How To Tell The Client They’re Wrong

Web design is a new and poorly understood industry. Everyone has opinions. Sometimes you get criticised by the client, your peers and the bank manager.


On the other hand, life as a web designing business owner is brilliant. You get to work on your own terms, you can be creative and there’s a lot more good stuff besides.

Because it’s a new industry and because of the freedoms, web designing has unique challenges. And one of these challenges is to decide when the client is right and when the client is wrong. It’s not all black and white. Sometimes I hate to hear designers slagging off their clients.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. Just have a look at OK, it’s funny. We can all laugh about it. But that doesn’t help us. What do we do when the client makes a suggestion that we think will be detrimental to their business? You can’t just poo-poo someone’s big idea.

And, look at it from the clients viewpoint. You’ve heard the joke, haven’t you?


“How many web designers does it take to change a lightbulb?”

“Does it have to be a lightbulb?”

Sound familiar? Now get off your high horse. Some client ideas are original, great, fantastic, inspired.

Others aren’t. You don’t see Flash intros, background music and vertical navigations these days. Why? Because they don’t work! But you can’t just say that to the client. They can, understandably, say: “if no one else’s doing it, that means we’ll stand out for being original and thinking outside the box!” Which is a good sentiment. But still wrong. So how do you square the circle?

I’ve had many of these situations and, luckily, clients aren’t from hell and they are actually reasonable human beings. So here are some practical things you can actually say to clients when you believe their ideas are a little off.

Vertical menus

“Nowadays people expect to find a horizontal menu across the top of the website header. Doing something else is likely to result in higher bounce rates, less pages per visit and less conversions.”

Too many items in navigation

Seven is the magic number when it comes to short term memory. Remember you’re competing against all the distractions of the modern day. It’s great to keep things simple.”

“Use this color, my wife/son/aunt likes it”

“That color won’t show up against the background and will make it hard for the visitors to differentiate and therefore this would make the website harder to use.” (Say this even if the color will show up against the background. You’re the expert!

Background music

“Background music, to me, seems unprofessional. Streaming music can cause the website to load slowly which is bad for visitors and looked on unkindly by Google. The antidote to this is to loop a shorter music sample but this gets repetitive and is annoying for the visitor. You want visitors staying on your site for hours not a few seconds.”

“Plus there’s a problem with people already listening to music before visiting your site as well as people visiting your site from public places where they won’t appreciate the sound.”

Flash intros

“You want your visitors to perform a desired action on your site (typically, leave their email address, buy a product, contact you, etc.) You should do everything you can to remove barriers from the path towards this and facilitate this desired action. A flash intro or splash page is one more barrier. We should work towards removing these barriers not putting them up.”

You can do it

You can communicate with clients to build them a website they are happy with that meet your usability standards. I’ve honestly hardly ever had the “clients from hell” that everyone talks about.

Realise that this is a new industry and half our job is one of education and communication.

Did this help you? If so, please share!

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  1. says

    I hear what you are saying here Rob and completely agree with you, for me one of the best things about being a web designing business owner, you are free to pick and choose who you work with!

    There are many clients who we have both faced and explained the error in their ways with there sometimes “crazy” mindsets and they have taken our advice. Sometimes I have had to request they find another web design company because you know what the road ahead will be like.

    • says

      Very true, Del, I’ve always advocated choosing your clients wisely and not just going for any old client that gets in touch. It’ll help you in the long run. Hope you’re well.

      • says

        I’m well cheers, Hope your just as good :)

        I remembered when I started out I would take on any client even though you knew you would be working twice as hard for half the money, but I was just so excited to get a client. I think most web designers go through this period!

        I had one the other day who had some really crazy design requests that I would certainly not put in my portfolio, there was a bit of tennis regarding what he was after so in the end I just doubled the cost of the job £3200. He cheekily asked if I could do it for £300! (and he was certain I would fold and accept it)! He was wrong in so many ways!!!

        • says

          Good on ya, Del! £3200, I love it! Exactly, every designer when starting out takes on the nightmare clients because they’re just so stoked to be starting out. We’ve all been there. Good to know we’ve all progressed as well. :)

  2. says

    Ha ha, love the joke. “Clients from Hell” is a hoot, but depressingly it probably tells us there are just as many of designers from hell.

    The industry may need a “Clients from Heaven” site where all can share what worked rather than what did not.

    At least your doing your bit. Helpful stuff Rob, thanks

    • says

      Haha, but I don’t think “Clients from Heaven” would get nearly the traffic, that’s the sad truth! I think you’re right, there probably are designers from hell, as well! Thanks for your comment as always, David.