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Helping the client tactfully?

When all their ideas are just bad bad bad...



3:25 am on Aug 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

(A little background: I've done a few websites for small businesses, typically pretty small sites, although it's not my company's focus...yet. This is the first where I actually get to do a more complicated site with a CMS. :D)

I've done a site redesign with minimal content, now the content is flowing in from the site owners. Thankfully I do only have one person sending me content so design-by-committee isn't an issue.

What do you do when all the "ideas" are bad? For example, the logo they have is fine, but I was sent an image that was...well, hideous...and they want me to replace the logo with a new one. I don't do graphics well but even I could do better than this! I suggested a great graphic designer I know to them if they don't like the one they have. It was dismissed.

Other issues as well...mostly surrounding adding very badly modified stock art, images that aren't relative to the content, and too many images.

Lastly, although they are a company that sells a tangible product, they seem to insist on having "about us" type content on the front page.

I'm really having trouble steering them in the right direction.


4:00 am on Aug 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I've usually couched my recommendations with "research" to back up my position. I've had a few clients who absolutely refuse to take my suggestions (which makes no sense, because that's why they chose me in the first place).

Here's a quick example of the types of information I provide:

Naming guidelines:
General best-practice naming guidelines for website domains
Sources: (1) WebmasterWorld.com/domain_names/ - Top Domain Naming Tips, (2) Example.com/naming/ - "Here's How to Name a Site," and (3) Example2.com/expert/ - "Listen to Your Consultant, You Pack of Idiots":
  • Use the -.com extension unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise
  • Do not use hyphens unless necessary they are hard for users to remember, and difficult to relay in person (imagine if WebmasterWorld were hyphenated: "that's 'w' 'e' 'b' 'hyphen' 'w' 'e' 'b' 'm' 'a' 's' 't' 'e' 'r' 'hypen' 'w' 'o' 'r' 'l' 'd' 'dot' 'com' ...")
  • Make it as meaningful (or keyword-specific) as possible
  • Keep it as short as possible

That way, I have a reliable source (or three) to provide extra weight to my already-incredible advice.

Of course, the burden is on you to do the extra legwork - but I've found it much easier to get the right things done.

I had a client's WIFE contact me today via email and question some decisions. My response backed up my decisions point-by-point, and her reply was, "Thank you for clearing that up!"

Well worth the time.


2:44 pm on Aug 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

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

but I was sent an image that was...well, hideous...

Interpretation of colors, graphics, and visuals is one of the most difficult things to argue. One man's (or woman's) work of art is another's appalling wall splat. When dealing with customers, you have to realize that the art may or may not have come from a beloved genius savant daughter, son, or relative who is the creator's gift to the world.

As in Hawkgirl's explanation, the only argument you can *safely* pose here is basis in factual documentation: color theory, legibility, association, W3C color/contrast recommendations. "Because it's ugly" will get you a fast track to the door.

Sometimes you will get "I don't know art, but I know what I like," in any case; graphics, layout, design. "I want it to be alive, add some animations, it shouldn't just sit there." In these cases, you just have to make your recommendations and back out: "He/she who has the gold makes the rules."

The justification here, if you know your field and know the value of your work, is that you offered your services, and when they call you in a year blaming you for no web site sales and no visitors, you have documentation of your recommendations that were ignored because they heard what they wanted to hear.

Lastly, although they are a company that sells a tangible product, they seem to insist on having "about us" type content on the front page.

"Do you want to make sales?"

"Of course we do."

"Understand that people come to your site looking for something, hopefully your product. If they don't see that they can find what they are looking for within three seconds, they are gone and will never return. The job of your main page is to hook them in. If they are looking for widgets, they don't care who you are, how long you've been in business, how important you are in the industry, all they care about is finding their widget. Do you want to risk losing them because you feel company history is more important than hooking them in?"

Reactions to this range from surprise and acceptance to complete rejection: "I know my customers and I know what they like," in which case you tried and they need to learn the hard way.

I've done a few websites...

