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The Client Is Not Always Right
Another thread on PIA clients
NYDrifter




msg:785872
 1:45 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

I am looking for suggestions on how others deal with the following scenario, the client who is adamant about making a change (or series of changes) to their site that will effect design, usability, or the overall visitor experience.

Obviously I am talking about what for us are common sense “Things Not To Do on Your Site”. Here are a few examples that I have been presented with recently.

  • Very large and long pointless Flash animations of rotating bitmap images, complete with very long music loops, that take 2 minutes to preload on a 56k connection… Did I mention that there is a new animation on every page!

  • Making the home page one large 800x400 image. (Welcome to my site, Click here to Enter)

  • Cryptic and confusing navigation methods that continuously change from page to page.

  • Oversized (+3), bold, italic, bright red text elements… in the middle of a paragraph. “To bring attention to (in their words) a key selling point”

  • Removing all sales copy, product descriptions, etc.. and just leaving a 150x150 picture of the item, with a style number, centered in the middle of the page… (you had to see this one to really appreciate it)

It amazes me how many people there are that are unhappy with their current sites, that then decide to make the time and monetary investment in a new site, will try and make the new site just as bad as the first one.

Capitulating just makes the problem worse and constant push back starts to become adversarial over time. The trump card of course is to walk from the project, but how many times can you do that before you don’t have clients anymore?

So what are your suggestions (and war stories)?

 

john_k




msg:785873
 1:59 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

Find some links to sites that ridicule stupid design and direct the client to them. Help them visualize their own site at the top of each list.

HelenDev




msg:785874
 2:06 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

LOL! Yes, that all sounds very familiar

I am continually asked to put prices in jaggedy star shaped boxes, such as you might find at your local greengrocers made out of day-glo card.

Also one of my superiors insists on 'designing' things himself in Word, using naff clip art. He then looks at me anxiously and says, "You won't change it too much will you?"

I have on several occasions wanted to ask him why he actually bothered hiring a graphic designer...

john_k




msg:785875
 2:17 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

Provide them with one or two sentence descriptions of why those are bad ideas. (sounds like you may have done this part)

Explain that it will be painful for you. It is like asking a builder to make a house with bad angles in every corner, one outlet per room, reversed plumbing, lead paint, and asbestos tiles.

Unfortunately, there are no official website building codes. And it's their money. If they want to ignore wisdom, either walk away from it, or have them sign off that they want to proceed against your advice. Make it clear that you expect new customer aquisition AND search engine rankings to plumet, and that you cannot be liable for this or other bad consequences.

As for myself, I would tell them that it would be an act of negligence if I helped them implement these types of changes.

webwoman




msg:785876
 6:35 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

I agree with John-k. Advise against it, and then do it if they insist. It's the client's money.

I had a client who *said* he wanted seo, he *said* he wanted to generate leads from the site...but he continually asked for these corny graphics, outdated klunky designs, anti-seo things, etc. I continually 'educated' him, and he would listen politely to my advice, and then promptly ask for the same thing I had just advised against.

Finally I had a heart to heart talk with him and in the course of it I discovered that the website was actually a vanity site for him. He wanted his friends and family to be able to type his name into a search engine and his site to come up first. He would never say this or admit to it, but it was clear enough to me.

Once I realized this, I gave him everything he asked for. He recommends me to all his friends and thinks I'm just the greatest - even tho his website produces little to no traffic. There comes a point where you just give the client what they want...with warnings of course.

-webwoman

tbear




msg:785877
 6:57 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

>>>Provide them with one or two sentence descriptions of why those are bad ideas.

LOL, If it were me that would be dangerous...

Joking apart, this is a problem I'm sure most of us have come up against.
I have been offered a place in a, possibly, up and coming web business venture (and I'll be paid), trouble is the programmer has made a web site. I'm supposed to SEO it, etc.
Not quite as serious as yours, NYDrifter, but it is mostly scripted with JScript links and layout, et al.
There must be a way to explain things without being rude or laughing.

johntabita




msg:785878
 7:02 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

After reading this thread, I feel fortunate. I must have some damn good clients.

