The Client Is Not Always Right

You may have heard the familiar phrase, “The customer is always right.” In Web design, however, that is not always the truth.

Yes, the client is paying you for your design services, and she may have specific requirements for the Web site, such as making sure that you include certain graphics and text, but how those items look and function should really be up to you, the one with the Web design experience.

Now, in a perfect world, you’d have 100 percent authority to make all the aesthetic and design decisions, but because you’re a hired hand, you don’t. This doesn’t mean, however, that you need to bend to every one of your client’s whims. On the contrary, you should use your expertise as both a designer and Internet user to guide your client into making the best design decisions for her site.

For instance, your client may be the kind of person who is still for some reason wowed by cheesy Flash intros and primitive GIF animations. Clients like this will have definite ideas about what they think the site should look like and may even make some pretty awful suggestions to you, such as telling you they want “a big, spinning globe on the home page and text that flies in from the left and right that says something like Professional… Reliable… Fast… Affordable… and then everything fades into a big photograph of the company’s president.”

If your client makes a strange suggestion, let her know in a kind and gentle way why the suggestion is not a good idea from the visitor’s perspective (especially because Flash animations are neither search engine–friendly nor accessible to visitors with disabilities), and then be ready to make suggestions about what will appeal to the target audience. As long as you frame your comments around promoting the company in the best way possible to visitors, your criticism should be well received.

In this example, I’d suggest to the client that the home page needs to be a place where visitors can find what they are looking for without having to wade through unnecessary information. I might even go so far as to say, “Please do not put a spinning globe on your home page. It will look cheesy, old-fashioned, and unprofessional.” Animations may be interesting to some people, but they often tend to be more sparkle than substance, which can detract from the overall goals of the site and take up valuable visual real estate that could have been better used to promote the site’s products or services.

Instead, the home page should have clearly defined areas for company branding and navigation, descriptive text about what can be found elsewhere on the site that can be read by both visitors and search engine crawlers, and lead articles or teaser introductions to other information the site visitors may want to find out more about.

If your client is still a little resistant, tell her that you’ve done extensive research and have consulted with seasoned professionals (like me) who have years of experience with creating sites that appeal to the target visitors their company wants to attract. You might also say that you want to build a standards-compliant site that appeals to the target audience and conforms to best practices outlined by the W3C. Hopefully, both you and your client can come to an agreement that will satisfy the goals for the site and the needs of the target audience.

There have been 4 comments | Subscribe to Comments | Jump to Form »

Leah Raeder

It’s funny how much of being a designer involves psychology. I find that it’s rarely a good idea to criticize a client’s idea directly. Too often, their ego is aroused and they become defensive, even if you support your argument with sound logic and evidence.

Instead, try providing them with real-world examples of good, successful design by well-known companies. Show them that the best brands practice tasteful restraint and user-friendliness. Fight their bad ideas with positive alternatives, rather than criticism.

Unfortunately, most clients with their own “brilliant ideas” are also the type who don’t really respect designers, so arguing your point based on your qualifications and experience won’t count for much with them.

In a perfect world, we could simply turn down clients who don’t trust and respect us to do our jobs, but the reality is that you often have to bite your tongue and resort to subtle psychological maneuvering to get them to see sense.


Doktor Thomas

Nice post. It is also very true in business organization. The client and “they say” always know more than the expert being quizzed…..NOT!

Makes me wonder if I am sitting on the wrong side of the desk! :-)



Seeing references like she and her. Makes me think like you got these experience from a female client :D

Anywayz great article. I may even link to this to my clients :D


Leighton Hubbell

Saving the client from themselves is an often futile endeavor. But, I have found without pushing back on key issues you can expect to end up with a piece of work that neither party will be truly happy with.

I prefer to align myself with clients that I can have a collaborative relationship with, and not be treated as merely a decorator. Having a thorough conversation about the client’s project beforehand can usually give me a good indication of their understanding.

Fortunately, most of my clients have come to trust my judgement and experience, and that is something I needed to earn. If you don’t make the effort to show your expertise in a respectful manner, you won’t get to that level.

Insightful post.


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