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Ugly Design: Is the Client Always Right?
IntegrityWebDev




msg:4296135
 1:38 pm on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

This may be better suited in the graphics forum but I'm going to try it here. Admins, feel free to move if you think it would be better there.

I've been doing web development for quite a few years and full time for nearly 5 years now and my focus is small businesses and small ministries. I am geared more toward programming but I have some decent artistic ability and vision and even more importantly I know my limits...I know when I need to call in a graphic designer to help me out.

From time to time I deal with a problem that I know many of you have dealt with and I know people have been dealing with since way before the Interwebs was ever around...

The client who who wants an ugly design.

I've dealt with clients who wanted everything from hideous, unreadble color schemes to clients who insisted on many animated smiley faces on their professional business page.

Right now I'm dealing with a middle-age lady who has a ministry website geared toward women in the 30-60 yr old range. I gave her a suggested font based graphic for her site in a soothing shade of pink that was feminine yet easily readable and went well with a tasteful graphic she had purchased of a dancer sillhoutette in shades of pink and purple.

The client has come back and stated she would like her font to be either Times New Roman or preferably Monotype Corsiva and she wants all the letters different colors. Sigh...

I'm going to create several mockups including those I think would work and those she thinks she wants and ask her to ask her friends and family...ultimately I will go with whatever she decides, but this brings me to my questions.

Q) How do you deal with clients that make poor design requests? I know art is subjective but we also know what looks dated and may detract from a finish product in the eyes of the audience that will be viewing the product.

Q) How much do you push and what tactics do you use to get the client to go your direction over theirs?

Q) Have you ever dropped a project because their design requirements were just to ugly or outdated?

Q) If a client insists, what are some tactics you've used to "soften the blow" on the look of the site?

Just curious how others are handling things like this.

Thanks,
Chris

 

rocknbil




msg:4296251
 4:31 pm on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)


Direct answers:
Q) How do you deal with clients that make poor design requests? I know art is subjective but we also know what looks dated and may detract from a finish product in the eyes of the audience that will be viewing the product.

- Here's a shocking blow for you: the actual visitors? They don't care what your web site looks like. Really, they don't. Only "designers" and "site owners" care about "how it looks." (there are some visual elements that are needed, but these follow function, not in the way most people assess "how it looks.") All they care about is finding their stuff. See Web Pages That Suck [webpagesthatsuck.com] - it's true. So how do I deal with them? Swallow my ego and make it work.

Q) How much do you push and what tactics do you use to get the client to go your direction over theirs?

- I don't. "You can't change people, all you can do is change how you react to them." - my wife. Here is what I offer, if it doesn't help you and you don't see the value in it, we can't do business together. (But this would never happen in respect to "design.")

Q) Have you ever dropped a project because their design requirements were just to ugly or outdated?

- That would be silly. Design, IMO, is the least important part (see below.)

Q) If a client insists, what are some tactics you've used to "soften the blow" on the look of the site?

- Admit that it's my ego that needs to knock back a peg, it's not about me, it's about the business of making web sites work, no matter what I think of the "design."

---------

You really need to take yourself out of the equation and assume a more objective view. It's a hard thing to do.

Start with this: What do **you** want out of this relationship? Do you want a "pretty" web site for your portfolio, or do you want to build a web site that will be of some advantage to the customer?

Right now you're probably thinking, WTH, how could an ugly design be effective? There are many examples out there, it's not the design, it's what it does. Start with Craiglist.org.

In the same way, you can **work** outside of yourself by making the site work the best way possible, and none of this has to do with the ugliness of the design. IMO, design is the least important thing of all, maybe even irrelevant. It's the ease of use and how well it solves the customer's problems, this is what makes it work.

I have a working example of this last week. From a series of designs, the client and sales rep picked one that is a putrefying combination of baby poo green and doggie doo brown, the entire design cries poo poo. Toss in what I like to call Stupid Web Tricks, things like transparent overlays (and make sure the text is legible laying over those high res <cough> images), lightbox effects, three columns across the bottom that can never align because they want to cram too much text that no one will ever read in there, a rotating slide show on the main page, an RSS feed they'll never maintain, and other fun stuff. As if that weren't bad enough, it was to be framed up in a CMS that is "supposed to work" on a Windows server but is generally only seen in the wild on Linux servers.

All of these . . . are challenges. Get past the putrid color scheme, get past the environment issues, build a site that will do well in the search engines with keyword rich URL's, a CMS that will allow them to maintain their site without a lick of HTML, one that will respond to their users well. Check, check, check, check.

It's in review this week, they think it's the hottest thing since sliced bread, and every.single.comment relates to "it **looks** really good.

No it doesn't. It's a poo-fest. But it's going to do really well, their customers will be able to find them, contact them, solve their problems . . . for all the reasons they are not mentioning. And that is the Holy Grail right there, not the design.

Does that help?

caribguy




msg:4296294
 5:35 pm on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Yes, they're all experts. One of the reasons I've pretty much given up on doing sites for SMB clients.

One lesson I've learned: document everything in advance in your proposal and contract, explain your design and functionality considerations in progress documents. Don't forget to tell them in advance that each 'tweak' will cost them money.

You're definitely not alone: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell [theoatmeal.com]

IntegrityWebDev




msg:4296321
 6:24 pm on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Let me back up and punt just a wee bit here with a few things I wasn't either clear on or that i want to add to the conversation so far.