I think webwoman hit the nail on the head. If you can demonstrate how these changes will actually prevent your client from getting what he wants out of this website (whatever that may be), then your problem will be solved.

digitalv




msg:785879
 7:02 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

I haven't done commercial web design for a few years but I remember turning away business simply because I refused to attach my name to something I wasn't proud of.

If the customer wants a site that sucks, let them find someone else to do it. I've NEVER put any "site designed by" crap on a customer's site but when someone asks that customer "Who designed your website?" do you really want them to tell anyone your name?

Even if the customer doesn't realize it sucks, other people will - and I don't want my name associated with it at all. Nor do I want them to refer me to their idiot friends who also want sucky pages.

webwoman




msg:785880
 7:09 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

digitalv - this is a good point. I do not show the website I referenced to prospective clients as a sample of my work, and so to that degree I guess I shouldn't have done it - but then again, where is the harm in providing what someone actually wants?

We designing requires some degree of artistic taste - some people have BAD taste... But they think they have GOOD taste and the rest of us have bad taste. Who gets to decide what is good or bad taste?

digitalv




msg:785881
 7:19 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

but then again, where is the harm in providing what someone actually wants? .... who gets to decide what is good or bad taste?

The harm comes from the fact that you're doing sloppy work - even if it's exactly what the customer wanted, your reputation as a designer is at stake if anyone ever saw it. When you come across a BAD website, do you really stop to think that the designer may be the greatest designer who ever lived but gave the customer what they wanted? Or do you say "Man, what a sucky web designer why are they even in this business? Metal note: NEVER USE THEM." :)

Who gets to decide what's good or bad taste? YOU DO. In the matrix they call it "residual self image" - the mental projection of your digital self. Heh. How do you want to look to future clients? Like that? I don't think so :)

If you're too embarassed by it to put it in your portfolio then you shouldn't do it at all.

webwoman




msg:785882
 8:26 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

Your point is well taken. Sometimes I think my efforts at tolerance need to be re-evaluated :)

NYDrifter




msg:785883
 2:56 am on Jun 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

I agree with DigitalV, the issue for me is that I take alot of pride in my work. My dear old Irish grandfather used to tell me that when ever you do a job, do it well enough so that you would be proud to sign your name to it.

Understanadably not every site can make it into the portfolio, but when you have a site that you do not even want to admit to other potential clients you even did... there in lies the issue.

Up until now, I have been following the "it's what they want" mentality. I would gently recommend that this is abad idea, cite a few examples as to why, explain how it effect the visitor experience... "You still want it? Ok, no problem... here you go 10 Flash animations that take 2 minutes each to load on 56k... have a nice day and pay me"

However, the last client who came back with a series of suggestions that included
corny graphics, outdated klunky designs, anti-seo things, etc...

I told him, in no uncertain terms. "No, I am not making those changes". Now obviously, this is not the solution I would recommend to anyone, but in this case it worked out.

Web designing requires some degree of artistic taste - some people have BAD taste... But they think they have GOOD taste and the rest of us have bad taste. Who gets to decide what is good or bad taste?

Again, I agree with the sentiment of what DigitalV said here. We are supposed to be the experts.We show off our portfolios like badges of honor, we rely heavily on client referalls, we do our best work not just for the client, but for the clients visitors, and for ourselves as well.

Maybe I am taking this way too serious and way too personal...

Jack_Hughes




msg:785884
 10:10 am on Jun 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

Whilst it is not web design, anybody who does work for somebody else will have similar issues.

I take the view that I am the advisor & the executor of the work. If the customer wants something I don't think is a good idea then I advise against it pointing out why the design isn't a good idea and suggest some better alternatives.

