So for a while now I've been lerning web design / web development, done a few small projects for classes (I'm a student), read up on the subject, watched videos and so on. I'm now somewhat familiar with design principles and I'm able to build a clean, good-looking, responsive website.
So recently I had a chance to build my first 'real' website. It was for a choir which a relative of mine is involved in, so I offered to do it for free.

So I build a nice website, felt pretty confident about my design and showed it to my clients. They said it looks great and such, but asked me to do tons of 'tiny' changes, like changing the background-color, the font-size of certain elements and so on. Worst of all, instead of using one of the Logos I created they decided to go with something one of them drew, which rips off the Logos of not one, but two major companies, is terribly bloated and looks horrifying alltogether. (Later, I asked a friend of mine who is a trained designer who agreed that my original suggestions looked better by far).

So the problem is, I was really hoping to start building a portfolio with the Logos and website I created. But after all the changes I implemented (tried to explain to them why those were bad ideas, but they wouldn't have it), the website looks really awful and is not something I want to have listed as my work. So, how can I go about adding my original site and the Logo I created to my portfolio? I have saved my original design in a seperate git branch, so I can go back there, take some screenshots or even mirror the original site to a server.

Should I link to the live website and mention the changes that I didn't have control over, along with some screenshots? Or should I replace the pictures and copy they supplied with dummy text/pics and upload the page to a subdomain of my own server (and link to it in my portfolio)? Or is there a better way? Also, how can I do that in a way that the clients won't feel that I'm treating them dismissive or condescending (as in 'stupid clients had stupid ideas so here's my ingenious original design')?
On a related note, should I bundle the website and Logo design in one portfolio-entry or seperate them?

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    Take a look at other web design portfolios.. there's a very valid reason most portfolios don't link to live sites...... :)
    – Scott
    Aug 31, 2015 at 23:32
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    You can host your original version of the site on a server of yours if you want to show the live site (particularly preferable if you're trying to market your design and dev skills). Otherwise showing images of the different pages/states/whatever should be fine. It's definitely preferable over showing some crappy version of it Sep 1, 2015 at 4:38
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    tried to explain to them why those were bad ideas, but they wouldn't have it "Ok, then do it yourselves". You shouldn't abide to stupid requests when they are paying you, let alone when they are not!
    – o0'.
    Sep 1, 2015 at 7:54
  • I think only 2 of the sites in my portfolio are still live, so always use a few images instead of live links. Sep 1, 2015 at 10:08
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4 Answers 4


This can be the result of a deeper issue that I want to address before answering your question directly.

I think many designers feel they need to do everything a client asks without a second thought. But let's face it, clients ask for some terrible things, and that's okay. They aren't designers. They don't know any better. It is the designers job to help educate the client on what good designs is, how it looks, feels, and works.

Typically when a client asks for something like a background color change—or some seemingly silly design change, that is only the tip of the ice berg. Maybe they are actually concerned their content isn't standing out enough. Maybe the best solution is to make the body copy larger, but they can't see this so they ask for a darker background color.

I find a good way to resolve these issues is to try what the client asks for. I am surprised by how often the client is actually right. But often it proves true that the design solution the client asked for doesn't work. When that happens, I come up with a solution that addresses the clients actual concern. Then I show the client the options and say "here is what you asked for" then I explain why it doesn't work, then present my solution to the issue. Most of the time it works. It also leaves the client feeling like you went the extra mile—because you did—and valuing you more as a designer.

Now occasionally this doesn't work. Some people just have bad taste, or don't really care about the project they have you working on. This is the kind of client that you don't want to work with in the future. So what do you do from this point?

I think it's important to remember that the purpose of a design portfolio is to show the work that you have done, not the work your client has done (like asking for poor color choices and font sizes). I think it would be okay to show the work as you would have done it. You should explain this in your portfolio, tactfully though. Something like "This is the design solution I presented that was ultimately not used by the client, but I was really happy with it." If you have already articulated to the client why you think their design choices doesn't work, they should not be surprised or think that you're rude if they come across their project on your portfolio that looks a little different.

Anyways, I hope that is helpful. I look forward to seeing what advice others have to offer.

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    Thanks, you have some good points! I feel like I couldv'e handled those requests better, I guess I was pretty stubborn concerning my design as well. Also the communication was flawed from the beginning, it was difficult to get a good understanding of what they actually had in mind for their website. So in a way I'm glad I had that experience, as I know where some things went wrong now and hopefully will be able to avoid those pitfalls in the future ... anyway, thanks for your great answer!
    – MoritzLost
    Aug 31, 2015 at 22:12
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    This reminds me of some Designer's Advice I read a while ago. When building a design for a client, come up with 2 or 3 complete designs that are substantially different from one another, and offer the client to choose from those designs. If the client wants to take one of them but add some changes, politely explain that you will build whichever of these designs they prefer, but if they wish you to do the work, they must respect your expertise as a designer and not second-guess your design choices. Of course, that advice was written in terms of paid contracts, so may be less applicable here. Sep 1, 2015 at 4:27
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    Also, this. Sep 1, 2015 at 4:33
  • Working with clients is an ongoing learning process. At least for me, it has never gone perfectly. There are always little bumps that come up along the way. But like you said, you can learn from them. And as things go along, and you get better, the successes outweigh the failures.
    – user39754
    Sep 1, 2015 at 14:34

In these kinds of cases, I publish the design that I made. I am not always the developer of my own designs, and as you pointed out, sometimes the client is determined to have something their way, without really caring about the loss of aesthetics that goes with it.

I don't think there's any harm in publishing original designs, non-approved designs, or anything like that (including imaginary projects etc). After all, you are trying to show your skills and your eye for how everything fits together. I think that you should go with something that you're proud of. If it ever comes up in an interview, like "why doesn't the live site look like the design?", then you can (politely) iterate over the changes that happened and why and that you wanted to show your ideal version in your portfolio :)

  • Thanks! And by 'publish' do you mean post some screenshots or actually mirror the page to a subdomain of my portfolio?
    – MoritzLost
    Aug 31, 2015 at 21:14
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    Screenshots should be good enough but then I'm not a dev, and don't know how you show your portfolio for this usually. But binky is right, you should show what you are proud of and there's not harm in showing the logos or designs you did but were not selected. With some clients, there's that kind of Murphy's law that maybe has a name for design; they'll choose the design you "hate" the most or your least favorite one. Ideally it's better to always show proofs you love because of this but it's not always an option when you get specific change requests!
    – go-junta
    Aug 31, 2015 at 21:23
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    I've seen lots of designers on behance and dribbble post concepts of things that were rejected, but the designer cleaned it up and posted it anyway - so I think it's fair :) Also - by publish I just mean put it up online wherever you post your work (personal portfolio/dribbble/behance, etc)
    – binky
    Aug 31, 2015 at 21:41

As others have pointed out, show your designs. The new client needs to see what you are capable of, not what someone else has screwed up.

But keep in mind, that the companies might not want you to publish that you worked for them. Maybe make up some fancy company name or names and use those throughout your portfolio.


I'd present it as a triptych: what you originally produced, the changes the client wanted, and the design you finally talked them into. This will show that you can work constructively with difficult clients.

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