Disagreeing with a Client: Graphic Designer Filter
September 17, 2012 8:09 AM   Subscribe

What's the best protocol to follow as a freelance graphic designer if a client requests something not possible or a graphic element that will ruin the overall composition of a given piece?

One of my clients has asked for something to be added to an infographic I've designed that after a few tries is not easily rendered and is ultimately detracting from the design overall. I am about to email off the proofs for this latest round of work and I am thinking of saying something like, "I know you were interested in having X be a part of Y. After a few rounds of designing, I've determined that X reduces the impact of Y and am concerned about readability and clarity. What other ways could we incorporate X into this phase of the project?"

Is this an appropriate way to push back? I feel very strongly that for us to continue to include this "off" element would be to create a very muddy infographic, but I don't want to offend this client (one I have a close relationship with in general). Any guidance on professionalism will be much appreciated.
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's going to depend on the client's attitude and your relationship. If I trusted my graphic designer's eye, I would really appreciate candidness - "This element doesn't work; I can put it in if you want to, but it works better without it." That's part of why I'd hire a graphic designer in the first place. But - I know some people are more sensitive than I am about this kind of thing and wouldn't want the same bluntness.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:12 AM on September 17, 2012

I'm a freelance designer of 10 years. You need to actually show them why you are arguing against it and show a version with and without the requested element and walk them through why the latter is visually preferable. It's then their decision to include it or not. Why? Because they're the client and they're paying you. Obviously, if they decide to use the one with, this piece won't be going in your book.
posted by violetk at 8:14 AM on September 17, 2012 [12 favorites]

Your feedback is appropriate. You do need to visually show them why it doesn't work, and show them an alternative. What purpose does this additional element serve? Is there a better way to achieve the same goal? It's your job to work-out these issues.

In the end, though, if the client absolutely can't live without the graphic element, you either swallow your pride and give the customer what they want, or resign the job.

If you're concerned about putting the piece in your portfolio, you can always use the version you prefer.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:19 AM on September 17, 2012

Send them the versions with and without, and say something along the lines of, "I've included the element you asked for, but while I was putting this together, I found that it seems to me like including X here reduces the impact of Y, so I'm sending along a version which has it and a version which doesn't - let me know what you think."

And yeah, explain in detail why you think the version without is preferable, and be sure to put it in terms of opinion and not fact. If they still want the crappy version, give them the crappy version. It's their money.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:25 AM on September 17, 2012

Your email is fine — professional and helpful. The main change is that I wouldn't pose the question to the client, "What other ways..." could we do this? I would offer up a couple of my own solutions to incorporate X — and show them — and then say, "Would love to discuss further and get your thoughts on this."

I agree that it's often helpful to have the less-preferred layout to be able to speak to directly and it shows you're willing to do the work as directed.

However, if it's something that's truly bad design that would reflect poorly on the client if they do choose it, I would probably not execute it and just get on the phone with the client and say, "This isn't working for the following reasons. I'm happy to execute in the way we originally discussed, but I would instead recommend some other approaches. Here are some other things we could do. What do you think?" Approach it in a positive way, like here's an exciting challenge and I have some great ideas! If this is a major part of the project, I would make it a phone call and not an email.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 8:30 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

What if including the element in the proof will take more time than is cost effective for this client? The item in question is a vectorized image that will likely take me at least 5 or 6 hours and that will delay the release of this graphic in a negative way, but its inclusion will impact the project even more negatively based on the mockups I created prior to completing the main graphic. I would have to redesign the entire graphic in order to include this element, and even then I don't think I could make it work (which is more a reflection on my own design ability, and that's fine).

I will definitely be brainstorming some alternate solutions instead of asking my client for ideas.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:02 AM on September 17, 2012

I would include the mockups I made but I've learned that this client needs stuff to look finished in order to have productive dialogues with me (she's not a visual person and needs to see things completed in order to move forward). If worse comes to worse I'll just show the mockups but I'm worried that's more unprofesssional.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:07 AM on September 17, 2012

Show the mockups. Explain to her that if she needs something not finished that it will take X hours at the cost of whatever your hourly rate is, and explain why.
posted by violetk at 10:10 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

As a buyer of graphic design services, I think the important thing to keep in mind is that what you are creating is something for business, not something for artistic purposes. So whatever you suggest, couch it in terms of business advantages and disadvantages, and don't say or do anything that makes the client feel they are dealing with someone with an artistic temperament, for example defensive about her artwork. Talk about things like impact, effectiveness, visibility, comprehensibility, etc.
posted by Dansaman at 1:02 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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