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I've had the problem with several clients that they want to tell me exactly what to do when designing. I'll come up with some concepts, they like one, but then they proceed to directly tell me: change this image, move that to the right, change this color, etc. All of these changes ruin everything they liked about the original design, and of course, it ends up looking very unprofessional.

How do I effectively communicate that that behavior is counterproductive to their product/company? I am here to solve their design problems, and they make me jump through hoops with making the changes they want (and usually when they get them, they say, Oh, that's not working...) Would it be advisable to say something like, "Tell me what problems you have, and leave the design solution to me"?

Some background info: I have made several designs for my client that they have liked, and I feel like they do value my work since they are keeping me busy. However, lately I am starting to feel disrespected by their requests for changes because the changes do not seem to be coming from an actual need, but more because Bob in Sales thinks the logo should be centered. I've tried the normal diplomatic approaches and explaining why things work the way they do (easier to read, target audience likes this look, this way conveys/highlights our core message, etc.), with varying success. I would love to hear your experiences, especially if you have successfully dealt with this situation.

EDIT: Not a dupe, I read the other post. I'll rephrase my question: how have you successfully dealt with stopping a client from art directing? Not, why should I suck it up when the client is art directing?

EDIT 2: The thumbprint client info, while related, is not what my question is. I am interested to know: has anyone successfully stopped a client from art directing? If so, what kind of communication did you specifically use?

The other posts that people think are dupes have answers that relate to A) taking it and dealing with it B) walking away from the client as a last resort. These are not the things I am asking about.

Note: I did see a video of a well-known designer who mentioned he does not allow his clients to art direct and had to stop a client from doing so (he did not elaborate).

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    I hate to tell you this, but if they're paying you to do that, you should do that. Or just reject the work. Explaining how "your way" is better and you should try to do this, but ultimately what they say should go – Zach Saucier Sep 6 '16 at 20:15
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    Zach, I do not think a client pays to do that. – Rafael Sep 6 '16 at 20:43
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    I agree with Rafael; to surrender all design decisions to the client is to not design at all. It devalues designers - both their education in the field, and the industry. – johnp Sep 6 '16 at 21:10
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    Possible Duplicate IMO: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/57284/… – Ryan Sep 6 '16 at 21:46
  • Possible duplicate of How do you deal with clients who bash your designs? You have a "thumbprint" client. It has nothing to do with art directing and everything to do with the client wanting to feel like s/he has had input and "done my job." – Lauren Ipsum Sep 7 '16 at 9:29
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Engage your client in your thinking process and ask challenging questions.

I don't know what kind of things you create, but since design is all about solving problems (and making it look good as well) the focus should be on a solution for the problem. Example:

Client: I want a very big blue button. And the image should be on the left.

You: I see. What is the problem that we are solving?

Client: Eh.. People will notice the button if it's big, and I like blue.

You: Yes they will notice the button, but the main action of the user of this page is to find XX and the blue big button will draw all the attention and distract the user from their main goal. We should place the button on another page in order to help users complete that particular task.

And the brand style guide of your company defines two types of buttons: a red one (main) and a white ghost button (secondary actions). Let's stick to the brand colors to keep consistency in your branding. That way it's recognizable for users.

Client: Ok.. What about the image?

You: Well, the image draws a lot of attention but is only a supporting image in this case. I think we should give it a less prominent place, so the attention will be drawn to your very important offer, promoted on this page.

Client: Oh great, I really want the user to see that offer. We can place the image somewhere else.

This is just an example. Help your clients to focus on the goal of the users and their owns goal as well. Is a big blue button really helping to complete your clients goal?

I deal with this issues as well and it can be super frustrating if clients just want something that they think looks nice. And even after trying to engage them, a week later they send a feedback request with: I like the icon but it should be orange. And sometimes I compromise, because it's your client and you should choose your battles. It can also help to send them a link with 'proof' that supports your reasoning. Or examples from some common, well-known websites where the problem is solved well.

Help them deliver problems to you, instead of solutions.

  • Thank you for your reply. You make several good points that I will utilize with my client. And I definitely do compromise to keep relations nice, however it's reached that point where they feel like they "just want to see" their way. – TCDesigner Oct 13 '16 at 18:39
  • On a related note, sometimes I worry about telling my client why things won't work because, despite a professional delivery, they might get their egos hurt. Some people don't like hearing "no" regardless of the proof given for why it's a no. What are your thoughts on this matter? – TCDesigner Oct 13 '16 at 18:42
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I agree with john--it's time that clients realize that THEY chose the designer BECAUSE they liked their style, and their work. I've been on both ends as client and as the artist and there is a time that the graphic designer just says; no more. Up front tell them they can have 3 changes for free, but each change thereafter comes with a fee attached. And let them know what that additional fee is up front. Chances are very high that they will get to the third (free) change and then be fine with it. People are cheap, and need boundaries set up front. And if more designers do this, the industry will improve--and those picky clients will find the designers who haven't set their professional boundaries yet. And good riddance!

  • I'm charging hourly and the client isn't motivated by money. It's not so much the rounds of changes as the changes themselves, whether it's once-asked for or the 10th iteration. The changes are unnecessary meddling with design, not because there is an actual problem that is being communicated to me at any rate - there might be an actual need that the client does not know how to express. I'm not a mind reader so I can't speculate on that. That being said, I do ask the client specific, targeted questions regarding the changes that generally don't get answered. – TCDesigner Sep 7 '16 at 0:24
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This could be your chance to step in and design some branding architecture / brand book so that there is a central point of reference that is signed off and 'Bob from sales doesn't get a say. Then you can decide the page layouts, positioning, tone of voice/photography style - billable hours and easier life down the track. Will help the company define themselves - core values - mission statement - marketing targets etc. while letting you get on with what you do best without redesigning the wheel everytime. This also allows the company to have input through the sign off process.

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Tell the client that they are wrong. You're the professional, tell them why you did this, and why their opinion doesn't matter, you're the one who has the experience and who has studied the subject, not them. Make sure you pick and choose your battles though, you don't want to lose a client over stuff like that. If they further insist on the change, just do it and get paid. And make sure you are charging money for amendments.

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    Telling a client "Your opinion doesn't matter" is bound to make the client leave – Zach Saucier Sep 7 '16 at 11:40
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    @ZachSaucier That would probably depend a great deal on how you expressed it. You might instead ask the client "Suppose you were being treated for cancer and 'Bob in sales' suggested trying some medicine other than what your doctor had you taking. Would you trust Bob or would you trust the professional's training and experience?" – Steve Rindsberg Sep 8 '16 at 15:20

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