have you ever had a client that you quickly found out had a LOT of opinions? well today we answer the question: “what do you do if a client starts to art direct you or suggests something not-so-great?”

this situation can get tricky. while you want to please your client you also want to do what you believe looks the best. if what they’re asking will be quick, i’ll do it and also do what i think is right. i’ll show them both directions and call out why option a isn’t the best way to go and why i think option b rocks. you are the professional and they are coming to you because they like your style and trust you to create a great piece for them. if the client is super nit picky, i will pick my battles on what to push back on. i’ll let them have the weird color palette, but i’ll do it in a font that i think is best.

i couldn’t have said it better myself, katie! a LOT of times if I show a client their idea and then another option of how I think it should look (and explain my reasoning for it)...they choose mine. sometimes people have ideas in their heads and just can’t visualize how it would actually translate. it’s always good to accommodate your clients and nurture their ideas, but ultimately they hired you for a reason and will trust you in the end. well, hopefully.

and remember guys, you can always do two final versions. one the way they want for them, and then another one the way you like it for your portfolio. there is nothing wrong with that, we’ve both done it!

good luck!

(illustration by katie evans. read more freelance advice posts are over here. if you have a question you want answered, just leave us a comment in the box with it!)



Add your own

  • 1. laura  |  April 18th, 2012 at 6:06 am

    Katie- Your illustration cracked me up! One thing I do when someone’s “vision” needs improvement is check out http://clientsfromhell.net/…it could always be worse!

  • 2. stephanie  |  April 18th, 2012 at 7:14 am

    haha! Your illustration made me laugh! I can totally recall!
    The problem with our kind of expertise is everybody think they are experts as well! I think you’ve got to make it clear (in a nice way) that you are the actual designer! Hey, why would they hire you otherwise?

  • 3. Ronnie  |  April 18th, 2012 at 7:21 am

    Katie, that is the funniest illustration I’ve seen in a while. Thank you for brightening my day (or night, since it’s past midnight here in Sydney right now)!

    You guys are totally spot on with everything you’ve said. I always present option A and option B and then make it VERY clear (politely of course) why option A is crazy.

    And yes, the ‘other’ version for your portfolio. We’ve all been there for sure Bri. Well said!

    This advice column is awesome. Keep it up, you guys.

    Ronnie xo

  • 4. eva burns  |  April 18th, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Once again, love the fabulous advice. I feel like all the advice thus far illustrates the importance of sticking to your guns and trusting your instincts. And that’s empowering, so thank you!

  • 5. N  |  April 18th, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Many times I am just the tool to put something together and even if they have a second and better option the client always ends up choosing the one where they told me exactly what to do.

  • 6. Mallory  |  April 18th, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Ha! Love this illustration. I was just having this conversation with another design enthusiast yesterday! This advice column rocks.

  • 7. Leah // Freutcake  |  April 18th, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Oh my gosh! This graphic kills me…in a good way. I seem to have this type of client more often than not! And like both of you ladies, I too show them their idea and then my idea. I also try to let their concept inspire a part of the design. That helps them feel like it was their idea all along. Sometimes that works. :)

  • 8. Sarah  |  April 18th, 2012 at 9:37 am

    The for the advice! Sometimes it can be hard what is worth fighting for without upsetting the client!

  • 9. Jenny  |  April 18th, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I LOVE this illustration. The suggestion on Papyrus makes me laugh out loud!

  • 10. Naomi A.  |  April 18th, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Aah, so tricky!! But awesome advice :)

    I’m not even a real designer – I like to do some blog designs for free for friends now and then. But even still, every once in a while I come up against some really… not so great ideas from my friends. I could just do what they want and get it over with… but the knowledge that there will be a little button on the sidebar of their blog that forever says “Naomi made this” just kills me! Definitely worth it to suck it up and push back a bit, reminding them that they came to you for advice for a reason!

  • 11. Ash  |  April 18th, 2012 at 10:49 am

    OMG! Comic Sans! THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE! That illustration is by far the best yet – hysterical, and so true. Have you heard of the Comic Sans Project: http://comicsansproject.tumblr.com/

    Cracks me up. Ridiculous. And poking fun at this font I loath so!

  • 12. Katie  |  April 18th, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Fabulous illustration, and fabulous advice. I feel like this can be the most frustrating and trickiest pat of being a designer!

  • 13. Cori {Pretty Haute Mess}  |  April 18th, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Love the idea of putting a different version in my portfolio, thanks girls!

  • 14. amy  |  April 18th, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    this column rocks!! it’s like you gals are reading my mind lately and giving advice on all the things i’ve been getting frustrated with. THANK YOU! :)

  • 15. Lindsay R  |  April 18th, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    love this. you just have to remind them that they hired you for a reason!!!

