Welcome to WebmasterWorld Guest from

Forum Moderators: LifeinAsia & httpwebwitch

Message Too Old, No Replies

Customer is always right?

How to deal with requests for bad design



2:12 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

We are on this really disturbing roll lately. We design something amazing for a client, custom, flash with 14 years of experience brought into it, well below what they should be paying for such a design thanks to the economy, and they come back with an example site they'd prefer that is something they could get from verizon websites! We simply can't design that BAD! I know the customer is always right. But, here is our dilema:

1. we have one designer - thus, one style.
2. we dont use templates - everything is custom built for their specific line of work.
3. we refuse to give something bad to the client - our name is at stake.

we're targeting small businesses, and im seriously going to take a huge U-turn to target entertainment or media industries since our look is much for flashy and artistic. seems small businesses only want verizon supersites. its appauling!

any advice on who to target and how to target the RIGHT customer? its a strange predicament.. we're too good for our clients. they actually want something worse.

appreciate any and all feedback. Thanks!


2:53 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator buckworks is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Be careful how you define "good" and "bad" here. It would depend on the goals of the site. Something that's stunningly elegant to a designer's eye can sometimes be a dud in terms of business effectiveness.

Sites that are artistic and creative often don't close nearly as many SALES as plain-vanilla pages do... partly because buyers don't respond as well, and partly because such pages often don't get ranked in the search engines as well so there's fewer visitors in the first place.

One of the biggest problems I've seen online -- in the world of sales, at least -- is people shooting themselves in the foot with web pages that try to be toooooo creative. (Slow page loading time is often the first and biggest culprit.)

Your thoughts about targeting entertainment or media are worth exploring, because design techniques that are counterproductive for direct sales might work well in that niche, where the measure of effectiveness is different.


2:56 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

It is always easier to keep a client happy than to get a new one.


3:07 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Sounds like you're possibly trying to market
a Corvette to someone who wants and needs a cargo van.

No question, a vette is a good looking and powerful ride, but if a H2O-4U bottle man needs a cargo van to haul around 30 5gallon jugs to his customer base every day, a Corvette would be a waste of money, no matter how snazzy and powerful
it is.

Looking great while moving one bottle at a time would generally not be a good business decision for such a customer.


3:07 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

yeah, no offense intended on the good or bad comment. I was simply referring to experience and education versus joe teenager who has no formal, design background.

SEO is not our goal. Our nitch is customization, flash - but not "flashy", slow-loading, monstrous sites. we basically build flash very much like an HTML site. We prefer it. Our clients dont really know what seo is, let alone the difference between HTML and flash.

We've done what the client wants, only to almost loose our client because it looked so bad. He was upset we didn't advise him elsewise, as he said he hired us to be professionals and give him direction. We saved that relationship, luckily, and see our role as not robots, but as professional consultants who are hired for our brain. We advise, and request written sign-off if a client wants something that is against our better design judgement.


3:09 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tigger is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

As gingerbreadman said, unfortunately the client is always right they are paying the bill

I've just had to re-build a site template as the client wanted animated gif's and a really stupid navigation, but it's his site not mine needless to say I have no links pointing to me


3:19 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Let clients learn from their own mistakes. Give them advice. Let them make their own decisions. Keep them happy.

In 6 months time, if the sites doesn't work you can tell them it is because it looks ****. I told you so feels so nice. End result, you have kept the client happy and may get more work from them(or their network of friends/collegues/clients).

Or in 6 months time the sites that looks bad has worked wonders. I'll bet the client knows their market better than you do. If that is the case, then they'll have money to redesign it. End result, you have kept the client happy and may get more work from them (or their network of friends/collegues/clients).

Or tell them their design ideas are ***, build them what they don't want/don't need and end up with a client that won't pay. End result, you hate them, they hate you, you don't have the money to take it to court. Waste 6 months with no testimonial or referalls.

I get more sales through client testimonials rather than my ability to design. We can all design.

Sorry for the rant. Blame the Kronenbourg.

[edited by: eelixduppy at 7:58 pm (utc) on Feb. 18, 2009]


3:30 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Haha! Good one ginger. But, what do you put on your portfolio? We're like, dang, not another one that we have to hide from the world!

