Three Client/Designer Conundrums

In no way am I suggesting that design clients are dumb or immature, nor am I referring to a specific person. I have come up with these ideas/tips from my experiences, my colleague’s experiences, as well as various articles from design professionals on the web.

Problem #1 – They don’t speak our language

foreign language

Even though there are hundreds of thousands of designers around the world; the general public are not designers. I took two years of Italian in college, but if I were to go to a part of Italy where they spoke fluent Italian, I would be completely lost. I could pick up a word or two, but in general, I would not have a clue what everyone was saying.

This same situation can be spun around client/designer relationships. For the most part, clients will have no clue what you are talking about if you start rattling off “design jargon.” Yes I’m sure there are clients that have done their research (or took five years of Italian in our example) and will understand all of technical speak a designer says; but this is rare.

Clients aren’t designers. If they were, they wouldn’t need you to do the job they are paying you to do. This being said, treating a client as if they are a peer in your profession (magazine design, web design, etc) is a mistake.  To you, a fixed width 960px three-column layout makes perfect sense; but means absolutely nothing to the client. Rags and widows mean something completely different to a print designer as they would to a non-designer.

Ways to help the client see eye-to-eye with you

  • Explain why you are doing things, rather than how you are doing them. If you tell the client how making a change will save them money and time, they will most likely be able to follow what your saying better than if you were to just describe what you’re doing.
  • Don’t use technical terms when you explain things to them. Telling a client that “adding some padding and margin around an element could increase usability,” might not make much sense to them. Padding/margin = space, breathing room, etc.
  • If you do have to include a more technical word, make sure you define it as well, using simple terms that the general public can understand.


13 Tips for Effective Communication With Clients
How to Talk to Non-Tech Savvy Clients

Problem #2 – They don’t understand the process

When a 5-year-old is standing in the toy aisle of a store and picks out a toy (that his mom said he could have), he doesn’t comprehend that the toy store doesn’t magically make these toys and they are just always there for him to take.

The toy most likely started in a factory. Raw material, whether plastic, metal, etc., are used to make each piece of the toy, which are then assembled into the finished product (of course with some finishing touches such as paint, sparkles, accessories, etc.) The toy is then packed up and shipped to the store, where it is unloaded and stocked onto the shelves for little Timmy to pick up while he is there.

The same thing can be said about client/designer relations. Clients will most likely not understand the time it takes to design a logo, website, business card, etc. There are many steps involved in designing a great logo: research, brainstorming, sketching, designing, tweaking, more sketching, more designing, etc, etc. A good rule-of-thumb is from the very beginning to layout a time-line of how the design will come to completion. Doing this will at least allow the client to have a general idea of how long everything will take.

vivid ways logo

The Vivid Ways logo that Chris Spooner designed is a great example. Even though Vivid Ways loved his design (which is great by the way), I could picture a client saying, “this is very simple, it looks like something my 12-year-old nephew could have done in thirty minutes in Microsoft Paint.” This is obviously not the case, as I’m sure Chris spent tons of time going through the steps (he describes his process in this article) to create this great identity.

So what should you do if you bill a client for your work and they don’t think the end product should have taken so long?

Ways to help the client see eye-to-eye with you

  • Save your sketches. Put them in a one inch binder and keep all other client proofs/sketches in there as well.
  • Save drafts of the design (whether it be Indesign, Photoshop, GIMP.) – Clientname-draft1.psd, Clientname-draft2.psd. Whenever you make a drastic change, save a new filename.  If the client decides they like the last draft you did better, you now have it saved and can quickly go back to it.
  • Have a time tracking app. I use Billings 3 and make a new time-slip for each different stage of the design process. A client will be more satisfied with a detailed broken-down invoice than just a piece of paper with a price on it.


30 Professional Logo Design Processes Revealed
David Airey’s Logo Design Process
45 Creative Logo Designs For Inspiration

Problem #3 – They are Picasso in their eyes

child Picasso

A five-year-old comes home from school and shows his mom what he did in art class that day. He is super excited about it and is so proud of himself for making such a wonderful masterpiece. His mom takes her child’s art piece and hangs it on the fridge so he feels even better about his work. It may only be a bunch of macaroni, glue, and sparkles; but to him its great.

A client might suggest to make the logo twice as large, add blinking text, and have a bunch of flash movies scattered throughout the page. The client thinks it is the best idea in the world and it will make the design so much better. To him, that’s his Picasso moment, because he doesn’t know any better. Most likely the client will not have extensive training in art or design or coding; which is why they hired you and didn’t do it themselves. Carefully explain to the “Picasso client” that they hired you and should trust your judgment of what is best for their design and their company.

A web designer would know that a smaller logo allows the users eye to flow through the page and straight to the content that matters. Remember, the smaller the logo/brand, the more confident you are in your business!

how a web design goes straight to hell

How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell by The Oatmeal is a great example of how a client can try to change the design to be his personal Picasso masterpiece. The cartoon is brilliant (in the eyes of a web designer) and really hilarious, but in the end, the client felt he was right and his ideas were better than sliced bread.

Ways to help the client see eye to eye with you

  • Carefully explain which of their changes are relevant and which would only make the design worse.
  • Be nice! Explain to them as if you were explaining it to the five-year-old and his macaroni masterpiece.
  • Don’t take their design criticism personally. Remember #1, “They don’t speak our language.”


Top 10 Worst Websites
Please Trust Your Designer


If you take away anything from this post, remember these three things.

  • Clients for the most part are not going to understand fancy “design-talk,” but explaining why you are doing things (to increase sales, allow for visitors to navigate easier, etc.) should make everything a lot easier.
  • Clients might expect your design to be done a lot sooner than it actually takes. Carefully explain to them from the very beginning how long each stage of the design/development will take.
  • Clients might think they are a designer/artist and end up taking over the project as “art director.” Don’t let this happen by letting them know that you were hired for your expertise and artistic ability.