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How graphic designers should tackle difficult clients

Isn’t it just frustrating to hear blunt criticism after weeks of toiling and sweating over a design project? You may be thinking “all the trouble I’ve been through and this is what I get?” But dread not, as criticism is normal and graphic designers are prone to criticism from their clients. And why not? After all, it is the client’s right to express their opinions. But sometimes, client criticism can be harsh, severe and at times downright fuzzy.

Right from my very first client, I have encountered about dozens of clients who just love to criticize just for the sake of it. But these are the provoking things that even a logo guru should be responsive of in his career. One must always remember the maxim “client is always right”; and if he isn’t …there are ways of making him understand.


1. Keep it cool – Don’t lose it:

The first and the foremost thing that graphic designer need to make sure is to stay calm while handling client criticism. Graphic designers need to realize that clients are paying for their work and would demand the best possible result. Hence, when faced with design criticism, never lose your cool and stay focused on the project rather than disputes.


2. Talk less – Listen more:

Every client wants to be heard. Whenever clients toss out criticism on designers, it is because they want their requirements to be perfectly heard. The best way to handle clients with fussy approach is to listen more and speak less. Hear out what your client wants to convey to you and then clarify your position.


3. Cut the jargons - Be simple and sweet:

Graphic designers must always remember that their clients may not be graphic designers themselves. Hence it is useless using tough graphic design jargons with them. We may think that using terminologies and graphic design lingos may impress the clients, but it is not always the case. Many clients are layman when it comes to graphic designing and might not like hearing difficult terms such as “filtering”, “saturation”, “Rendering”. Always try to use simple words and try to make sure the client understands.


4. Less attitude -more aptitude:

Often when graphic designers finish with a project, they feel a sense of pride in the completion. This develops an “I can’t be wrong” attitude within the graphic designer. After showing the design to the client, designers believe they cannot be erroneous and thus head out for a clash of words with the client. One must always remember when dealing with client criticism, that aptitude is more important than attitude. You can never battle criticism with a sore attitude. To persuade the client, aptitude is more useful than attitude.


5. Use your head, not heart:

The golden principle of handling design criticism is not to take any reproach personally. Graphic designers must remember that the client relationship is a strictly professional one and taking things personally is not a healthy thing to do. When encountering cynicism, designers should use their head more than their hearts.


6. Avoid blame game:

Playing blame games always lead to aggravating the matter. When a client points out a mistake, graphic designers should acknowledge it rather than blaming the clients for it. This in turn will ignite a blame game and intensify matters even more. So whatever you do, avoid the blame game.


Although I know that my post is inclined towards graphic designers but I also acknowledge the fact that many clients are bullied by their designers. That is why I plan to come up with a reciprocal post catering the problems that client face with designers. Do share your thoughts on this one.


  1. Justin On April 26th, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Criticism is aprt of this buniess. Ideas get shot down every day. If you’re a professional, the you should accept critique and move on. One thing I ahve found is to get very specific on thigns early on in the design process…find out what colros the clietn does and doesnt like, nail down thigns early on. I don;t use alot of jargon in speaking with a client, but you do have to explain to them why you do what you do and why some things work and why some thigns won’t. I am sure we ahve all presented clients solutions only to ahve them tells us how great it is and how wonderful it is and then say, “But…”

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  1. finkmag On April 26th, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Soo True.. Good

  1. Dan Hollis On April 26th, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    This is a very well executed, well written article. The truth is: Professional must always be separated from personal, and catering to the client is key.

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  1. indoor cycling shoes On April 27th, 2010 at 8:49 am

    Some great points.

    To be a graphic designer is thogh job.

    From my expierence: don’t ever work with other type designers. I mean, if you are a web designer, try to avoid of creating a web site for interior designer! They will always have their vision and it will be almost impossibe to finish the site for them, because web design and interior design is two different niches and they will always say what to do, because they feel that they are better design experts than you.

    I also like 5. Use your head, not heart: tip.

    If you are sincere person - it is very hard to work with cliens. You have to be like a robot. That’s the only way to work.

  1. Naf On April 29th, 2010 at 5:56 am

    A few valid points but, I’m really not sure the “client IS always right”…
    With the event of the home computer everyone thinks they are a designer even more the ever. I have a spanner at home but don’t consider myself a mechanic, and would never tell a mechanic he/she should mend my car a different way, or “try doing it like this”…..
    Yes, we should always try and meet the clients brief (and deliver more actually), but no, we shouldn’t just bow to everything our clients say is right. WE are professionals, WE have trained for years, WE have got the experience, and most of us know what we are talking about.

  1. Tareq Samman On April 30th, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Super! simple and effective. I have been using those methods (kind of) except some times I lose it!! hopefully!

    Thanks for sharing keep the good work.

  1. Kathleen On May 5th, 2010 at 1:00 am

    Great post! Love the tips! I find that when I set the expectations upfront (as much as possible) before I begin a project, my clients deal fairly with me. Also, I don’t take criticism personally, after all, I’m working to satisfy the client.

  1. Pixel Princess On May 7th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Some very valid points on the article and some from other’s posting comments. Once in a while, you’re going to come across a “problem child” and you’re going to come across clients where it’s VERY hard to pull their thoughts out of their head for a Thorough and Solid “design brief.” Many are always rushed. I have heard quite a few times, “I don’t know what I want - but I know it’s not THAT (as they point to your first round or two or three of your drafts, as you constantly try to pull their thoughts out of their heads). So many people cannot articulate their thoughts the right way. Only once in a while will I get a client to show me samples of other things they like and want to incorporate into their own products/projects. I do take my work personal, and it’s something that I always need to work on. But, I refuse to have my name associated with ugly junk that a client demanded I create and is completely wrong for what it’s intended use is for. I feel it’s a waste of their money and an insult to them and their company.

