Presenting your design ideas to a client can be daunting.
And do you know what? That feeling never goes away.
To this day, I sometimes get a little nervous when showing my client a website design for the first time.
There’s always a little voice in the back of my mind telling me that I’ve overlooked something, or that my work isn’t good enough.
Thankfully, in most cases this little voice remains in my head, and rarely do clients take issue with my work.
But problems have occurred in the past, so what can you do when a client doesn’t like your work? How do you respond when a client comes back with changes that you weren’t expecting?
Let’s take a look at some top tips for handling a client when they reject your design.
Tip #1: Be enthusiastic! 🤩
I have written previously about how important it is to walk your client through your design. Never send off your work in an email and hope for the best. This opens the floodgates to questions and potentially negative feedback.
Here is something I have learnt about showing clients your work: it doesn’t matter how good your work is, your client will respond to how you make them feel. Objectivity unfortunately has little power here, because creative design is often considered subjective.
It might sound surprising but technically excellent work can fail to impress if you sound bored or lacking in confidence when you present your ideas. Conversely, mediocre work can go down really well if you seem excited about it! Humans, eh.
So the first tool in your box for responding to a client who doesn’t like your work is by being super enthusiastic about it in the first place.
Not only can enthusiasm inspire, it can help to buffer any negative feedback from your client.
Tip #2: Be open to hearing their ideas
As creative designers we sometimes like to think that we have all the answers.
But in many situations, I have listened to client feedback and discovered that their ideas are not just valid, they have vastly improved the end product.
So during a design show and tell, don’t get defensive.
It’s perfectly acceptable — and expected — to explain your thinking but if the client team disagrees with you it’s important not to get upset. Instead, take a breath and listen to what they have to say.
When a client doesn’t like your work, the job is not to convince them that you’re right, but to respond professionally and work with their feedback. This involves:
- Being professional: don’t be rude or tell them their ideas are stupid or wrong
- Working to understand the underlying issue: if a client “doesn’t like the colour” try to figure out what is driving this feeling
- Not simply doing as you’re told: the quickest way to send a design straight to hell is to simple do what your client wants. Instead, take on board their ideas and then use your own creative skills to make them work. Clients bring the problem, not the solution (that’s your job).
How you respond when your ideas are reject is what separates the professionals from the amateurs. Lower-skilled designers would likely capitulate to their client’s whims. Experienced professionals understand that feedback is part of the job.
Tip #3: Assess the damage
When a client comes back with changes to your intended design, it can be demoralising and frustrating. The more feedback you have to deal with, and the less-pleased your client is, will impact on how you feel.
At this point is important to assess the damage.
What I mean by this is two things: firstly, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Try to keep in mind that feedback is not personal. Your client simply wants the best outcome, just like you. You’re on the same team. Take a deep breath and then breathe out those feelings of negativity and defeat, and roll up your sleeves once again.
The next task is to assess what work needs to be done. If the client wants to significantly change the design, don’t be afraid to have an open and honest dialog about time and cost.
Certainly, don’t bury your head in the sand and continue to work overtime without having the conversation. Remember: you haven’t made a mistake, you are simply experiencing creative differences, and if more time and space is needed to air out these differences, you should charge for that time. You are a professional and your time is important.
Make it clear to your client that you are willing to work through their ideas and change requests and evolve the design into something that you’re both happy with, but that this time will need to be paid for.
Rejection is a learning experience
To summarise, I think it’s important to underline the fact that when a client doesn’t like your work or keeps rejecting your designs, you have a golden opportunity to gain some fantastic experience. Working through rejection brings the following benefits:
- Your communication skills will grow, as you learn to deal with unsatisfied clients and uncomfortable situations
- Your confidence will grow, as you realise you can handle tough clients and negotiate unexpected requests
- You design skills will improve, as you learn from your clients add their good ideas to your own repertoire.
So you see? When a client doesn’t like your work the situation does not need to be as disastrous as it might seem at first. Every cloud has a silver lining. Use it, learn from it, and become a better designer as a result.