for revisions, but if my design is not to his liking — it’s MY problem. Luckily I had very few cases when clients were not happy with my designs, never had to redo a whole project. But I’ve educated myself to stay away from projects in which a client doesn’t know what he wants (usually his budget is also quite low)… Just a month ago I gave up on this guy who wanted me to design a new look for his business, but couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted a logo, or a symbol (I took the time to send him samples of both to educate him), he couldn’t even determine what exactly the logo would say (full name or just the acronym)… I gave up on this guy, I didn’t want to get into a bottomless project, I predicted a major headache at a low-cost.

  9. Wow, a really interesting and full guide on dealing with such clients. Of course, everybody who works long enough meets different clients. What I think from the experience – if you see that clients’ expectations are from real and you can’t explain it properly – don’t take the project from the beginning. And when taking always try to get the technical details first – to know what exactly is needed. Of course, if the client wants changes we can do it, but you should know at least the major features beforehand to get everything done on time

  10. A detailed scope of work in the beginning would have kept this example from becoming a problem in the first place.

    Something as big as navigation top or right should have been discussed and agreed upon before the project even began! A good design concept meeting to begin with sets the stage for both design and expectations. Then if they want to change from the original scope of work, its a change, and they pay for it.

  11. As a website/graphic designer I have had this happen a couple of times. I use very DETAILED proposals but have found the biggest problem to be when I work with organizations. Too many people who have no experience with branding or websites offering their “expert” advice makes for a horrible project.

  12. Nice article Brent. I like your advice about keeping all communications to protect your self from blame if the client’s design decisions aren’t received well by their target audience.

    I must admit I should probably fight a little harder when it comes to catering for client suggestions. I normally smile, do the work and make the mental note, ‘not for folio’.

  13. “Not every project you take on will be portfolio worthy”

    This is definitely one of the most important quotes I need to remind myself whilst working on certain projects.

    As a project progresses, I sometimes find that adhering to the client’s changes and ideas can start to take the project in an entirely different direction than I had originally planned

    But you make a very valid point in that ‘if the client is happy, then you’re happy’ and that is ultimately what it all comes down to!

    Another great article Brent, Keep it up!

    Mike

  14. This is a tough one and common. One thing that I always tell my client and it seems to work. “When it comes to web design you have to put the years of trial and error other designers have weathered in front of personal preference”. I tell them. “These are not my ideas, these are global standards”. That seems to do the trick.

    From time to time I get the “If I was a visitor, I would not like this”. I respond with “there is a good chance that you are not alone. However when we look at the big picture… do we want to satisfy you and a handful, or the world”. I have been pretty successful with that.

    Ultimately, I do my best to let my clients “have their cake and eat it too”. I get many great ideas from the clients in that respect. All in all, I do my best to listen…and then go with the flow.

  15. Here are some real requests:

    How about an animated gif of snoopy? (Like its 1997?)

    Can you make all the important words bold and in red?

    Ok everything’s good, but how come it doesn’t move? (Please animate the whole thing with your magic wand…)

    Why are the titles not capitalized? (“uh…it’s just a contemporary look.” “Well I’ve never seen that.” “You see it all the time but don’t think about it until its yours…..oh forget it.”)

    This site has been up for three days and I haven’t received a single sale. My eBay store gets at least two sales a day. (uhhh you have to market your site, also…)

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

  2. […] most common example of this is when a client meddles with your design so much that the final work is an embarrassing blight on your portfolio. Maybe the client wanted […]

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