Negotiating Creative Decisions with Clients Gracefully


At its best, design is a collaboration between the client and the designer. A crucial part of our design process is to understand the client, including their needs, their position in the industry and their target audience, in order to produce messaging that best positions the company to succeed. We listen to the client, and use our design expertise to produce effective marketing that we think will work based on our experience.

But sometimes a client requests a change we disagree with, or disagree with one of ours.

Whenever possible it would be best to show why you are arguing for or against a change, showing the client different versions, and walking them through why you advocate for your position.

It’s important to realize that clients are suggesting changes to make things better, and sometimes their suggestions are on-point, but there has to be a logic to the change. Major design changes, however, should be aimed at solving a problem. Before agreeing on making a change that seems wrong, it’s good to ask the client why they want to make the change. “This isn’t an attempt to be difficult, but it does sometimes challenge clients to make decisions on more than just a whim,” Zach Dunn of design firm One Mighty Roar and Robin wrote. “If you consistently make revisions without cause, you risk losing consistency of overall user experience and efficiency.”,

Robert Bowen in a Smashing Magazine blog post also mentions that it’s important for designers to explain the rationale behind their decisions. “We owe it to our creative work to argue for whatever serves the design beyond all else, even though the client is footing the bill. We may end up having to give in to the client, but at least we tried.”

Sagi Haviv of Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv makes the great observation that design decisions shouldn’t be taken personally. “It’s not about what one likes or dislikes, it’s about what works.”

At the end of the day, the design decisions we’re making with the client are not about personal taste and subjective preferences, but rather about the strategy you’re producing to drive value to the organization.

We hope this perspective on the designer-client relationship  gives you some insights that you can apply to your line of business. Let us know in the comments if you tips on negotiating creative decisions.

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