If they insist then I do it the way they want it. Its not nice working on things that you think are wrong. If the customer insists on messing things up to the point you don't enjoy working on it, then perhaps you need to ditch the client if you can afford it.

the only other thing to worry about is your reputation. if you don't like a site that you have produced don't tell anybody you did it, and don't put a link to your site on it either. that way you can hide your dog under the table without anybody seeing it, whilst still taking the money.

if every time the customer suggests something and he/she thinks you are resisting, then over time you will likely alianate the customer. if you believe that there is a large mismatch between what you believe to be good design, and what they think is good design, then it may be time to say goodbye.

it never seeses to amaze me how customers who know nothing about a subject, and who are not willing to put the effort into learning believe that they know better than a specialist who has spent years learning their craft.

NYDrifter




msg:785885
 11:21 am on Jun 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

it never {ceases} to amaze me how customers who know nothing about a subject, and who are not willing to put the effort into learning, believe that they know better than a specialist who has spent years learning their craft.

Exactly! I would never think to advise my clients how to build their widgets since it is not my area of expertise.

Dudermont




msg:785886
 7:39 am on Jun 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

I did some work for an architecture firm and seeing their website and what they were charged... I was amazed.
Looking at how some of it was put together I couldn't believe that a professional did the site.

So I put together a little example of what I would do with it and showed the owner. He said that it was better then what they had now... but this is just not right either. "Graphically it...." And went into a lot of things that related to buildings more then the web. (Suddenly I realized exactly why the site was like it was. I would have done some of the same things if it was me)

Then he said that he didn't know if he had the time it would take to redo the site. Were I prompty said that it might be best if we DID leave it till a later date.

Then made a mental note never to mention it Ever, in the hopes that it will not come up again.

D_Blackwell




msg:785887
 7:34 pm on Jun 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

One of my automatically included services is professional advice. I make it clear what I believe and why, and that it would be negligent in my responsibility to the client not to do so. If they won't budge on a poor decision I document all critical conerns by email, and then do the work that they want.

I am soon to receive a tutorial from a client's "good customer". I will not be allowed to touch it. It will likely be 3-5 mammoth Photoshop images, each in the 300k range. The really odd thing is that I otherwise have almost total control and discretion with this site. Must be one heck of a customer. I've done my job - now I'll do the work that he wants.

sanity




msg:785888
 7:11 am on Jun 21, 2004 (gmt 0)

If the customer wants a site that sucks, let them find someone else to do it. I've NEVER put any "site designed by" crap on a customer's site but when someone asks that customer "Who designed your website?" do you really want them to tell anyone your name?

I'm with digitaltv. If I really disagree with what a client wants and can't convince them otherwise I'd rather walk away with my reputation intact.

Kirby




msg:785889
 3:59 am on Jun 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

If I told my mechanic how to fix my car and he explained to me why it was a bad thing to do, even if I insisted, he wouldnt do it.

My doctor wouldnt write a prescription for a drug I saw advertised on TV if it wasnt appropriate for the diagnosis.

If you are a professional and know your craft, prostituting the integrity of your work is a mistake.

sanity




msg:785890
 4:16 am on Jun 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

Well said Kirby.

sazhazman




msg:785891
 4:46 am on Jun 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

I have a client who completely redesigns his 12 page site in a Word document every 2 - 3 months and tells me to "make it look exactly like this". It is pure trash and it takes me anywhere from 20 - 40 hours to make it work in all browsers. I charge my top hourly rate ($85) and he always pays within 10 days of invoice. I consider him a good customer.

When it comes to design, express your opinion, but never let your pride get in the way of building and maintaining a successful business. If you don't take the money, someone else will. Just make sure nobody tracks the site back to you.

Jack_Hughes




msg:785892
 8:27 am on Jun 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

>> If you are a professional and know your craft, prostituting the integrity of your work is a mistake.

I'd would tend to agree, but when you've got the rent to pay...

iamlost




msg:785893
 8:45 pm on Jun 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

But they think they have GOOD taste and the rest of us have bad taste. Who gets to decide what is good or bad taste?

The harm comes from the fact that you're doing sloppy work - even if it's exactly what the customer wanted, your reputation as a designer is at stake if anyone ever saw it.

