Do you imagine that anyone sat down next to Picasso or Monet while they were painting, all the while providing them with advice on colors or textures or how to make their artwork feel more alive?
No. Probably not.
Nobody with an ounce of creativity in they body likes to have someone else tell them how to express that creativity. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a freelancer or working in the capacity of an employee, this is a problem you’re going to have to learn to deal with.
In this post we’ll talk about the best way to deal with clients who know (or think they know) a little bit more about design than we’d like them to. Keep in mind that although I am referencing WordPress developers, you can safely assume that everything I am writing applies to any creative professional – whether you’re dealing with development, design, U/X or a simple logo.
The Experienced Undesigner
Yes, I made that term up, but it fits like a glove. Typically our problems begin to unfold with something as simple as an email. We know it’s coming, but that doesn’t soften the blow. It still hurts as much the fifth time as it did the first.
As a developer, you’ve spent a lot of time on your craft. You may not be perfect, but with every day that goes by, you get a little better. Your sole objective is to continually improve the value you bring to your clients. You take a lot of pride in the work you do and carefully consider every idea before sending it off to your client for approval.
Shipping a draft to a client for approval is probably one of the most stressful parts of the whole design or development process. It’s like gathering up the courage in high school to ask your crush out on a first date. The thoughts of potential rejection abound and taking the final leap – clicking the send button – can require mustering every ounce of spare courage.
That’s why it stings so much when you finally get an email reply that looks like this:
Please note that I’ve spared you from reading points 6-10 because I think you get the point. These emails can cause you to break into a spontaneous cold sweat, question your existence as a developer, and wonder if there is any way of doing your job without involving clients!
Five Potential Solutions for Clients That Are Designers
We have all dealt with this type of client, but here are five potential solutions for this sort of situation:
1. Have Fun and Don’t Take It Too Seriously
You’ve probably gathered from the tone of this post that it’s not always a good idea to take this part of your business too seriously. Dealing with clients that are convinced of the fact that they were designers in a previous life can be just as humorous as it is frustrating, providing you look at it in the right light.
It’s easy to get your back up when someone points out something they don’t like about your design. But it’s just as easy to let it roll off your back. This isn’t a problem that’s going away anytime soon and the quicker you come to grips with that, the easier life will be.
One of the things you can do is to work on relaxing the situation. It’s not all that difficult to reply to the above email in a way that’s both fun and respectful. It’s perfectly fine to have some fun with your clients. And really, if they take your rebuttal too seriously, do you want to be working with them anyway?
2. Avoid the Problem Altogether
Of course, sometimes the best way to get out of a problematic situation is by avoiding it altogether. Though you can’t always filter out the bad apples, you can certainly reduce their rate of incidence.
You could achieve this by:
- Creating a thorough pre-onboarding process where you’ll have a chance to interview potential clients. After interviewing and working with a few clients, you’ll start to get better at identifying problems earlier in the process.
- Set guidelines that are crystal clear. ConversionXL states on their website “We will not argue over personal preferences. Seriously”. They make it clear upfront that their contract contains the clause: “if we disagree about a design element, we have the discretion”.
You need to decide what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t. Then, tell your clients up front so they understand how you work.
3. Have a Heart-to-Heart
Sometimes clients think they know better (and sometimes they do!), so instead of fighting them on every change, give them what they want and then reassess. It’s possible that those fuchsia accents look great in their head, but once they see them on the screen they’ll understand why you thought it was a bad idea in the first place.
If a client is continually bringing design ideas and revisions to the table, maybe it’s time to have a heart-to-heart discussion about putting some faith in your expertise.
4. Fire the Client
I always consider firing a client to be a last resort. Most problems can be resolved, except for the most serious of issues. The primary indicator that can determine whether or not you should continue working with a client is what I call your “client anxiety level”. If you see your client in the grocery store and find yourself diving behind the vegetable counter in an attempt to hide, you’ve got a problem. But seriously, if you’re ever avoiding dealing with a client, there is a pretty good chance that they are bringing negative energy to your business – and makes the relationship one that’s not worth maintaining.
When the time comes to let your client go, try to stick with the “it’s me, not you” approach. Clients change (and sometimes they don’t), management changes and priorities shift. You never know whether the opportunity to work together in the future might arise under different circumstances.
5. Create a Second Version for Your Portfolio
There are times when your pocket book is the one making the decision about whether or not to continue working with a high maintenance client. There are also times where the experience of working with a particular client takes precedence over all else.
In these situations, sometimes the ideal solution is to use your version of the website for your personal portfolio and create the client’s version for their own use.
This might cause some issues if your company is credited in the footer of the website. We always want to put our best foot forward, and if a client makes changes to their site you’ll have to ask yourself whether or not you still want to stamp your name on it.
This is a great leverage tactic as well! Discussing with your client that you’ll need to remove your footer credit can serve as a strong signal that the decisions they are making are not necessarily in line with what you would present as a professional. Sometimes, that which goes unsaid delivers the strongest message.
As long as there are clients and developers working together, situations will arise where the two just don’t see eye to eye. Clients love to give design advice whether they have the appropriate experience or not.
We tend to be hard on clients, but in all fairness they often have a vision for their project but lack the skills to bring that vision to life. That’s part of the challenge of being a developer or designer – learning to take the client’s thoughts and translate them into something tangible, all while exercising an above average level of tact and customer service. It’s not easy, but most of the time it’s not impossible.
Have you ever had to deal with clients continually making small design changes despite being unsure of how it might affect the overall project? Share some of your more interesting experiences in the comments below!
Image Credit: VIGE.CO / Shutterstock