I'm thinking maybe something in the middle for now. But, am I idealistic to think maybe there is a market for precisely what we do? I mean, the clients we've retained adore us, brag, and receive compliments for the amazing site they have. Since we don't seek web design world dominance, could there possibly be a perfect little market out there of people who are looking for exactly what we deliver?

I'm thinking the err is on the marketing side. We're not targeting the right clients. I'd love to build a little buzz - a cult desire for our style. Ya know? But, how to go about it? Does anyone else think this way? Pay your dues in the beginning of entrepreneurship with junk jobs, and work your way up to the point of being able to turn some clients down.


3:31 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator martinibuster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

It's true. Cutting edge flash presentations and great designs rarely have a place in a business setting.

Think about it. A brokerage house: It's not full of hip young twenty-nothings balancing I-books on their knees. It's glaze eyed employees with humps on their back from a lifetime of leaning over their calculators. Their clients are senior citizens with Hundreds of thousands of dollars that need to be cultivated like bunnies. Do these clients care about a flashy site? Nope. In fact, visit the Morgan Stanley web site and you'll see a bunch of senior citizens all over the page, with the occasional and barely noticeable flash in the background.

A Real Estate Office: The clients: Me. I don't want no stinking flash. I don't care about the nice design. Show me the houses. I want to see houses with cheap price tags. And where's the phone number so I can call the real estate person? It better be handy dandy on every mother-luvin' page.

The design should not call attention to itself. It shouldn't be ugly, but it shouldn't be too pretty. The design and function for a great many business sites should resemble a butler who melts into the background. They give you a spot of port to tuck you in at night, then quietly slip out.

A functional business site should rarely call attention to itself. It shouldn't look like Cher, Versace, or Dame Edna.

In many cases, it should function like a maid or a butler. In general we're not creating something that makes a statement. We're creating a vehicle that is going to help a business move units.


3:41 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

this is where we customize - a real estate site, i agree, should offer info right away. however, a broadway play should be entertaining. we develop each site for the target audience at hand. our designs arent flashy or snazzy.. they are simply well designed. liken it to a home-drawn brochure compared to an ad agency annual report. our business sites are business sites.. but they are GOOD design, clean navigation, and minimal scrolling. We follow the web design accessibility and usability best practice rules. clients would rather have something their brother threw together in front page or microsoft word for that matter.

our issue is simply design quality, flash hatred aside :), since I know many hate flash and this is not the complaint we receive. in fact, our clients simply love flash. we dont use flash how most do.. we use it like an html site - no intros etc at all. they want long, scrolling pages and links that you cant find and pixilated photos and intricate, complex logos that are SO against design 101, let alone are unreadable on a business card.


3:42 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

What was that thing they told us in the first year...form and function?

Some of the 'best' sites I've created may not look pretty but the sure work pretty!


6:49 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Sounds like you might want to make a better assessment of your customer/client. I can usually tell who is going to fall in that category which I like to call "bad tasters". In that situation I generally design with function in mind. I tend to worry less about the look and make sure that I pick some nice color combination.

Undead Hunter

8:28 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hi Lisa:

I'd tend to agree with your own assessment: that you're targetting the wrong group of people.

What I'd like is an answer to this growing paradox:

The more complicated the site is, the more detailed the proposal needs to be. But in order to gather that info, we need to do a lot of work "for free" on the assumption it will move forward.

Because if we don't get all the details together, we suffer scope creep as the client changes his/her/their minds.

Did you show them a mock-up of a Flash site first? Or did you take their ideas and built it? How did you get where you are?

This happened to us yesterday - only 'cause it was a family friend, but we scoped out all the answers to the problems posed to us in an initial meeting, taking 2 days to do the mock-ups and solve the problems. We showed it off, it resonated perfectly, but when we came to the price, despite the client hinting around at it, the client said it was 3x more than the budget in their head.

It's not that they *can't* afford it. They don't yet see the value themselves. But am I supposed to convince them of that? Heck no - 'cause then it's all about me "fooling them" into doing the right thing, versus them truly appreciating the value of our work. Which is easy enough to do if they'd pick up the phone and call some other firms.

So what did I tell the client? Truthfully, it took 1/3 of the projected budget just to answer all the questions we did.

SO - how can WE handle this in the future?