  • 16. a.alicia  |  April 18th, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    I think this is such an interesting topic – full disclosure, I’m not a designer, but I work in a creative field where similar situations arise. My own go-to approach is to do what the client wants, but not show that in my portfolio, and try to incorporate some of my own (so that can be what I show off, even if they only take what they liked.)

    But, as someone who has been the client of a designer… curious as to what you all think about in terms of how much design a client is looking for. Is there ever a moment when you realize that while you may love a lot of detail, that’s not right for that client? How to you balance making sure they’re happy with what they paid for versus fulfilling your creative vision?

  • 17. Sara Jensen  |  April 18th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    I have also found a great strategy to be say that a client is lawyer and they want a logo. I make remarks like “Dang, Im super glad that I am not a lawyer cause I would get in the courtroom and freak out and yell that people were just guilty. Its way better that I am designer and do this and you take care of criminals right?” This makes them feel awesome for being a lawyer and then they realize that they dont actually want to be the designer. Ive gotten some WILD ideas from clients that are wrong on so many levels. It is SO frustrating though when clients/people say “If I just had the time to learn (insert design program here) I could totally do this.” Yeah. Right.
    Ok. Done venting. Great post.

  • 18. kelly ann  |  April 18th, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    You ladies rock! I’m a fairly new freelance designer, and I’ve used the knowledge I’ve gained from this column quite a few times, and it’s been so beneficial and helpful. (and not to mention, so encouraging!) Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us. :)

  • 19. Abigail  |  April 18th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Just in time… I had the WORST client day yesterday. One in particular that wanted the file so they could make the changes themselves! I love most of my clients but a couple of them are really working my nerve lately… I wish I didn’t have to say that! Not sure if you’re taking suggestions but if you are I’d love to know what you do when a client gets angry or rude… Even though you’ve done as much as possible to please them. You guys are great – I love the online design community!

  • 20. BrigittaR  |  April 18th, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Abigail’s comment made me think to ask, do you guys ever supply your files? Do you charge extra for that? I have other freelance friends who have wildly differing views on what to do about this. It would be great to get a new opinion. thanks.

  • 21. sooki  |  April 18th, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    another great tip and perfect illustration that says is all too well. i never thought of doing the two versions, but what a great idea!! thank you~!

  • 22. cianne  |  April 18th, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    i am totally loving this column. as someone learning design, i can vouch that you guy are touching on such great issues that just aren’t talked about enough! so nice to have a little community here!

  • 23. erica  |  April 18th, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Great illustration! I’m having a somewhat similar issue with my new boss, maybe you can help? The ad department of the small company I work for is expanding and my boss is a bit “too inspired” by another particular brand’s work. So much so that she wants the same concept, colors, font, layouts etc… Not only does this make me uncomfortable but it limits my creativity. How can I get her to see that this is not necessarily the best route to take?

  • 24. Maggie  |  April 18th, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Katie, that graphic is fantastic!! Great advice as well – thanks ladies!

  • 25. Nubbytwiglet.com » &hellip  |  April 19th, 2012 at 7:04 am

    […] • What do you do if a client suggests a direction that’s not so great? […]

  • 26. grace  |  April 19th, 2012 at 11:04 am

    thanks for this advice! i’ve had this issue come up a few times in the past when designing for clients, so thank you for voicing your advice and opinions. :)

  • 27. mollie  |  April 19th, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    So true! I had a client just this week suggest this crazy detailed idea for a logo… so I did it AND did a much more simple and clean version. Guess which one they chose?! Designer knows best :)

    And you would think that people would have gotten that papyrus, curlz, and comic sans (and the like, mistral *cringe*) are widely made fun of. Nope! Let’s put our business sign in curlz! Good idea.

  • 28. stella  |  April 20th, 2012 at 9:04 am

    i actually have a question! i’ve been reading the blogs and tumblr and im really inspired. i’m going to school for computer science, but im really interested in art as well. i do a lot of web design, and dabble a bit in illustration. so, is it out of the picture now for me to become a freelance designer, or can i still pursue it? if so, what’s your advice on building a portfolio?

  • 29. look see  |  April 20th, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Great advice – loving the illustration too! :)

  • 30. Tiff  |  April 22nd, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    I just wanted to say thanks for providing this advice column! I just recently started out doing freelance design & all your advice couldn’t be more relevant to all the questions I’ve been seeking advice for. Thank you thank you!

  • 31. Juliette  |  February 10th, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Thanks for this advice column, I never saw it before, now I’m going to read every one of them! It’s annoying when clients do lame stuff like that..I’ve had a few actually want to come to my studio and do their design WITH ME. Most of the time I try to give them what they want, and then like you said, do a different version and show both. Sometimes they just have to see. I’ve also disqualified a few clients for trying to ‘art direct’ me. But I have to add that 98% of my clients are wonderful and trust me, yay.

  • 32. Lily  |  September 22nd, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Howdy! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that
    would be okay. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward
    to new updates.



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