Convincing The Client – How To Win A Design Argument

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As a freelance designer, you know your main goal is to keep the client happy. But what happens when the thing that makes your client happy is something that you as a designer know is a terrible idea? It may be impractical, too costly to implement, useless for the client’s business, or just plain ugly or unprofessional looking. Nevertheless, the client is determined to get his or her way.

We’re going to look at some ways you, the designer, can actually reverse this situation, getting your client to consider and often approve your superior design solution. And all without hurt feelings or any unethical behavior.

Are You Really Making It Better?

The first thing you must determine with 100% clarity is whether or not the design solution you’re proposing is actually better than the one the client wants. Most designers have a keener sense of what will work in a design than the average freelance client, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Business-Orientated Design

Sometimes, a designer may think they’re improving a design, when in fact, the client is right to be outraged at the new changes. Remember, design is about more than type or snazzy graphics – the solution you come up with has to be viable for the client’s business and help them achieve the financial results they’re after.

For instance, if your client is a children’s dentist, and wants to appeal to kids with a whimsical, cartoony brand identity that you think is hideous, you may clash with her if you try to make too many fundamental changes to her idea.

It’s More Than Just Design

If your style is more reserved and minimalist, you may attempt to impose your idea of “good design” onto her business without considering the audience she’s trying to reach, she may be justifiably upset.

Yes, your design may be objectively “better” from a designer’s perspective, but as far as solving your client’s problem (appealing to children and soothing their fear of the dentist), it’s an utter failure. It’s important to always keep the client’s business goals in mind, even if they are not outlined in the design brief.

Beating the Brief

Now, let’s take the same dentist client and put a different spin on her dilemma. You understand what she wants – to appeal to kids and make them less nervous – but you know you have a solution that would accomplish this goal much better than what she has in mind. How do you go about bringing her over to your side of the argument?

creative brief

Before I continue, I must warn you that this type of solution will take more time and effort on your part than you might be used to. However, it will yield much higher rates of success for getting through to your clients, and will have them raving about you for years after the job is finished.

Follow The Design Brief

Okay, so what’s the solution? Well, first…you do exactly what she wants. That’s right – with your design brief in front of you, and your client’s explicit instructions to design something based around her horrible, ugly, unprofessional idea, the first thing you do is fire up your computer and create her “perfect” solution. No, it’s not pretty. Yes, you’re going to hate it. But do it anyway.

If you show up to a client meeting without the work she specifically asked for, she’s most likely going to get upset, and upset clients are impossible to negotiate with. So first, do what’s expected of you.

Sell Your Idea

After you’ve done what the client has asked for, to the letter, it’s time to introduce her to a new concept – the one you know is better. But you want to do more than simply produce a new version of the work the way you believe it ought to be presented. It’s important to sell your client on your idea as well.

If your client is design savvy, just presenting the two ideas side by side will be enough to convince her that yours is better. But as we all know, most clients need a bit of convincing. Take notes on what exactly the differences are between your idea and theirs, noting especially how your version will better solve their problem and help them achieve their business goals.

Clients love to hear how something will help them make more money, so if you have data or numbers to back up your claim, now is the time to use them.

Getting That Green Light

Most designers get involved in a project on more than just a technical level. Completing a creative work requires an emotional investment, and it’s not at all unusual to feel slightly defensive about the choices you made in a design, especially if you believe your client simply has no idea what they are talking about.

Sometimes, you’re going to run into clients who simply refuse to see things your way. In these cases, it’s best to just please them to the best of your ability, collect payment, and move on. But many times, clients are more than willing to be persuaded if you can master the right language with which to do so.

Make Sense When Making Your Case

As they say, communication is key. I’m going to take that adage a step further here and say that the right communication is key. Anyone can say anything, but in a meeting with a client, expressing your ideas in terms that make sense to them is essential to maintaining the upper hand.

Not that you need to resort to manipulation. This is all about the client’s business and what is truly the best solution to help them increase their profit margin.

Most clients will actually appreciate your attention to detail and willingness to help them uncover an approach that is highly effective. Like I said, this kind of ‘above and beyond’ working method is exactly what quality clients are looking for in a designer, and it’s what will inspire them to give you the glowing testimonials and referrals you’re looking for.

Leaving the Ego Behind

Lastly, I’m going to be blunt here: if you walk into a meeting with fundamental changes that were clearly not pre-approved by your client and they get upset, it probably has something to do with your ego.

I’ve previously worked with designers (thankfully not many) whose arrogance and high opinion of themselves made them impossible to collaborate with. They were under the impression that I ought to have been lucky to work with them, and that any changes they made to my design brief were a blessed improvement.

You don’t want to be this designer.

No one likes that kind of behavior, and clients do talk to one another about the contractors they hire. No client is paying you to be a drone, but finding a healthy balance between your expertise and your client’s expertise is vital.

How do you handle conflicts with your clients about the design process? Are there any helpful tips you’ve learned along the way that you wish you had known earlier?

Author:

Addison is the author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, and culture. She's written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.

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