Should we maybe start from an intial meeting to a consulting fee before we do any work? I'm at a loss as how to proceed in the future.


9:01 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I totally see your point! I realized the issue with our two biggest complainers (and customer losses) were on their end. They simply did not research OUR company enough before they made the decision to use us. We are clearly custom-oriented, non-template, flash design based.

We refuse to do mock-ups. We should have enough examples on our site and that we can offer to give them an idea of our style. We offer reasonable revisions and certainly bend over backwards to meet their needs, so I really don't see why they often insist on mock-ups. Were we to do mock-ups for every prospect, we'd never have time to devote to paying clients. There are issues with the time involved as well as the possibility of prospects stealing our creative ideas and going to a cheaper design firm. When creativity is the product you offer, where is the line drawn? Does H&R block do mock tax returns before their clients sign the contract? Do directors do mock movies before they're signed to do a film? Do plumbers do mock toilot installations before a customer decides to use them?

I also understand your issues with convincing them they need a site. Its not a designer's role to determine their marketing strategy.

They come to us typically with no ideas whatsoever. They'll either be a start-up with no logo or branding or an established business just finally making the money to afford a site. Then, amazingly, once they see the design, they are miraculously filled with artistic visions which are sometimes the opposite of what we created for them. We don't mind fine-tuning here and there. But, once a site is built, having had no input on their preference for, say -- professional, progressive, technical, whimsical, youth-oriented, baby-boomer oriented, etc. -- having to completely scrap the design and start from scratch is just not practical on a small, $1k site.

I simply respond now with, 'A complete redesign of the existing draft can be done, but would require additional fees.' Then they freak about going over budget. If they want 3 different designs to choose from, they need to pay for 3 different web sites. We don't work for free, nor do we sell templates.

The problem seems to be in their lack of understanding about their market and business in the first place. We are designers, not their marketing department. If their web site fails, that is not our issue. We're not here to market their site, nor are we trained in this area. Nor can we make their strategic, business, marketing decisions for them. We leave that to their CEO or owner. Our long-term clients understand that.

*off soapbox* = )


9:31 pm on Feb 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Should we maybe start from an intial meeting to a consulting fee before we do any work?

That's the direction we've been going. Although there are still exceptions, I'd say at least 70% of our contracts now begin as paid consultants doing what we call a "feasability study" or "web market research". We need to be paid for our time and knowledge, which we use studying the market segment and doing the keyword research. These are steps we must take in order to create design mock-ups or a formal presentation.

For their consulting fee, the client gets valuable information which they can always use, even if they decide to go with a different developer - such as the president's nephew ;)

We just got tired of having our brains picked. Heck, we realized that we can even offer an "informational interview" for a fee - a legitimized brain picking session!

It also helps us make sure that we are a good fit with the client before we enter into a full contract. That's been a hard learned lesson, but we are getting the hang of it. Those initial consulting periods are very useful, and either party can walk away from a further deal without creating an upset for the other.

Undead Hunter

4:29 pm on Feb 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Say, Lisa:

Re-reading your post again this morning, and I have to think problem here is... what are you doing selling *custom* flash sites for $1k in the first place? Even in a "down market"?

I mean, AIGA/Aquent lists the *lowest* average for a senior designer (you two have 14 years experience between you, right? 7 each or so, definitely senior) as $42,000 a year.

With two of you working, that's $84,000 a year - add on a very, very bare minimum of 50% to that to cover expenses, health insurance, and god forbid some small amount of profit - and your company needs to be a minimum of $126,000 a year for you to equal what the two of you could be making elsewhere in the marketplace - let alone growing your business. Again, these are just minimum numbers.

That's about $11,500 a month for 11 months, giving you 4 weeks vacation time. At your above rates, you need to be knocking off 11 - 12 clients per month.

Now remember - with a 2 partner firm, the best you can do in terms of billable hours is have the business development partner with 3 of 8 hours (the other 5 should be for finding work), and the other partner could work as much as 5 of 8 - so a total of about 40 hours billable per week out of a potential 80, *on average* is pretty good.

So that's 160 billable hours per month. With 11 clients per month, you need to be able to do build, test, show off, fix up, and launch EACH SITE in 14 hours or less...including meeting time, driving time, etc. etc.