1) In the end the client is paying me money so if they want Monotype Corsiva in a rainbow pattern, I explain why that may not be the best choice, and they insist, they will get it. I've never dropped a client over what I would consider a poor design choice. I reread my post and realize it may come off as me having a bit of an ego and I really don't feel I do. I will give the client something they will be happy with...if I can make it look good based on what I have seen working in other places and feel, by experience, is the right path, I will do that. If they insist to have it their way (and some have), I will do it.

2) One thing I meant to ask is this: This woman wants this rainbow of color in a dated looking font for her header. She is aimed at women in her same demographic. So, who is to say that she is right or wrong? If it appeals to her, wouldn't it probably appeal to others in her demographic. I meant to include that for some discussion.

Now, having said that I do not agree that design does not matter to any great degree. You used Craigslist as an example. I hear that one a lot, but personally I don't think its a fair assessment. Craigslist doesn't have any reason to really have a lot of flair. They are a "gateway" for other info they aren't trying to push an agenda or make a sale. Eye candy wouldn't really have much of a place there. Also the fact they are, for the most part, a niche unto themselves, they can design how they please.

Too many studies have been done on how color, shapes, look and feel affect us. It is true that presenting information is by far, vastly far, more important than "the look"...but I guarantee that if you put up 2 sites that have identical layouts but one has a few more visual elements to it (fonts colors etc) that the styled one will get longer visits and more return visits than the other.

Either way though I do value all views here, they are great food for thought. Hopefully many more will chime in.

jecasc




msg:4296397
 8:35 pm on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

I have been on the other side: Graphic designers who made designs that looked good, but didn't keep in mind that the website was about earning money. Creating "shopping cart" buttons that "didn't disturb the layout". Yeah right. That's what a customer wants when he is shopping. "I couldn't buy anything because I didn't find any buttons - but compliments to the graphic department very nice layout."
Or graphic designers that hid all the adspace where it wouldn't distract the users. There is nothing worse than a graphic designer who thinks he is creating a piece of art and not a website with the purpose of earning money.

All in all - try to explain to the customer why you think it would be better different - but also listen to his arguments. After all it's his website and he might have reasons too. And if you can't talk him out of ugly things, try to make sure that his website will work despite of this as best as you can. After all people do not visit websites to experience art, but to get to information quickly. And this can work on ugly websites, too.

koan




msg:4296435
 9:16 pm on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

If a client insists, what are some tactics you've used to "soften the blow" on the look of the site?


I would say that the site, in its current state, will not appear in your portfolio because you do not feel it looks professional enough. So you keep working on the contract but you have firmly maintained your position. She can't say she wasn't warned when other people say it looks cheap.

piatkow




msg:4296746
 9:15 am on Apr 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

If the user gets carried away with design features you do need to ensure that the site remains compliant with any laws and best practice regarding accessibility.

jalarie




msg:4296913
 2:24 pm on Apr 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

Q) Have you ever dropped a project because their design requirements were just to ugly or outdated?

A client wanted bright flashing red on a deep blue background. I objected that this is the number one example often quoted as bad and that such a flashing color combination has been shown to cause epileptic seasures. My boss insisted that the client is always right. I told her that, if she insisted further, I'd quit and see her in court. She and the client worked it out somehow and the page came out a much nicer color combination.

rocknbil




msg:4296970
 4:46 pm on Apr 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

Craigslist is a good example in the extreme, agreed, but it strips the point to the core: don't allow your opposition to a design cloud your development vision. It's easy to do.

There are thousands of other examples out there. Look at this site. Compare it with the thousands of other VB, PHPBB, ad drenched graphic intensive bulletin board clones out there. They are all much prettier (sorry Brett. :-) ) But they're not all that valuable . . . are they? Do you prefer to work with them because they are pretty? I don't . . . and find them mostly annoying.

When you have this conflict of interest, it's not a compromise, you're not backing down on principle. Focus on what's important for you, for this client . . . . the design really isn't important in the big picture.

Of course, you could take a big gamble and show the link caribguy posted (love that page, it's so true.) Problem with that is the client has a 90% probability of taking it personally, which leaves a 10% chance of knocking some sense into them (this article lacks citation and references) :-)

An aside - something I've learned over the years with clients, because people are just people . . .

. . . so if they want Monotype Corsiva in a rainbow pattern, I explain why that may not be the best choice, and they insist, they will get it. . . .


The view from the client is that you're being "difficult." I've done this many times - in retrospect, probably too many times. "Every idea I have is like an argument with you. I'm paying you, why can't you just do what I want?" Recognizing this about people helps you to "pick your battles" - the instance you mentioned wouldn't be worth the effort for me. :-)

ciol




msg:4297510
 12:42 pm on Apr 14, 2011 (gmt 0)
Client Servicing is the toughest task to execute. I have come across this situation previously in my professional life. For those clients who are ready to listen to your suggestions about the design as a industry expert, you can help them out by suggesting the right things. But, if they are stubborn and not ready to listen to you and they stick to their mindset, then never suggest anything to them, just serve what they ask for or else the relation will worsen.
caribguy




msg:4298826
 9:46 am on Apr 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

The view from the client is that you're being "difficult."
Yellow warning light just lit up. Invoice is on the way.

I know a tiny bit about cars, and would not dream of telling my mechanic how to fix a problem. Why is it that everybody believes that they 'know' design?

My mantra is: tell me what you want to accomplish and I will make it so. My promise to a client is that I will listen closely to their ideas and translate it into something that works for them. Unless the client 'lives' on the web (like I do), they have no business second guessing my expert opinion.

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