One of the biggest mistakes we as web designers can make is thinking that our creative work will sell itself. It’s an easy mistake to make. After all, when a client chooses me out of all of the other web designers around, I feel like they made the choice because they implicitly trust what I will do for them. They saw my work, and felt I would do a similar job for them. So why the lack of trust when delivering my work?
As it turns out, just doing the work, and making intelligent design choices isn’t enough. You must sell it too.
When I design a website for a client, I don’t do it in a vacuum. I do a lot of research, and make a lot of decisions based on industry standards, audience appropriateness and a myriad of other factors. In short, it goes well beyond “making it pretty.” I have learned over the years that no matter how well you think through usability issues, color schemes, content management systems, etc, your client will not understand that you did everything for a reason unless you effectively communicate those reasons.
The time is now
So now that you know that you will likely need to explain why your design is the perfect solution to your client’s problem, you may be wondering when is the best time. Is it in that awkward span of time after you have delivered the concepts and the silence is deafening? Or is it after your client tears your design to verbal shreds?
The answer is neither. You need to start justifying when you submit the designs. If you leave enough time for your client to become dissatisfied with your work, then you have already lost a pretty big battle. They have had time to sit and look at your work, and decide that it just isn’t right.
Conversely, if you provide your client with the benefit of your thought process while they are poring over your work, your explanation will be heard by a much more open mind.
Your client wants to trust in you. So make it easy for them to believe what you tell them by selling it with confidence. If you approach your explanations with apologies and stammering, your methods are much less likely to be trusted. Speak in positive, unwavering language. Say things like:
“I understand what you’re going for with that placement, but I am 100% confident that if we place the call-to-action here, you are likely to double your conversion rate.”
There is no magic pill for confidence unfortunately, so this is something you either have, or it’s something you really need to practice. Your livelihood as a designer depends on it.
If you are meeting with your client in person or over video chat, dress the part. As comfortable as George Costanza sweatpants are, they don’t instill a whole lot of confidence.
Remind them that you are the expert
Why did your client hire you in the first place? Probably because they thought they could trust in your expertise to fulfill their business goals. Somewhere along the way, clients have a tendency to forget this. I find it helpful to drop in subtle reminders every now and then when we discuss changes, just so they know that I am not making decisions based on whims.
One phrase I like to use is “in my professional opinion…”
I also find it helpful to point to research and facts whenever possible. This can be huge, because it is usually pretty hard to refute professional studies in favor of personal taste. It doesn’t mean that your client doesn’t still really want it another way, but at least they know that logically they may be on the losing end of the argument.
Show them where else it’s working
If you and a client disagree over a design, one great way to get them to come around is to point at other successful sites that are doing it your way. One major argument between designers and clients is the use of white space. Designers love it for its simplicity and ease of use, and clients often hate it because, well, it looks as if you haven’t actually done enough designing to justify your fee.
In this case, I would simply point my clients to sites like apple.com. See, they are taking a minimal approach too, and it’s working. You can also do the opposite, and show examples of busy, cluttered sites, so they can see the difference.
Focus on what’s important to them: business
As web designers, it is difficult to justify our work without making it about aesthetics. The problem with aesthetics are that they are 100% objective. Instead, if you make your arguments about how what you have done will impact their bottom line for the better, then you have some traction.
If the way something looks will be a positive asset, then feel free to bring it up, but do so at your own risk. Again, when it comes to pure visual style, I have found that designers and clients are for better, or for worse, trapped in their own tastes. And it’s pretty near impossible to talk someone out of their personal taste.
Know when to hold & when to fold
As much as I would love to say that I never back down from a client standoff, I live in the real world. Some clients trust my experience, but some are slaves to their own personal taste at the end of the day. I make every good faith attempt to educate my clients on the way things should be done, but sometimes agreeing to disagree is all we can do. If, after
I have made my case in a clear, confident manner, my client still wants it his way, then I will usually just give them what they want. They are the client, after all, and it’s their money. But I never go down without a fight, and I am happy to report that I have won more battles than I have lost. And in the end, my clients are usually very grateful for what I brought to the party.
For more great advice on working with clients…
Check out my brand new book, Get Graphic Design Clients, available now in the Amazon Kindle store.
- Buy Get Graphic Design Clients at Amazon.co.uk (UK) Kindle store.
- Buy Get Graphic Design Clients at Amazon.com (US) Kindle store.
Wes McDowell is the Principal and Creative Director forThe Deep End Web Design in Los Angeles. In addition to client work, he has authored several books for freelance designers and co-hosts a popular graphic design podcast called “The Deeply Graphic DesignCast.”
I was lucky enough to talk to Wes at the end of last year and some of you may remember my podcast interview with Wes McDowell where he talks more about his web design business. Thanks Wes for a great article – only my third ever guest post! I knew you’d provide an excellent resource. 🙂 Oh, and by-the-way, I’ve read Wes’s Kindle book above and it’s awesome. I’m due to read his other one soon and he (as well as many others) have inspired me to write Kindle books myself.