Are you doing that?
Can you do that?

IF you *didn't* sell custom sites, you'd have half a chance of doing it. Now you see why people work from templates. And why its still difficult for them to earn a decent living.

The whole point of this is to make you realize that if you charged much higher rates, or *never* took those small jobs - having a $4,000 per job minimum, let's say - then you'd only need to 2 or 3 per month. Leaving around 50 hours for each job, which is much more reasonable.

AND here's the kicker: with $4,000 per job, you could come in with a mock-up, and afford to do a redesign.

In any case, what I'd recommend is to do a Photoshop mock-up first, no Flash animation. It still shows your creativity, but is much easier to change and less expensive.

If you're still concerned about whether your designs are "worth it" on the market - please sticky me with some samples, and in turn I'll send you to a few places where I know what the costs of developing were... and I think you'll quickly start looking for bigger clients.


4:47 pm on Feb 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yes, I completely agree with you. Actually, the designer has 14 years herself, I am the writing half charging $45 per hour. We seem to do okay sharing reciprocal clients, as many businesses need both. A greater share of their pocketbook type situation.

The issue is, WHERE do we find these larger clients? We are certainly eating a lot of spaghetti and make, seriously, 1k a month if we're lucky, barely covering our expenses. So, its difficult to market ourselves on such a low revenue, let alone build a larger client base.

We've used free, HTML email methods (highly becoming the greatest evil on the net), wasteful postcard mailings with minimal to no response ratio, and elance to build business. As everyone knows, competing on elance can be likened to living in a third-world country.

Any advice on getting into the right market is highly appreciated. Please do stickey me with your stat sources. I'd love to read it all. I mean, I do know art is doomed to poverty. But, I'd like to think we're just paying our dues and will skyrocket one day - soon?

We were charging hourly, $75 per hour, and lost $1,600 from a client who insisted his custom, flash web design could NOT have taken 8 hours. And, if it had, thats a sure sign we are completely incompetent and inexperienced. I felt flat package rates would alleviate this type of problem.

Where do I find the companies with money?



5:08 pm on Feb 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator martinibuster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month


As they say, "It's who you know."

Undead Hunter

5:21 pm on Feb 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hi Lisa:

Hey, been there, thankfully got past it - so its very do-able. You might as well as be working at McDonalds - at least you'd know where your next cheque was coming from.

Art is doomed to poverty - but work on changing your thinking, make it business vs. art, and things will change.

The bit about losing money with the client - probably could have been resolved upfront with a quote & contract + 50% of the money down. That's why we're in the paradox right now of doing more extensive contracts, to avoid similar issues on these bigger clients.

As I mentioned in another thread - yes, by all means "hide" the hourly rate in a larger quote. I never found it helpful, no matter what the size of the client.

Howeve, in the low ranges there are clients who will quite literally pray on you and your insecurities, keeping you down. And why not? It's often how they got where they are: Had 2 or 3 myself in my first year, and the experience was enough to almost turn me away from the business. Comes with the territory - because $1,600 to a client like that might as well be $16,000. They simply won't recognize the innate value, and there's no convincing them otherwise... because that means they are "losing", and these people do NOT like to lose.

(Side note: Before you read any "sales manuals" - read books on human psychology, they're even more helpful!)

As to where to find these larger clients: I read on another thread here to multiply your average cost x 300 - 500, and that's the annual gross revenue of the companies you should be looking at. That works well for us. So - If you want $4k projects, start by cold-calling companies in your area with minimum revenues of $1.2 million - $2 million. Ask for the "person in charge of putting up their website content" or "their marketing manager" if they have a site. Don't get sent to the tech department...

And forget the mid-sized furniture store owner, start-up business, Mom-and-Pop business, etc. - unless you've got an inexpensive package deal ready to "slap up", AND they provide all the text, etc. Hem them in with rigorous contracts specifying penalities for late delivery of materials and checking the site out. By NO MEANS leave those out 'cause the folks are "nice". If they're really respectful of you, they'll happily come about. If not, hurry up and move on to the next person. If you do target these folks remember there's 16.4 million of them...there's always somebody else. Always.

Meanwhile I'll sticky you for more info - frankly you've got me eager to see your work...


