One of the more interesting and important dynamics of being a web designer is the relationship you have with your clients. This relationship really is the basis for your work and can be a big factor in determining the final outcome.
But it’s not just about getting along – although that’s certainly recommended. Even more critical is being able to share a vision of what the finished product should achieve. Part of that is a client’s willingness to accept your expert opinions (and your ability to convince them to do so). Nowhere is that more important than in a website’s UI.
Too often, stakeholders lose sight of what the look and layout of a website is meant to do. For some clients, it can become more of an exercise in pleasing themselves rather than thinking about the users who will actually, you know, use the site.
For designers, it’s a delicate balance. While we want our clients to be happy, we also need to measure their wishes against its impact on users. So, where do we draw that line?
A Client’s Prerogative
There’s no doubt that, as a paying customer, a client should have input regarding their website’s design. That’s their absolute right. But there’s also a point where their preferences can become self-aggrandizing and self-defeating to the end goal.
Changing a background color to a slightly different shade of blue is one thing, but insisting that a design element key to a site’s accessibility be removed is another.
While you don’t want to make someone live with something they hate, you also need to be an advocate for users. It’s then when you can (gently) push back and explain the consequences of certain decisions. If the client sees that their own personal preference may be a turn-off to potential customers, they may just change their tune on the matter.
Frankly, if someone is willing to put their own likes and dislikes ahead of the needs of users, you have to wonder if the project is worth doing at all. But all hope isn’t lost. You can still convince them to do the right thing.
One of the best ways to combat this sort of client takeover of the design process is to prevent it from happening in the first place. While there are no guarantees, there are some things you can do to stop the madness before it starts.
For one, you need to be assertive from the very start. Whether through conversation or your proposal, mention that you specialize in making websites that are user-friendly and focused on details that will lead to conversions.
Displaying a confident tone can also go a long way towards legitimizing your expertise. If you sound sheepish or stay silent regarding your ideas, some people will walk all over you. They’ll pick up on your low-confidence vibe and take over the entire process. But if you know what you’re talking about and say it with conviction, you’ll have a better chance at getting your ideas through.
Overall, the best thing you can do is make a case for just how important serving the needs of users is. State that your role in the project is to ensure that the website is as easy to use as possible, while still making it attractive and on point with branding.
It’s also worth noting that it is indeed a team effort, where the client’s role is to make sure the site properly reflects the brand – without negatively impacting usability.
Most people you’ll deal with in the design process will have some degree of flexibility when it comes to hearing what you have to say. Undoubtedly, there will also be people who simply won’t budge on their positions – no matter what you tell them.
Once you’ve made your recommendations and provided solid reasoning for them, the ball really is in the client’s court. The decision is theirs to make.
If they aren’t willing to listen, they may have their own good reasons for doing so. But, at the same time, it can be incredibly frustrating for a designer. At this point, it’s probably not worth arguing any further.
Instead, carry out your mission as professionally as you can. From there, you’ll see one of three possible outcomes:
1. The website will turn out better than you anticipated.
It’s very possible that whatever concerns you had were blown out of proportion. Sometimes, we tend to see ideas that aren’t our own as disasters waiting to happen. But, you can also be pleasantly surprised when things work out better than you initially thought.
2. The website isn’t as good as it could be – and the client recognizes it.
When a site doesn’t reach its full potential, your greatest hope is that the client realizes that their (or even your) ideas haven’t hit the mark. Hopefully this happens before the site launches. Either way, you can play the part of the hero in making the necessary adjustments.
3. The website isn’t as good as it could be – but the client doesn’t see it.
This one is a bit disheartening. You can see that the design decisions made were the wrong ones. Your client, however, is just as happy as can be. Unfortunately, not everyone will take your advice. From here, it’s time to move on to the next project. Who knows? Maybe they’ll see the light in the future.
The bottom line is that we can’t fully control the results of a project. While it can be difficult to deal with the decisions made by others, it’s often part of the job. With experience, you’ll find that all you can really do is make your best argument for any particular situation.
Even if things don’t work out the way you hoped, you can still learn some valuable lessons. Perhaps you’ll find a way to improve your argument for future projects. Or you may learn how to better deal with certain types of personalities. So, even if a project won’t become the star of your portfolio, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still take positives from the experience.