I am helping a client/friend with a website design.

He is a conceptual thinker. Yet his ideas are always inspirational but not practical.

He is always wanting a different direction after I show him my design. He wants something new and refreshing. He doesn't like the website out there because it's too commercial. I think it would be easier to manage later though.

I am struggling with him because

  1. I am not getting paid for this.
  2. I would like him to just choose a design.

However, I was wondering if you have any tips on dealing with client who has no direction, and doesn't know what they want?

What would you do? Choose some web and have him decide which style they like?

How can I guide him in the right direction? Any suggestions for me?

Thank you for the help!

  • 13
    It's not a client if you don't get paid. From my experience, the less someone pays, the harder they are to be satisfied. This is why I stopped working for free.
    – René Roth
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 20:45
  • You are correct! Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 23:07
  • Thank you for your help everyone. I still have so much to learn about different client and so on. Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 23:10
  • While myself working as a software developer rather than a graphics designer, I thought (and was taught throughout my professional education) that clients hardly ever know what they want. It's the default case. I didn't think that was so much different in the realm of graphics. Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 6:15
  • Thank you for sharing,O. R. Mapper. I do realize the importance of communication. For me, it's hard to translate other people's idea into your own. I have so much to learn about how to communicate. :( Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 16:38

10 Answers 10


Some clients you have to be brutally honest with and flat out tell them to pick a direction because otherwise he/she is merely wasting your time.

You have to often treat these types of clients as children. Not actually children, but in the sense that you need to allow the Client to make choices but you also need to specifically engineer the choices they have --

"Do you want A or B?"


"What do you want?"

This greatly cuts down the open-ended opportunity to ask for option C, D, E, F, etc. It's either A or B, nothing more.

If I were doing things for free.. I'd be very pressing on not wasting the time I'm willing to provide.

I also explain the concept of milestones.

I'm willing to build XXX for you.... This is Milestone 1. Anything which involves additional work above and beyond this is Milestone 2 and will be additional charges.

Of course, when working for free it's harder to impress how imperative this is to the client.

Also note, even if being paid for the work, there are clients with which money is literally not a factor and they can have this same problem. It takes some general business guidance, structure, and organization on your part. You have to be willing to say "No. I can't do that at this stage." and stand by it. People will listen if you speak up. But if you always imply it's "okay" they are running roughshod and continually altering the "plan", they will continue to do so.

  • 1
    Thank you, Scott! After reading all different answers. I feel like your approach will work on my client. He has high energy and creativity. He changes his mind very fast e-mail after e-mail. I just have to "control" him a bit more. Thank you! Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 23:07

When I have an initial meeting with a client, I give them a list of pre-briefing questions. There are two sets which might be useful here:

  1. Pick three (five, etc.) websites you love — they don't have to be from your industry. Why do you love them? What's appealing? The color? The style? The programming?
  2. Now, pick three (five, etc.) websites you hate. What do you hate about them? What's wrong? Why would you never do that or want that on your site? (If you have a site you hate, don't use that as an example. We know you hate it; that's why we're redoing it.)

I find that having these two lists (and the why, which is the more important part) helps the client to articulate or at least demonstrate his/her tastes, and helps me to narrow down what the person really wants.

If you send these questions to your client, and after two days you have a 15-minute meeting and the person can't even come up with two websites he loves and two he hates, tell him to get back to you when he can. If he's that far in the clouds, your job will never get done.


This is an inherent problem with working for free: when you value your time at $0, your client will too. And it sounds like you haven't structured the relationship so he knows exactly what to expect from you.

Although working for free undermines the value of what you do, there will be times you find someone with a good cause and you want to help them out, but they can't afford to pay you. In that case, my advice would be to write up a contract, same as you'd do for a regular client, outlining the project's milestones and charging the usual rate, and then applying a 100% discount to the work that's outlined in the contract. This establishes a professional, respectful relationship between both parties and helps make it clear that you're willing to do this much work for free, and anything beyond that is going to cost him.

A good contract is a designer's best friend. Even if you're not getting paid, it sets expectations and gives you a clean conscience about the work you do and the work you don't do.

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    I would +10 this if I could. An excellent answer. Better than mine. :) Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 21:59

I am not getting paid for this.

There's your problem.

If the budget is unlimited, there is little incentive for the client to make decisions. It's just a playground at that point.

So, sans budget--which really is the easiest tool to wrangle in big thinkers--you need to come up with your own structure to handle the client.

Put the client to work. Ask for things like customer personas, business objectives, timelines, measurements of success, market research, etc. You need to some how wrap this project around reality, rather than their whims. Once you have a structure of what to peg the project against, then every request from the client can be measured against them.

When the client starts saying things like "what about rainbows?" you can then say "Well, OK, which persona are we targetting with that? Do you feel it directly addresses the needs of your business objectives? etc."

Force them to make pragmatic and objective decisions as much as you can.

  • 1
    I am not kidding you, he actually said something about "rainbows"...and I was speechless. Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 18:49
  • @user21055 Someday you'll find it -- the rainbow connection. Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 21:58

I have a web designing business and the first thing you did wrong was not getting paid for the original design. There are a lot of free templates for people to use if they don't want to pay so you have to make it clear from start you need so much for a down payment to began. Half would be great to start with, never create more than one design unless you are selling templates especially if you are a custom designer. It saves time and you can focus on that particular design. Once the design is completed ask for the balance, remember your job is to do the design only, you are not responsible for the content such as text and personal images to go with it. If you have control of the web hosting, shut it down until the balance is paid in full.


If you have understood your clients needs and have carefully considered a solution, then you should have sufficient rational for your decisions making it easier to win over your client.

Explain to them exactly why you have done what you have done, and why it is the best solution for them at this time. Design can be perceived as objective when there is strong rational for its existence.

Once you've done that, the client will learn to respect you and will eventually trust you to make the decisions.

One more thing, the clients with the smallest budgets are quite often the biggest divas (in my experience).

You have to set boundaries and guide the process.

Remember that they came to you for this project.


I show the clients my design(s), and then I "sell" it to them. I explain why each element or function was chosen. I feel I am "expert" so I lay it all on the table by explaining why something will work and why something else won't, or why anything, etc... Most of the time this will bring the client back down to Earth and they will see things "my way". I try to develop a rapport so they will trust my judgement. Everything I do is for their best interest, and it's what guides the process. We'll see how well that works for me today. I am dealing with one such client currently ;-)


It sounds like you need to read this book before this becomes a situation you routinely find yourself in:

Design is a Job, by Mike Monteiro

Everyone pointing out that you aren't getting paid for this is might sound like a horse being repeatedly beaten to death, but it's a well deserved horse beating.

Small projects have just as many thorns as big projects, they just come in a smaller box.

Also, they aren't a designer — you are. Your job isn't just to push pixels, but to create something that suits your clients needs, while also being something you're proud to slap your name on.


I would gather a bunch of websites and show him so you can see which direction he likes. Pick both commercial and fresh websites.

Hope this helps.


Seriously get him to pay you each time he/she comes asking you questions, request money for consultancy next time, when next he/she his coming i bet the idea will sink

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