We freelancers need our clients. Without them we don’t have a business. Yet sometimes clients can try even the most patient producer. Last minute or never ending changes, unreasonable deadlines and incredibly shrinking budgets are just a few pitfalls that can get in between our clients and us. Not to mention creative and professional differences.
So the question is how do you make your client happy without making you miserable. The answer isn’t always easy. Each client is different and so is the solution.
In the next few articles I will be discussing ways I’ve dealt with clients over the years and what to do and not to do when you and your client disagree. In this entry I’ll be discussing how you and your client can overcome creative and professional differences and disagreements.
First off, creative differences, though an often-used excuse, should never ever exist. Creative differences mean someone’s ego may be getting in the way of the project. And that ego is usually the designer’s ego.
Ok, so you and your client are working on a design for his new website. He owns an accounting firm and he wants his website to be really ‘sleek’ and to ‘stand-out.’ So you’re barely out of the meeting when half a dozen really cool ideas have already popped into your head.
You get back to your office, whip up the best of these designs and eagerly send it out for client approval. The next day your client calls and tells you these ideas aren’t what he’s looking for. Wait a minute! You are a creative designer. You know what you are doing. He wanted a ‘sleek’ and ‘stand out’ design and by golly that’s what you gave him.
The client goes on to explain how he wants this and how he wants that. And let’s face it some of what he wants just doesn’t work. His design ideas are too cluttered, his colors clash and his message is unfocused.
You try many different versions and he still doesn’t like it until finally you get fed up. You’ve spent thousands of dollars and years at school learning your trade plus all the real world experience you’ve acquired not to mention all of your previous satisfied clients. I mean let’s face it you’re the expert. You’re the one qualified to make the design judgments not him. You don’t tell him how to run his business so he should let you run yours, right?
Well, wrong. It is his business. He’s paying you and he wants to make sure his dollars are spent wisely. And that is something not to be trifled with.
You see the first thing that went wrong in the above example is the designer’s failure to listen to his client. The client wanted a ‘sleek’ and ‘stand out’ website. What does that mean? It means something different to him than it does to you. As a designer your job is to narrow down what the client is looking for. Ask him what it means for his company to ‘stand-out.’ And give him some examples of ‘sleek’ and see if he agrees or gives his own version of what ‘sleek’ means.
Another mistake was not involving the client in the design process. It’s true that you are the designer and you do know how to design better than your client. That’s why he hired you in the first place, but you should never forget that design is a collaborative effort.
Involve the client in all stages of design development. This includes font selection, color palette, and layout. If the client feels that he has contributed to the design process than you’re saving yourself from unnecessary changes and from a dissatisfied client feeling left out.
To avoid sloppy design decisions from your client, try explaining to him what makes a good design work. If the client wants a lime green background with bright yellow text you should let him know that those colors will clash and the customer will have trouble reading the message. Usually the client will understand, but if he doesn’t try giving him two layouts, one his way and the other as a backup done your way. The client will probably choose the one that works. He knows how important it is to have a clean and easy to read design.
Now if the client still wants an unusable design that just doesn’t work, well, guess what? That’s what you give him. As I said it’s his company and his dollars. He must be accountable and he is the one that owns the risk. As a freelancer you must respect that above all else.
That’s well and good, but what about quality control? A poor design reflects badly on you as a designer, doesn’t it? Yes it does, but a difficult and argumentative designer does more damage to his reputation than a couple of bad work samples.
So in a nutshell, creative differences fall squarely on the designer’s shoulders. Put your ego aside and listen, listen and LISTEN to your client. Both of you want the same goal, an effective design that works.