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I am pretty sure that most of us here, or at least those do graphic design for living, have found themselves in following situation:

  • You agree with a client to do the design, agree on price, schedules, formats etc…
  • You work hard, make adjustments, collaborate with client; everything goes well in the beginning.
  • At some point you realise that the client does not listen your professional advice regarding design and prefers his/her own ideas that might not look so professional (choice of fonts, colors, odd choices of elements, shapes etc…).
  • No matter how hard you try, the client is persistent and will not accept the designer’s advice.
  • You get back to work, try to make the best out of it, and the final result is not so good, mainly because you had to stick to the client’s wishes.
  • Work is shipped, payment done, and you don’t want to include this work in your portfolio because it is not good. After all, it is not your work, it is something that was physically created by you as a designer, but the ideas, concept, story, and message came out as a result of nonprofessional person, your client.

Ok, they pay for it, and as long as they are happy this is fine. But, the more compromises you make, the more time you spend working on bad design. If you are a young designer on a quest to get recognition, you don’t want to work just for the sake of money and then face the lack of good design in your portfolio.

Maybe at the beginning of your career you don’t care that much, but later if life this might be a big issue. At some point you will be approached by a big client that might offer you long-term contract, but first they will want to see your work. No point explaining to them what you did and why you made so many compromises.

They will not be interested in that.

Every project is precious as your time and you want to do use it wisely and produce great work.

How would you deal with such a situation?

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    It depends entirely on what bills I have to pay that week. – DA01 Jul 30 '15 at 16:49
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    Makes me think about this theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell – Needpoule Jul 31 '15 at 10:00
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    @T.J.Crowder, thank you. I spent some time with native english speakers in the UK. My English speaking is still better than writing but I am learning :) Thanks again for corrections, it is much appreciated. – Goran Jul 31 '15 at 10:07
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I'm a software engineer turned manager, but the same question could be posed with little modification in my world. Others have already said similar things, but I'll add an answer as much to underscore the point as anything.

The very core of a business relationship is to provide product for remuneration. Every person must decide upon their own boundaries as to what the acceptable mix between creative freedom and what a client deems remunerable will suit them.

As to your portfolio, why not add it? Much as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is the impact of your work. If it is something you consider utter trash or detrimental to landing the contract, perhaps that's a line not to cross. But part of the hiring process is to explain your work, victories and lessons learned from less than victorious outcomes. And sometimes the more outlier situations are the ones that get you noticed.

Let's say you include a design that didn't suit your artistic sensibilities. If it was a success, you've demonstrated that your ego doesn't override your desire to get meaningful work done and in being able to do so success was achieved. If the work fell short, you've still demonstrated cooperation. Underscore why you made the points you did and why the results of your decision would've led to a more positive result.

Now let's say I have three software engineers in for an interview. The first two are solid and embody those two cases, i.e. one can speak of successful compromises while the second has some examples where he stood up for his architectural design but was overruled and it fell short. The third case looks very strong on paper and is unflinching in his conviction to design very solid systems.

The first two could make the second round of interviews. The third will be thanked for his time.

16

Here's the cold, hard truth.....

You are not special.™

There's no reason clients should believe what you suggest is any better or more aesthetically pleasing than their own opinions.

That is the hurdle you must overcome. So, how do you do that? Through a proven track record, experience, and specializing. You may have to complete 500 projects to get 10 good ones, but if those 10 good ones gain new clients looking for that particular style, you are making headway. The goal, eventually will be to have 80-90% of your clients looking for that style of project.

Nothing gets just handed to most people. You have to put in the work to get to the end goal. And for some, they never reach the exact "perfect" state. But it may be possible to get very close to it.


If your desire is to have your design aesthetics adhered to by all your clients you need to have some special style or reason clients are specifically contacting you. The more specialized you are, the more clients will tend to take your advice and suggestions.


If it is possible for the the client to go find anyone else to complete the same project for relatively the same fee... well... again, what makes you so special??

This is really true for many, many professions. I'm sure professional auto-mechanics chuckle a bit when do it yourself-ers explain how things "should be" done to them. I'm sure contractor's cringe at homeowners telling them how to complete a remodel. However, few argue with the electrician about how to wire something (more specialized). It's just human nature for many to believe they are as adept as a professional in everything they do.

Unfortunately, the younger you are, the more this tends to happen. Some people perceive life experience as all experience whether that's true or not. And this also depends upon the client. Some clients will never see a designer as anything more than a "Photoshop Jockey". If you can avoid those clients, you generally have more freedom with design.

My thought on the matter has always been, "If they want to pay me for my opinion, then ignore the very thing they are paying for, so what? It's their money."

Either way I get to put food on my table, pay the mortgage, go out for an evening, put gas in the car, etc. So you need to ask yourself are you only working to make a portfolio or are there other things you need to accomplish through your work?

If you are working solely for a portfolio, stop dealing with clients and create your own projects because every client is going to ask for something you'd rather not include. And I do mean every client, even the great ones that allow you to design how you want to design.

I'd hazard a guess that probably 60-80% of the work almost all designer's do is not the work they want to do or work they feel is portfolio-worthy. This is especially true when starting out. It is only through time and experience that you ever get to a place where you are fortunate enough to spend most of your time doing the projects you want to work on.

Don't lose heart.

