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Like lots of you, I do freelance graphic design and content creation (copywriting and traditional artwork, some photography) and generally I have no issue with customer requests and/or complaints, or 'reasonable' artwork changes. HOWEVER...

SOMETIMES my customers make requests/demands that are the very essence of bad-to-horrible design. I acquiesce, but not very happily, and at such times try to remember that ultimately, the customer is always right, at least (and maybe especially?) in those areas that concern what they want for the job.

Still, I have to ask myself, is the customer always right? After all, aren't I the artist, and the one they hired for expertise in such matters?

How did the artisans of the Renaissance deal with this situation? (And what version of Adobe did they use way back then, anyway?)

  • related, not quite a duplicate: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/44923/… – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Mar 27 at 20:31
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    side note: if you're doing design work then you're a designer, not an artist. So the comparison with renaissance artists is not ideal – Luciano Mar 28 at 9:13
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    It's from the software world and the actual example is about interior decorators, but consider "Important Corollary Four" towards the end of this blog post: "A good interior decorator is constantly bringing their client swatches and samples and stuff to choose from. But they would never discuss dishwasher placement with the client. It goes next to the sink, no matter what the client wants. There’s no sense wasting time arguing about where the dishwasher goes, it has to go next to the sink (cont.) – R. Schmitz Mar 28 at 10:05
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    ...don’t even bring it up; let the clients get their design kicks doing some harmless thing like changing their mind 200 times about whether to use Italian Granite or Mexican Tiles or Norwegian wood butcher-block for the countertops.". Not posting as an answer because this is only about trying to avoid the issue instead of resolving it. – R. Schmitz Mar 28 at 10:06
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I sympathise. I can only tell you what I do, and it's a useful phased approach that has worked for me over the many years I have employed the concept!

Step 1 - Explain that you are designing for the end user - Remind them that the design is this way not because you want it this way, and it shouldn't change because the client (or his wife/nephew/postman) doesn't like it. The design is like this because it has been designed for the end user and that you are trained, and experienced, in understanding what that end-user wants. You can cite A/B testing, user feedback, surveys and more to attempt to convince them that you actually understand better than they do what the end user wants to see, and more importantly what will drive them to the client's goal.

Step 2 - Suggest a third alternative/compromise in a positive way - "I love you idea, why don't we take this from it, and add it to my initial concept and now it's perfect!" Sometimes you can take "essence", or "energy" or any other thing that lends itself to the alteration of a few pixels, or none at all haha. Be very careful that this doesn't end up in a forever repeating loop (see step 4!) - In fact I would consider omitting this step entirely, it rarely works out, you might be better off....

Step 3 Consider going fully uncompromising? - Gauge the client. If you can get away with it, you might consider going full "Michelangelo" - that is to say totally uncompromising. It can work. You have to commit to it fully. Full prima donna, Simply inform them you are an expert, and frankly insulted that you are being questioned at all, and threaten to walk, more usually though....

Step 4 - Repeat steps 1 and 2 three times and then totally give in. Sad but true. This rule has saved my sanity on several occasions. It's the best piece of advice I can give you. Do everything reasonably in your power to push the design you believe in past the post, but if the client pushes back three times, simply give in. Completely.

Don't attempt to compromise that will wind you up even more. Just let them design it themselves. I have even taken a laptop to the client and sat with them "moving it left", "making it greener", this has led to some frankly hilarious results. Not my problem. I tried my best, three times, and pushing back a fourth time would simply end the relationship. I can get paid, guilt free, and sometimes I even have good work I can reuse! Naturally this work doesn't make it into my portfolio!

  • +1 for "going full Michelangelo" alone! – GerardFalla Mar 27 at 17:43
  • What do you mean by “sometimes I even have good work I can reuse”? – typo Mar 27 at 22:24
  • Guy in another community I visit did the "totally give in" thing once and then lost another potential big client who by sheer chance encountered the work he did for the 'totally give in' client. There is defenitely a danger to going for step 4 when you're building a personal brand. – David Mulder Mar 28 at 9:21
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    @DavidMulder If you're not proud of it then don't put your name on it. Deny any claim that you created it; if you totally gave in to all inane requests then the client created it. You just happen to be the tool that they used. You wouldn't blame the hammer for building an ugly house. – MonkeyZeus Mar 28 at 14:33
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    With regards reusing work. This (and everything else I said) obviously depends on the client, the nature of the work, the time that past, and more. One other thing I'd like to mention is that these "give in" jobs have actually worked wonders for me the next time around! I have actually used them as examples of "what can happen" if you don't trust me and let me get on with it ;) – mayersdesign Mar 28 at 15:10
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One thing I've learned over the years is that (as much as we are inclined to think so) most clients are not really idiots. They simply don't know what we know about graphic design. In my experience, when a customer asks for something obviously foolish, especially when they get overly specific, they are just trying to solve a problem without the proper tools to do so. Take some time to step back and interpret what they're trying to accomplish with the requested changes. Then you can ask if your interpretation is accurate, and recommend a better way to address the issue. That will often lead to a much more productive discussion and a better product. This client-advocate approach has saved many of my designs from turning into train wrecks.