  1. Lou Storiale On May 11th, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Love the blog post. Excellently done - too often there are emotions that run wild. I thank my lucky stars my designer doesn’t often make these mistakes - although i often do. LOL

  1. David Dylan On May 12th, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Great post.

    Criticism often also leads to another bane in the life of designers; going beyond the brief. When do you do it? When don’t you? Do you charge extra? Etc. I wrote something about that, and I had to share since many things I say, you say. (Only you do it better, I think. Less verbose.) ;-)

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  1. Jhon Frank On June 25th, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Very good techniques to handle difficult clients hope it’s useful for all graphic designers

  1. AC On July 21st, 2010 at 5:12 am

    I’ve just faced a brash and rude client who I almost thought I’ve learnt to deal with over a period of time after we worked on a couple of projects together.
    Working without any advance from her and just buying the “you know me”..’i’ll pay you’..’i’m awaiting my payments too’.from the cliient, put me in a soup!..
    I ws overly patient with her untill she totally ticked me off one day.
    She wasnt the direct client, was an event person or so..
    So yea..was as unorganised as someone could be!..and completely unprofessional ( i know I’m wrong to say that after being so unprofessional as to begin work without an advance!!I regret it soo much!)
    But after having wrked with her over a couple of projects- (with delayed payments most of the times..bounced cheques..etc.) she called up once again and wanted me to finsih off a certain logo wrked upon by another designer and left incomplete ( i can completely understand why tht designer must’ve left it half done now!)
    So her meeting ws the very next day with tht client who’s logo ws left incomplete n in her desperation she wantd me to touch it up…pleading..begging everything..I finally agreed to touch it up..using her locked pdf file!..I saved her ass with whatever i cd design her n wrked on war footage leaving aside all other projects n now its been 4 mnths and above n I’m only chasing her for the payment.!(..she believes it ws hardly smthin..!!(though i had clearly mentioned the price before taking up the project)
    In another instance with the same client she suddenly shows up from nowhere and pleads me to complete a sudden project on a tight timeline.
    I sent her the details of what files I must have before we begin. Halfway through it n she wasnt even reay with her final text and we were using dummy text …the logo wasnt there and she expected me to get in touch with her clients company to get their logo!!I mean how idiotic was she!!..when the project was nearing complletion she was fuming and fussing under pressure from the client to make sure it is delivered on time…Being unable to deal with that pressure..she throws all her frustration on the designer..expects me to take it saying ” a designer is in a service industry”..”they neeed to be hospitable and generous to the clinet even if they verbally abuse them” n she was verbally abusing me!! ! This was the end.
    All my hours of patient talking with her collapsed.She had pushed it..realy pushed her limits and tried a lil too much of my patience…I was at ugliest best and dint spare the woman any more chances to cross the limit..n when the momment was superly heated her BLAME GAME BEGAN!!
    I dont see any reason why in such a situation must i keep quiet n listen to the client..If deadlines are followed and the client falters I dont see any reason to hesitate to make it clear..Because the one who wins the blame game ..takes the cake..Had I not stood up for myself and argued with the client she was more than willing to want to pay me less for delayed project delivery despite it all being her fault.!..
    Iif you see an evil streak in your client..DONT GIVE UP!!..FIGHT IT OUT! and make sure you dont get run down by sm frustrated person looking for a freelance designer who can take all the punches they want you to in the name of “your profession demands this..n that”

    Phew!..Thanks for reading..Please help!

  1. justliekthat On September 14th, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    @ AC - that is great, yes we should fight it out & get paid what we worked for

  1. T On September 16th, 2010 at 10:26 am

    This article is total crap. Until the world acknowledges Graphic Design as a legitimate profession, we will be looking at shitty design everywhere around us. All of them because of the client’s lack of understanding in what works and what doesn’t.

    If a client wants a weak hired drawing man to ride, hire your “talented” nephew who took high school computer arts. This article insults me deeply and should be removed so that gullible designers fresh out of school don’t lose their self-respect.

  1. Paul On October 25th, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    @ T, it’s a fine line to be walked with pushing a client to do what’s right and “good” and delivering what they want (at times very much the “un-good”).

    Sometimes compromises need to be made at the time on a small issue, in hopes of further building trust with the client so the next time a bad direction is being discussed they’ll listen to your advice.

  1. T On January 24th, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Paul I get that. Many times a client’s “ignorance” towards our job is simply the result of never having worked with one. Those people usually warm up to the process and become good clients.

    On the other hand, there’s as@#$%es who constantly keep trying to exploit, lowball and even undermine the profession. Usually as a result of an inferiority complex, almost always from them having a bulls**t job (*cough*…concierge…*cough*). Those are what I call difficult clients. Toxic, toxic.

    As you can see I’m a big time bigot but holy hell am I respectful with my ‘good’ clients. After going through a few no-pay dissappearos, I value the good ones that much more.

    Not sure if I make sense? Yes? No? Sometimes passion impairs my grammar…

  1. Streamlinedbiz On November 14th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    I thought I’d help mine out by listing what I expect them to know - My list is a lot tamer than yours though

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