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I've been searching this board and read this post among others: How Many Directions / Concepts which focuses on making the client happy with a lot of work on the designer's end. It also references presenting ONE design vs. many, as that is the designer's final solution and it does not pander to the client's want to be "happy" by being able to choose amongst other (unnecessary) options.

That got me thinking about the validity of designers trying to "make the client happy." Firstly, "happy" is a vague term. Secondly, even if you could define "happy," you can't MAKE someone happy. Only they can do that.

So why do we try to make the client happy? As professionals, should we not talk in more concrete terms? What if your design solution fulfills the goals, but the client is "not happy?"

I would love to hear how you guys out there navigate this sticky situation. How do you steer your client away from expecting to be "made happy" and instead focus on the design as a solution to their (non-emotional) problem?

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    Possible duplicate of How Many Directions / Concepts – Scott Mar 6 '17 at 4:10
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    If your payment is dependent onmaking somebody happy then you have a big problem. – joojaa Mar 6 '17 at 7:43
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    @Scott While related, I don't feel like that's a great duplicate candidate as this focuses on a different subject of pleasing clients – Zach Saucier Mar 6 '17 at 13:02
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    @ZachSaucier Hence "possible" -- I really think this question is just too opinion-based and far too broad.. but a duplicate is better than just closing. – Scott Mar 6 '17 at 13:38
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Every design project should have goals. And the goal is seldom to make the client happy. It usually has to do with things like communicating a particular message to a particular audience, and help achieve broader business goals. In an ideal world, what the client thinks would be irrelevant as long as the design met its goals.

In the real world, though, the clients are the ones that approve and pay for the project, so you can't skip them completely ;). Your job, then, is to explain to the client why your solution is the best. Not because it's pretty, not because they like it, but because it helps them achieve their communication goals. You have to sell the solution as more than subjective, but help them see why it's a good solution to their needs.

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A good client who has worked with designers before will know what to ask for and does not mix emotions with work. Good clients do not expect to be "happy" after a design job, they are looking for good service providers who can deliver on their briefing. The situation becomes "sticky" when dealing with inexperienced clients who expect their entire business situation to skyrocket due to a logo being designed (just an example).

A good designer will sometimes (but not always) be able to anticipate emotional clients and either avoid them, or ask specific questions to direct the clients' focus back to their goals. Personally I have built up a set of "rules" that help me avoid "sticky" stuff, most of the times at least :)

  • stick with regulars, because you will probably always know what they expect
  • don't negociate too long with new clients who can't provide a detailed scope of work. "I want a logo for my construction company" is not briefing and "I don't like it" is not feedback
  • always request a downpayment from new clients and set limits (proposals, revisions, etc)
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No, I do not aim to make clients happy. But I do make my intentions clear that "we have shared interest in keeping our project happy." IMO, making things happy is easier if I bring psychology into the conversations. There are a handful of remarks that I sprinkle on my clients:

  • "I do not know your consumers as well as you do. Therefore your opinion is valuable."
  • "As much as I value your opinion, I ask that you return the courtesy."
  • "I offer several good designs. You have nothing but good options to choose from."
  • "I never offer a design option that I cannot live with."
  • "I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't warn you that you are making an uninformed decision."
  • "I am standing up against your request because I care about this project. If I didn't care, I would not put up a fight."

But offering one design versus many is a matter of trust over time. Long term clients trust me. Understandably, new clients can request several options but I will charge them an extra penny for the extra exploring.

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The client is paying for this work so they have to be satisfied with the solution you provide. I like to provide them with answers before they even ask the sticky questions. Providing research on the target audience helps a lot. If you can show how your design solution will communicate the message effectively, they usually don't have many objections. I've even used the phrase "my professional opinion" to remind them of why they hired me in the first place.

The kick-off meeting to any design project is crucial. If they don't know exactly what they need it's the designer's job to ask the appropriate questions to figure that out. Once you have all the information you need to create the design, I've found it's best to provide 2-3 concepts for them to choose from. Be sure that the concepts being presented are your favorites, don't show them something you wouldn't want to be the final just to give them more options. This helps them feel a part of the process which makes them less likely to question the final design.

If a client questions why there is so much white space, be prepared with a solid answer like "to have the viewer see your services first" aka hierarchy. Having solid reasoning behind your design decisions is a way to silence questions like this.

Of course there may be times when you just have to suck it up and outline that header because it's what they want. A good designer should be able to take a client's suggestion and make it work without losing the integrity of the design. Don't be afraid to defend the design so that it still gets the message across just remember to keep it professional.

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