As a designer, you will occasionally and unavoidably find yourself in the predicament where a client suggests an idea for their project that may not be aesthetically pleasing, is a design faux-pas, or is simply the wrong move for their particular needs. However, since they are the one paying for it, and it’s their project, do you go ahead and implement their not-so-great idea, or tell them “no” and risk offending them?
After all, the client has hired you because of your expertise. You’re the one who spent 4 years in design school, not them. You’re the one who scours the web to know the latest design and social trends, and you’re the one who they’re looking to for help, expert opinion, and solid design.
So when they’re insisting on using Comic-Sans and green and gold, how do you tell them that their suggestion isn’t that great without offending them or coming across as condescending?
Here are a couple of ways you can be Mr. Smooth, execute that wonderful design you’re respected for–and most importantly–get the client to see why your way is better than theirs without offending them:
1. Tread Lightly
Simply put – avoid being extremely direct. If you shoot them an email that is very direct, telling them why their idea is bad, and that you insist on doing something different, you’re likely to offend. No one likes to hear that their idea is a bad one. A better approach would be to say, “That’s a great suggestion, and let’s definitely consider that. In fact, you’ve just given me an idea–Would you like to hear it?” This type of approach makes the client feel respected – and even more importantly, that they’ve helped in the creative process. Follow this up with an excellent alternative suggestion.
2. Not All Ideas Are Bad
When the client suggests a less-than-ideal design idea, don’t dismiss it completely and immediately. Does their idea have any merits at all? Speaking from experience, many client suggestions are founded on a great idea, but they don’t know how to implement it properly or in a way that yields a professional result. There is usually a way to achieve both what they want and do it with tasteful design. Ask yourself, “How can I improve on their idea?”
3. Diplomacy is Best
My good friend can tell me things that if coming from anyone else would be considered offensive. However, because he does it with a smile and warm demeanor, he never comes across as rude or condescending – instead, it always feels as though he is genuinely concerned and looking out for my best interests. This is certainly a learned skill, but whether you have it or not, you can make small changes to your delivery that will definitely soften or altogether eliminate the “blow” to the client. For starters, smile. Genuine smiles are disarming, friendly, and help establish a positive connection with the client. When making an alternative suggestion to the client’s questionable idea, avoid words like “you” and “your” that insinuate a separation between you and the client. Instead, use words like “we” and “let’s”, which create a sense of teamwork and a can-do attitude.
4. Seeing is Believing
Oftentimes your client doesn’t see things in his/her mind’s eye like you can. If time permits, you can show the client his idea, as well as a better alternative, side-by-side. They will likely see for themselves why your idea is better without you even having to tell them.
Whether you know it or not, the client respects your opinion–or at least they did when they hired you, if you haven’t done something to violate that respect. So be polite, respect their suggestions (no matter how silly they may seem), and give them the expert opinion they are paying you for.