One last bit of advice: center yourself. You (rhetoric you, or I !) are not the creator's gift to the Internet either; always consider your design and artistic contributions are important, but not the most important thing. This is a hard pill for designers and developers to swallow. Making a site successful does not rely on design alone; people don't come to ooh and awe at graphics, they come to solve a problem. Too often projects get hung up over design when design is not the problem. Examples to demonstrate my point are this site or craigslist.org: successful beyond expectations and minimal designs. It's not always about design, so don't hold on to this too closely.


5:36 pm on Aug 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I think there are two ways to tackle this.

1)Only do what only you can do best. As said above 'centre yourself'. You were hired to implement a CMS. It is one part of a website, which is one part of a web strategy which is one part of a business strategy. Make the best job of that small part.

2)Direct/Lead the client. Appoint your designer and invoice the client rather than 'suggesting one'. You need to be in a position of having board level respect and authority to do this. Maybe after proving yourself with a few projects


8:08 pm on Aug 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

The key to remember is make the client happy. An old adage often forgotten "the customer is always right".

One client of mine asked me to create a design that was pretty bad and at first I was trying to argue the point using facts and researched documentation. I could have bantered back and forth and gotten nowhere or did what I did, which was doing what they wanted. It is hard sometimes but because of my decision to just do what they asked whether I liked it or not, has gotten me a lot more work from this particular client.

If you tag your designs when your finished with a small designed by or something similar just leave it off if you don't agree with the final product.

Good luck.


2:43 pm on Aug 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for all the feedback. :)

I definitely like the idea of backing up my advice with research.

Ultimately I want the client to be happy, so that's the real goal. It certainly won't be a portfolio site, but I'll do my best to make sure they get the best quality I can deliver while still meeting their needs.


8:07 pm on Aug 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I want the client to be happy, so that's the real goal.

Feel good that that is reasonably possible. If it's bad, but they will like it without a problem - okay. If it is bad and maybe they will recognize it when they see it - then project creep and pleasing people that can't be pleased become issues. Better to pass on the project in that event. Once neck deep.....


4:08 am on Aug 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Better to pass on the project in that event.

Absolutely. You don't want your name, reputation or time spent on something that won't work in the long run. Even if they're happy now, because they're directing you, they won't be happy when their monkey site goes nowhere.


8:24 pm on Aug 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

@Hawkgirl and @D_Blackwell -- you're so right. I take pride in what I do, and I certainly don't want something horribly cannibalized from the original design and discussion. Especially if I feel the quality is seriously lacking. Even if I don't have a "designed by" link on it, my name is still attached to it by reputation.

It's certainly a delicate balance. The next two weeks or so will be a good test for me. :)


8:43 pm on Aug 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

You consult. Hear their requests. You propose a solution. You listen to their comments. You respond with either a contract or decline. Once you take the contract, you do as those initial consultations suggest... but have all those in writing as well so that when the fit hits the shan you are CYA.

OCCASIONALLY the headstrong client comes around all by themselves during the build process. Those are infrequent and are the ones you want to cultivate!


8:43 pm on Aug 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

it would be nice to have a dual-level credit:

Designed By: xyz Designer
Design Compromised By: xyz Client

Would make reviewing portfolios with prospective clients so much easier!


9:00 pm on Aug 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

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

Sometimes without being rude you have to point out that you are in fact the expert, and that they are not only paying you to do the work, but they are paying you for your expert opinion.

You wouldn't let them host the site from their garage with dial-up? Would you?

Give them your expert opinion, if they choose not to take it then that is up to them.

Hawkgirl already pointed this out but back-up your expert opinion with some research.

When I worked for a development house it was the one thing that was driven into us...

You are the expert, they hired us for our expertise, give it to them.


3:14 am on Aug 30, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

If you have the time, and the client is using the site to generate leads/e-commerce sales, run an A/B test with Google Website Optimizer. In the end, your clients goal is to make sales and stay in business, so it'd be hard to argue against your design if converts more visitors into customers.

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