Unfortunately, some clients simply have poor taste. If you want their business you have to advise as best you can, but acquiesce to their hideous vision. If you can't willingly create a bad design for them, just tell them as much and wish them well. There is no need to hide your expert opinion as long as you can be tactful and respectful about it.

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The customer is not always right BUT it doesn't matter. Your job is to make sure the customer always pays. A paying customer is one that will think before they request.

Immediately, you must stop thinking of yourself as a passionate artist that wants to make beautiful things. You need to think of yourself as a business that needs to be paid for its time.

First and foremost you need to outline a general contract such as:

  • Client is entitled to 1 exploratory meeting
  • Project cost will be set after exploratory meeting
  • Client pays 50% up front
  • Work will start after up front costs are paid
  • Designer may provide up to 3 distinct designs
  • Client must choose from proposed design(s)
  • Client is entitled to 3 minor revision requests of accepted design. Additional revisions will be billed hourly.
  • à la carte (hourly) rate is $XYZ
  • If revision requested far exceeds original design then client pays hourly rate until new design is reached. This time is billed immediately and payment is expected within 1 week. 3 minor revisions are granted after hourly work is completed.
  • Client pays remaining 50% after the final revision is approved
  • Usage rights and copyright ownership, etc., ownership transfers all take effect upon receipt of final payment
  • Client has 12 months to request original PSDs because they are subject to deletion from designer's computer

No contract means no work; surprise surprise! If a client is hesitant about signing a contract then that is probably a client that you didn't want to work with anyways.

The bottom line is that you have skills and toolsets which they do not. If they want to use you as a direct liaison between their minds and the keyboard/mouse then so be it! Make sure this is billed hourly.

You are a professional so act like one by leading them rather than letting them lead you. Yes, they have input but you're the driver. If they are leading this process then they never needed you for your expertise in the first place.


Side rant:

I absolutely despise the word "freelancer" and suggest you stop calling yourself that immediately.

If you browse http://clientsfromhell.net/ then you will see countless stories of freelancers getting shafted due to the client suggesting they work for free.

Call yourself a designer, artist, graphic extraordinaire, design contractor, pixel guru, or whatever!

See also:

https://www.howdesign.com/design-business/self-promotion/is-freelancer-a-negative-term/

https://www.fastcompany.com/3054141/why-i-stopped-calling-myself-a-freelancer

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    I know it’s not the point of this particular answer—but I want to mention the most important point from the “F you, pay me” talk (linked from my profile page) as far as contracts: “Usage rights and copyright ownership, etc., ownership transfers all take effect upon receipt of final payment.” Also, work done must be paid for before new revisions or expansions of work. – Wildcard Mar 27 at 20:06
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    "Your job is to make sure the customer always pays." - superb – mayersdesign Mar 27 at 20:29
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    +1 for "Client has 12 months to request original PSDs ... otherwise they are subject to deletion from designer's computer" That is extraordinarily important to include in the contract. – Mayo Mar 28 at 14:53
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Customers are hardly ever right, otherwise they won't need you as an expert. Unfortunately many don't realize that and why they actually hire you. Usually they have a great idea, from their point of view. But they aren't the experts.

You can do two things:

1) Give in. It seems to be the easy and best option. But this is just short term thinking. It will come back to you earlier than you think. If users find the implementation horrible, "but you said to do so" will hardly count. "But you are the expert, you should have told us!" is what you will hear. Even if you don't, it will come back at you later as it will ruin your reputation in long term.

2) Stand your ground You are the expert! You should be able to reasonably proof why your solution is better. Proof it with numbers and what not. Probably you just not communicate well. Work on that. Sometimes it might be painful a bit but at the end customers will/need to understand that you are the expert and they should trust you. Ah and build a trustful relationship might help too, did I mention that?

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    The phrase "the customer is always right" doesn't mean they are always objectively correct in how something should be done. It means that what the customer wants is always the most important thing, and sometimes keeping the customer happy takes a higher priority than doing things the "right" way. – Abion47 Mar 28 at 17:57
  • Right about the first part. But often the customer wants A but only knows about B so he insists he wants B when A is what he actually wants. keeping the customer happy takes a higher priority than doing things the "right" way to this I would strongly oppose. – steros Mar 29 at 2:29
  • In that case, you can try to convince him that B is what he actually wants/needs, and if he comes around to the idea, then great. If not, then like a lot of the answers say (including yours), you have two choices - stick to your guns or relent and give the customer what they are asking for. And unless you are a super high-profile artist whose brand won't be harmed by a few disgruntled clients (or you're a hobbyist and you don't really care about your brand), keeping the customer happy is almost always better in the long run than standing on principle. – Abion47 Mar 29 at 15:23
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I give in, find an excuse to put the changes off until morning, and kindly ask them NOT to disclose to anyone that I did the work. The implication is that it would be a professional embarrassment for me. By morning they usually have come to their senses, not wanting to risk embarrassment themselves.

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