There are two very different aspects to the work we do. The first is valid compatible coding so that a site is looks similar to every visitor. The second is to design that appearance. Usually we are asked to do both, but not always.

The physician analogy used in an earlier post is not applicable to web design. We are more like building architects: first: building code compliant structure that is safe to inhabit; second: facade, interior design for appearance. The first I will not compromise, the second I will propose but not dictate.

If the client wants each page to be one enormous jpeg or large vivid blue unusual font on a blinding yellow background with lots of multi-colour blinking links (both are clients!) it is my responsibilty to point out (in written memoranda signed as read by client) the reasons not to do what their heart desires. It is not my responsibility or my place to dictate their aesthetics. I think several of my clients' sites must rank among the worst dressed sites on the Web - but they validate and the clients were, and still are, thrilled.

Some clients like Reubans, some Picasso, some Pollack, some Elvis on black velvet ... that is their choice and they are entitled to it. It is their site and they get to wield the brush.

I revel in my "tacky" sites. I am pleased to show them to prospective clients. I also explain why these examples are inappropriate to the matter under discussion but that I always strive to give my clients exactly what they want.

If I limit my clients to those who share my aesthetic view I would be exhibiting hubris and intolerance and would also be unable to support the style to which I have become accustomed.

I learned long ago that the only person who can embarass me is myself and it is never fatal.

digitalv




msg:785894
 9:13 pm on Jun 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

>> If you are a professional and know your craft, prostituting the integrity of your work is a mistake.

I'd would tend to agree, but when you've got the rent to pay...

Perhaps the reason you're renting instead of owning is because people haven't picked up the phone to call you after seeing one of your lesser-quality designs? No insult intended of course, but any business that produces garbage is going to have a much harder time than one who produces quality EVERY time.

A long time ago I used to run a Corvette restoration shop. Often times people would bring in their vehicles and want extra bells & whistles on top of the restoration, crap like non-factory rims, ground effects, spoilers, wide tail pipes, DVD players, etc. Stuff that I consider tacky and doesn't belong on a classic vette. Sure there are some people out there that like that garbage, but you can be damn sure that *I* wasn't going to be the one to give it to them. I could care less if someone else got the business - let them get the business and the bad reputation that goes along with it.

The majority of my business came from Corvette enthusiasts and people who appreciate classic cars. If I started turning out Corvettes with that type of junk on it, I would have lost business by turning off the majority of my customers - the people who wanted quality work. I usually turned a profit of around $20,000 per vehicle, so it REALLY sucked to have to turn anyone away - but at the same time I know that if I didn't what I lost down the road would be far greater. When I sold that company, it had an outstanding reputation for doing quality work - which of course affected the sale price in a very positive way. I have no doubt that it wouldn't have had that reputation had I taken every job that came in.

I have a client who completely redesigns his 12 page site in a Word document every 2 - 3 months and tells me to "make it look exactly like this". It is pure trash and it takes me anywhere from 20 - 40 hours to make it work in all browsers. I charge my top hourly rate ($85) and he always pays within 10 days of invoice. I consider him a good customer.

When it comes to design, express your opinion, but never let your pride get in the way of building and maintaining a successful business. If you don't take the money, someone else will. Just make sure nobody tracks the site back to you.

Making sure nobody tracks it back to you is the hard part because people talk. When I would see a restored Corvette I didn't bother asking which shop restored it, how much it cost, etc. because I didn't care - I could do that myself. I'm sure you probably think the same way about web design - but your CUSTOMERS don't. If a non-designer wants a site, they're going to ask their friends who have websites who designed it. If one of their friends has a crappy site, guess which designer they're NOT going to call.

I revel in my "tacky" sites. I am pleased to show them to prospective clients. I also explain why these examples are inappropriate to the matter under discussion but that I always strive to give my clients exactly what they want.