7:38 pm on Feb 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

This phrase 'The customer is always right' is not complete! The next part is 'but you must know your customer'


8:33 pm on Feb 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

A. The customer is not always right. I think I am still stumbling over the term 'bad'. Do you mean the customer wants a neon green flashing logo in all four corners of the page? If that is the case, you could politely tell him you'll do what they want, but many people find sites like that annoying. Maybe even quote a statistic or two that shows that. Something the customer can't argue with.

B. Your charges should depend on the customer. Let's take corporations for example. Large corporations marketing departments have huge amounts of money to work with: several million dollars.

One such corporate client wondered what was wrong with a company who said they could make an entire site for $5,000. The site was only 8 pages, and the designers didn't have to do any graphics work or copywriting: just code. The corporation assumed that since the design company was charging so little, they didn't know what they were doing, and refused to work with them. The corporation ended up choosing a design company who charged them $50,000 because they felt safer that the client could do the job.

You work with Mom and Pops, who don't have millions of dollars to spend. These type of shops won't tend to spend money no matter what you do, so you might want to change who you are going after and try for medium sized businesses. That way, you know they are good for the money you charge, AND you can charge what you are worth.

Do some research: call around with the specs of sites you have created and see what you woudl be charged by other design agencies. I think you will be surprised at the money you are leaving on the table.

BTW: Welcome to Webmaster World.


8:59 pm on Feb 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Thanks - This is wonderful advice and encouragement! I originally thought wrapping our arms around a lot of little companies would be profitable simply due to the demand for quality providers in this market and the quantity of small businesses out there. We also don't care to put all our eggs in one basket, having both faced one too many lay-offs and issues involved in that sort of thing.

Its definitely time to reevaluate our audience, though! Luckily we won't have to change costly print ads or marketing collateral - just our ever-evolving web site.

Ya gotta love the web. ;)

Undead Hunter

10:09 pm on Feb 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hi Grnidone:

Similar thing happened to us, as I mentioned elsewhere: we were told to double our rate or this company wouldn't take us seriously. The company had gross revenues of about $80 million a year. Do you know the gross revenues of the company you mentioned? Can you give us any hints as to how to contact those companies? Or what industries to target, etc.?

It occurs to me the customer isn't always right, but whether they listen often depends on how you present yourself, too.

When we started, I used to give a samples, asking people "what they liked". I thought I was giving them choice and making sure they were satisfied but I was really undercutting my own expertise and the design. Invariably my samples would lead to even more samples, expanding out instead of expanding down. And no, I didn't get any more money for extra designs or samples or edits, I lost it.

Now we design just one sample, but explain the reasons why we did things in this way. When you give people reasons why something looks the way it does, they automatically talk in terms of the look you provide, and not something completely different... Assuming you're designing to things they've agreed on in the first place. That makes the first meeting, and agreements you reach there, very important.


10:54 pm on Feb 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

We've done what the client wants, only to almost loose our client because it looked so bad. He was upset we didn't advise him elsewise, as he said he hired us to be professionals and give him direction.

Ugh. I've had that conversation more times than I care to remember. It's a no win situation. If you tell them "No" up front, they walk away. If you don't, they come back unhappy.

I guess that's just the price you play when you're dealing with small businesses. There's usually one person making all the decisions, and they don't always make the right ones.

The best you can do is just try to educate them on what works, what doesn't, and why. Push them as far as you can towards the more professional site, then hope for the best.

More often than not, they'll thank you in the long run for steering towards a better design.


12:31 am on Feb 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Although there are still exceptions, I'd say at least 70% of our contracts now begin as paid consultants doing what we call a "feasability study" or "web market research". We need to be paid for our time and knowledge, which we use studying the market segment and doing the keyword research.

Great thread!

Tedster: this is something I've been toying with lately. Can I ask you - do you charge a fixed fee up front or just bill for time spent?


1:05 am on Feb 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Just as a follow-up, this client decided to have her husband design a site with quick books web design tools since he's been fiddling around with the computer a bit.

I guess you can't win for loosing. Anyone need a great, flash, retro-looking landscaping/horticulture company web site design? = }


7:02 am on Feb 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


They'll be back. Make sure they come back to you when they do.

Good Luck


Featured Threads

Hot Threads This Week

Hot Threads This Month