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How to Placate Clients Who Are Dissatisfied with Your Designs

December 5, 2016

As designers who work in the spheres of mobile-app design, Web application design, or graphic design for the Web, we may face certain clients whose favorite phrase is: “I don’t like that design.”

Even if you have extensive experience as a designer, showed your client countless examples of your work that the client seemed to appreciate, and your client provided a detailed design brief before you started the project, you’ll sometimes encounter dissatisfied clients and will have to listen to objections like the following when you deliver your design solutions:

  • It’s not a fit with what we’re looking for.
  • It’s not in our style.
  • We can’t associate our organization with that branding.

Web-site owners are preoccupied with design for evident reasons: They want to retain their customers and entice new ones. They know that design really matters because 75% of users base their judgments of Web-site credibility on their site’s overall aesthetics. Plus, 94% of first impressions relate to design. Moreover, when analyzing your proposed design concepts, your clients respond just as ordinary users would and, accordingly, decide whether they should retain your services. All clients have their own opinions and expectations about design, so it is inevitable that client dissatisfaction and misunderstandings will sometimes occur.

There may be many reasons for the emergence of misunderstandings between a designer or design agency and a client—for example, the absence of a detailed design brief, poorly set expectations, cross-cultural differences, or a designer’s failure to deeply understand the business domain.

But sometimes it’s impossible to take into account all the peculiarities of a project. Despite the considerable and constant efforts of a Creative Director to convey clear requirements and keep a project on track, it is always possible that you’ll miss the mark and have to deal with a client who doesn’t appreciate some aspect of your initial design concept. Even though it would be impossible to make a comprehensive survey of all the possible reasons for a client to reject a design solution, we’ve found some practical ways in which we can usually avoid a client’s disfavor.

Avoiding Asking Clients What They Like

Asking clients what they do or don’t like about a design solution can be difficult to manage, so it’s best not to do this. It’s risky to incite clients to think about why they dislike an example of your design work or an initial design solution. Plus, in determining what kind of design solution they expect to get in the end, they may form an abstract, ideal outcome in their mind that it’s impossible for them to communicate effectively and thus, impossible for you to achieve. Moreover, they’ll judge your previous design work, comparing it to this imaginary ideal.

As a rule, clients ask for the help of a designer because they lack the creativity and specific skills necessary to develop a design solution themselves. So it’s often hard for them to explain any preconceived ideas they might have. Problems may arise once you’ve designed a user interface because your clients still feel free to express their assumptions, show their imagination, and propose weird ideas that would puzzle a UX designer who sees the overall solution from an entirely different perspective. Nevertheless, you have no choice but to try to understand your client’s tastes, wishes, and expectations.

Reducing the Likelihood of Rejection

Here are some tips to reduce the likelihood that clients will reject your design solutions:

  • Take care of the basics. Don’t forget to rely on questionnaires and design briefs. Don’t begrudge the time it takes to build a detailed questionnaire whose responses can simplify the process of design elaboration for your UX designers. Plus, it’s essential to make up lists of Web sites and apps your clients both appreciate and dislike.
  • Offer free design concepts. Of course, nobody wants to do work at a loss, but sometimes your investment in a design concept can bring greater benefits than you could imagine. So I’m always willing to create an initial design concept for free because doing that makes it much easier to gain my clients’ confidence.
  • Filter out poor designs. A savvy Creative Director can act as a filter, hiding unsuccessful design solutions from clients—and avoid explaining all the reasons for their failure. Your clients will appreciate only well-thought-out design concepts, so don’t overload them by showing them no-go ideas—or risk their choosing a poor design option.
  • Pay attention to details. Remember to read between the lines. When you discuss projects with your clients, every word matters. Clients show some commitment by spending the time to fill in your questionnaires. When analyzing the information you’ve obtained, try to feel your clients’ mood and appreciate their mindset, so you can understand what is happening in their head. This will give you a greater chance of pleasing your clients.

Overcoming the Dead-end of Endless Corrections

Without a doubt, every designer encounters situations in which clients don’t approve their design solutions and ask them to make some changes. When considering design changes, clients may come up with more and more changes. This situation can be a dead-end for a designer.

One of the most common reasons for this dead-end is the fact that clients simply dislike the design. By making endless corrections to a design solution, clients may be attempting to change the design to accord with their rising expectations, which may be impossible to fulfill.

Here are some tips to help you avoid the dead-end of making endless corrections to your designs:

  • Avoid making dramatic changes. If drastic corrections are necessary—for example, a new color palette, a reconceived layout, or new illustrations—this means the designer has failed to meet the client’s expectations, so it’s useless to waste time correcting the designs. In such a case, it’s better to start elaborating a new design concept and present it to your client rather than making endless corrections to your original design concept.
  • Consider assigning the project to another designer. Sometimes it becomes obvious that the designer you’ve involved initially is not the right designer for the job, has gone stale, or just can’t absorb the array of changes the client has requested to take a fresh view on a design concept. Some new blood can provide a helpful hand when this happens. But it’s vital that you not show the new designer the previous variants of a design solution that the client has already rejected so you can obtain an absolutely new, unique solution. It’s perfectly reasonable to involve different designers on different projects. For example, more experienced and conservative UX designers can easily create design concepts for healthcare or educational institutions, governments, or banks, while more innovative UX designers will be passionate about working on new product concepts.
  • Ask your Creative Director to take up a pencil. A really experienced Creative Director who has handled a great many disparate projects can do magic in such a situation. So, if a client is dissatisfied, the Creative Director should seize the initiative.

Nevertheless, if the situation is so desperate that you can’t avoid going round in circles and making constant changes, follow these recommendations:

  • Use visual aids when analyzing your clients’ comments and the design changes you’ve made. Clients may forget about certain changes they’ve requested. That’s why it’s best to add all of the clients’ comments and requests to your mockups. They can then serve as a kind of contract, documenting your agreement with an absent-minded client.
  • Appeal to your clients’ logical mind. For example, if a project’s deadline has expired and you’ve already used up all the hours you estimated, explain that the additional changes they want to make may result in a higher project price.
  • Divide the project work into smaller parts. Try completing different parts of the user interface one by one, submitting them for approval before continuing. For example, when creating a Web site design, you might first do the logo, then the color palette, then the layout, and, finally, the text styles. Only after you’ve received the client’s approval for all of these aspects of a design solution should you combine all the elements into a complete design.

Conclusion

There is no magic bullet that can ensure your clients will be happy with the designs you create. Diverse aesthetic tastes and cultural and communication differences make each project unique. In seeking the right design solution to please a particular client, a designer and Creative Director may sometimes seem to be the central figures in a fantasy game, in which they never know what to expect around the corner. I can only hope that the practical tips I’ve shared in this article may be of some help to you. 

Technology Writer at Oxagile

Minsk, Belarus

Yana YelinaSince graduating from Minsk State Linguistic University, Yana has worked as a copywriter, journalist, and technical writer for a number of Belarusian companies. At EffectiveSoft, a custom software—development company, Yana interviews software developers and UX designers to learn about and share their expertise in creating user-interface and UX designs for various business domains, including education, healthcare, trading, logistics, and ecommerce.  Read More

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