Heh I thought that was a clever way to handle bad design, but the problem with it is still that people may see the site and never call - thus never giving you the chance to tell them you KNOW it sucks.

iamlost




msg:785895
 9:45 pm on Jun 22, 2004 (gmt 0)

the problem with it is still that people may see the site and never call - thus never giving you the chance to tell them you KNOW it sucks.

Perhaps. I do track clients and referrals and have seen no statistical difference between "nice" and "tacky" client referrals - perhaps clients only hang with others of similar taste. I am as busy as I can be and still have a life (does hanging out at WebmasterWorld constitute a life?).

There are many and varied reasons to run away from clients; aesthetics is the least of them.

digitalv: I understand your position and think we agree more than our comments might suggest. You believe reputation suffers more than I do by encouraging such antics. I believe my reputation is actually enhanced.

Ah well ... have to agree to disagree.

MichaelBluejay




msg:785896
 10:50 pm on Jun 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

The problem in explaining why lots of animation is a bad idea is the same problem you have in explaining why riding a motorcycle blindfolded and handcuffed is a bad idea: The fact that it's a bad idea SHOULD be blindingly obvious. If it's NOT blindingly obvious, then how the hell do you convince someone who has precious little grasp of common sense otherwise?

Your argument has to be *extra* persuasive to these people. When I got into the discount design business I found that almost every customer *demanded* bad design. Rather than wearing myself out like a broken record saying the same things over and over again, I wrote a lengthy report about it. But the focus of the report wasn't on "what is bad design", it was "what are things that will keep your website from being successful"? The report is lengthy and written to inspire confidence that I know what I'm talking about. I think it's more trustworthy than some other article I could point the customer to on the web, and besides, my message is extremely focused on what I want to communicate. Finally, customers only get to access this report with a special password once they've signed up with me. That makes the info seem more important. People often don't see the value in free advice. Well, my advice is still free, but I make it seem like it's private and special.

Here's the opening of the report (don't bother searching Google, it's not public):
---
Successful Websites
by Michael Bluejay, ©2002-04

Most small business websites fail to live up to their potential. Small companies tend to make at least a few mistakes with their sites, and those mistakes translate into lost sales. But these mistakes usually aren't obvious to business owners because they can't see or measure their lost sales -- until they improve their websites and then see their sales improve. In this report we'll explore common problems with websites and how to fix them.

Poor design isn't just one thing, it's a whole host of things. Any one of these problems can kill your site, or at least reduce its selling power:

1. Unprofessional Appearance
2. Poor Usability
3. Low search engine rankings

A common mistake is to focus on only one or two of these and to neglect the rest. But truly successful sites must excel in all areas. Here's how any one element can ruin the site....

jo1ene




msg:785897
 11:05 pm on Jun 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

>>If you're too embarassed by it to put it in your >>portfolio then you shouldn't do it at all.

Or just don't put it in your portfolio, if it's that bad.

I have one of these. I had a horizotally arranged navigation area which was melded with their "fruit motif". They insisted that the fruit run up and down the left-hand side. Try explaining that it makes the navbar look stupid, the fruit looks out of place, repeating with seams and the content is no longer centered!

It dosn't look hideous but it looked AWESOME the way I had it, if I do say so myself. Overall they were good clients. They had their content all organized and paid on time. In the thumbnails for my portfolio, I have their site the way I did it, originally. Oh well.

sazhazman




msg:785898
 2:41 am on Jun 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

>>"If a non-designer wants a site, they're going to ask their friends who have websites who designed it. If one of their friends has a crappy site, guess which designer they're NOT going to call."

There are plenty of fish in the ocean. Word of mouth always helps, but you can't build a business by that alone. If I lost the existing customer that I previously described, it would be a significant loss. For 3 years in a row, I've billed him over $15,000/year.

Keep in mind it is easier (and cheaper) to keep an existing customer than to find a new one. My ego takes a back seat when it comes to running a profitable business

I will continue to produce his garbage with a smile on my face, and take his money to my bank (why should I give it to someone else?), and keep my name off his site..

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