Should Designers Be Obligated To Explain Their Process?

If you’re a freelance designer, you’re bound to run into the dreaded “designer client” at least once in your career. You know the kind – the person who always has an opinion (or 50) about how you should be doing your job.

Clients love to shove their noses into the design process regardless of whether they ought to or not. Why do they do this? And are they right to do so? Today, we’re going to dissect this prickly phenomenon, and what designers can do about it.

Shut Up And Let Me Work

The only permanent solution to this issue is making your clients understand (politely) why their meddling is a bad idea. Yes, yes, the customer is always right and all that. But does it really matter if clients understand what’s going on in that designer brain of yours?

After all, most people who outsource a service (say, back-end programming) don’t expect to “get” what’s going on – that’s why they outsourced it! But for some reason, design is always the exception. Why? Well, because…

Design Is Cool

I’ve written in the past about how a majority of people want to think of themselves as creative, especially in today’s design-filled world of advertising and flashy websites and media. Creativity is sexy, and the popularity of sleek, minimal styles leads many people to mistakenly believe that simple design is easy to do.

These clients aren’t usually "trying" to disrupt your workflow. It’s just that they genuinely don’t understand the effort that goes into the “magic” they see when you unveil the finished product. You may think it’s exasperating to have to break down just how much work you’re doing so that your client will get it, but remember that people don’t value what they don’t understand. And in freelancing terms, value can have a very real impact on how much you get paid.

Confusion Leads To Skepticism

Clients often get confused about a designer’s intentions, especially when he or she is speaking above their head in coded “designer speak”. It’s important to avoid jargon as much as possible when speaking with a client.

Use clear, simple language to give clients a general overview of what’s involved, how much effort is required, and how much of your time is being sacrificed for the project. Don’t complain, of course, but remember: no one knows how valuable you are until you tell them.

Don’t Over-Explain

You don’t want to get yourself in the situation where a client knows too much about how you work. I’m sure you can figure out why: the client can take your detailed process breakdown, give it to a design student or a relative they think can do a better job for cheaper, and tell you to hit the road.

If this has never happened to you, count yourself lucky. If your clients require a tutorial for every little thing you do, this is a serious red flag. After all, they hired a designer, not a teacher. If they’re that curious about design, there are blogs for that (like this one) which you can point them to if necessary.

Don’t Think Of It As A Hassle

The natural response of most designers, when confronted with a curious (okay, nosy) client, is to grind their teeth in frustration. After all, these clients wouldn’t give their gardener or repairperson this much grief, would they? Of course they wouldn’t. It can take away a designer’s enthusiasm when they have to defend what they do to someone who thinks their job is insignificant.

The next time this happens to you (and believe me, it will), instead of getting angry, try to think of it as an opportunity to open up the complex world of design to someone on the outside looking in. Take on the role of “industry evangelist” and incorporate client education into your workflow.

Once your client sees the light, in a kind and non-condescending way, they’ll have far more respect for what you do, and anyone they refer you to will be easier to work with because of it.


No one likes annoying, designer-wannabe clients. But no client likes mysterious, know-it-all, grouchy designers. The freelancing process is a give and take, and the more clients out there who really “get” what design is all about, even if they don’t know the proprietary details of how you work, the better it will be for all designers out there.

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