Working on unexciting, overly client-driven, work is something everyone must deal with. Stop focusing so much on the work you don't like and just get it done. Instead Focus on the work you do like when you have the opportunity to complete it.

  • great feedback! Thanks a lot! I hope other designers here read this and get those advice for their own benefit. – Goran Jul 30 '15 at 17:12
  • Amazing response! – elCavador Jul 30 '15 at 17:55
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    I also know designers who keep the design they originally came up with (and even improve on it) as a portfolio piece, before it gets trampled by the client. Best of both, IMO. Sometimes it's hard to come up with your own projects. Always easier when there is a hard goal. – coblr Jul 30 '15 at 19:41
  • “There's no reason clients should believe what you suggest is any better or more aesthetically pleasing than their own opinions.” — That's a bit defeatist, surely. Why hire a graphic designer, then? It's a bit like going to the doctor and seeing no reason you should believe him over what you think you know about medicine. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 31 '15 at 22:52
  • @JanusBahsJacquet No....You don't need a PhD. to be a designer. A comparison to a doctor is a bit over-the-top. it's more like painting your home. Yes you could do it.. but a professional will do a much better job. And I wasn't stating that I believe that. Merely that that's what clients tend to believe. – Scott Jul 31 '15 at 23:08
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Nobody forces you to take jobs you don't want. Its a simple question of:

Which do I need more at any given moment: Money or Time. You can rarely, if ever, get both.

If money is good, you have a few clients, then only take on projects that interest you, value your experience, and want to produce something good. If money is short then you take what's going to keep the lights on.

And if you really don't want to ever do "bad design" then consider a side job outside of design entirely like part time bartending or something to keep the lights on while you focus on creating the meaningful design you want to do. Again, nobody forces you to take on jobs you don't want.

  • Designing for clients is more than just doing the job. it is about communication, negotiation and most importantly standing behind what you do. Sometimes, "hard jobs" are more challenging. Making clients trust your words and ideas is so important. Good clients are those who value the work designer do, not just by paying them, but also by giving recommendations. I'd like to hear how designers tackle this challenge, how manage to make clients listen to them, even if their idea of design is completely something different. I hope many here will benefit from sharing this experience. – Goran Jul 30 '15 at 17:01
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    @Goran if that's your question then its already been asked and answered: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/1557/… --- in fact I'm pretty sure its been asked in various forms more than once now on here. Just look around in the tags business and designers and you'll find a plethora of information on the subject. – Ryan Jul 30 '15 at 18:36
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Three real quick points:

It's not about you.

The quickest way to get your feedback dismissed by a small business owner or a small-to-medium client (especially one who does not regularly collaborate with creatives) is giving feedback as a professional. "As a designer, I find that X is better."

They need design to communicate with their customers. The reality is--they probably know their customers a lot better than you. And designers or "professional creatives" likely aren't their customers.

Use this to your advantage. Make your discussions less about "what is better design" and more about "what is better for your customer." Communicate using their language, and always drive home that your suggestions are based around getting better results for their customers. Small clients dig that a lot more.

It's all about communication.

You can find out what type of client they'll be pretty quickly when talking to them and their goals. You can talk about how hands-on they want to be in the process, and how often they'll want to be in the driver's seat. These subjects aren't taboo and should be brought up in initial conversations.

You can find clients that are wanting designers to really take the reigns and make the design decisions -- but a lot of clients won't. The reality is that being choosy is difficult and it requires saying "no" to certain clients.

The question is: are you willing to turn away work when a client will want to remain in control? That's up to you, but usually there's a good middle ground to be found. Just talk about it earlier rather for it being a problem later.

Incentivize the clients you want

The simplest way I've felt was doing this was assuming EVERY client would be a non-portfolio piece, where I'm more of the producer than the designer of an idea. For example, raising the hourly rate from $50 to $60.

As a personal example, when I got along well with a client, we wrapped up projects quickly and effectively, and they gave me control to make decisions -- I liked all of that. Those pieces got added to my portfolio. At the end of the project, I'd send along a quick e-mail with the final bill.

"Hey, John, thanks for the opportunity to work on this project. I appreciate how responsive you've been, how quickly the project wrapped up, and the amount of trust you placed in me to work autonomously. I think it turned out really well. In fact, I'd like to place this work on my portfolio, and I've already gone ahead and knocked $10/hour off my final bill (attached).

My only request is you keep me in mind for future projects, and please send any referrals my way. It's been a pleasure, thanks again!"

Good will gained, positive design interactions encouraged, and you still get the charge the same hourly rate for clients you enjoy working with.

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    Actually having dealt with product development, where knowing your customer is a must, i would say that: Most companies do not know their customers very well. As to whether that means they do it better than the designer is then a bit debatable. In any case if they don't have measured data that they can share with you about this then they just think they know their clients. Anyway just saying that the recurring question in product development is that "dang we don't know even who our clients will be" let alone who our current clients are. – joojaa Jul 31 '15 at 9:52
  • I agree, but outside of having the ability to conduct market research, that's a tough sell. But, hey, that brings in upsell opportunities if you're able to do market research, or build-in some sort of analytics package with what you're offering. My point was more aimed at communication. Most clients are not open-minded when you overturn their ideas with the reasoning of your design expertise. To a designer this might seem crazy ("but wasn't I hired for my expertise?") -- but changing this mindset with how you communicate can definitely help the interaction. Make it about the client's users. – Mattc0m Aug 1 '15 at 4:33

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