Designers are passionate people. When you put your time, effort and energy into a project you’re bound to get attached to it, and all of a sudden your design has become your ‘baby.’ And nobody has the right to call your baby ‘ugly,’ right?

Unfortunately, in working with clients that’s not quite the case. You have to choose your battles, carefully and intelligently. Find out when and how you should stand up for your design, and when it’s better to do something the client asks.

1. Keep your cool

Kyle May on Flickr

No matter the circumstances, respect is the number one rule that applies everywhere — not just in design work. If you have a hot head and you sometimes act impulsively when it comes to criticism, then you need to do what you can to avoid any situations that might put you on the spot. Take 30 minutes before you respond to your client, and you’re more likely to have a productive conversation.

I find a break is well needed especially when a client:

  • Asks for a different concept altogether
  • Requests un-quoted work
  • Delays a payment
  • Doesn’t give you feedback for quite some time
  • Rejects your design

You can’t have dream clients all the time, so it’s up to you as a designer to be prepared to handle tight situations with calm and respect.

2. Pick your battles

Photography: Linda Tanner

Your job is to create an amazing design that well represents the client’s wants and needs. You interpret their ideas and produce a design the best you can, but in the end you can only anticipate what might actually work based on your experience. So what the client really wants is something you’ll hope to fulfill, but is something that doesn’t always happen — particularly in first drafts.

You’re a professional and you’ve been doing this for years, so presumably you know what does and doesn’t work in design. Yet that doesn’t entitle you to overrule your client’s wishes — remember that you’re his collaborator but not his business partner. I suggest you don’t fight the client if:

  • He or she has good faith and explains his or her wishes
  • You don’t fully grasp the industry of his or her business
  • You didn’t properly prepare a list of requirements before you got started (ask for a complete brief, wireframes, etc.)
  • You can reuse parts of the design drafts in another project

I’m not saying you should be a push-over. Far from it. But what I do suggest is that you remember what you’ve been hired for, and what’s in play for you here. Most of the time our ego gets the best of us and we find ourselves in difficult positions over nothing.

3. Explain your work

Photography: Brady

Like I said before, you’re a professional. If you’ve been doing this for years and you’ve successfully completed lots of design projects, then your advice should be listened to. The tricky thing to getting your knowledge heard is to explain everything in a simple and humble fashion. Being arrogant is one of the worst things you can do in a situation where the client isn’t fully happy with your work. Before you stand up for your design you have to consider several things:

  • Are you being objective or are you acting impulsively?
  • Did you meet all the requirements in the brief?
  • Do you have a sufficient explanation for your decisions?

If you find you’ve carefully calculated your reaction, you’ve done everything that was asked for in the brief and you can explain your decisions, then it’s time to stand up for your work. Sketch out your main points on why your design is what the client ask for, and then expand them into short ideas that can be understood even by your grandmother. Don’t go too technical and don’t try to pull rank by waving around your years of experience, just try and reason with your client.


The bottom line in fighting for your design isn’t great: rarely can you change your client’s mind. The outcome is usually one of three: you fold and do what he asks, you revise your design, or you refuse to put your name on something that doesn’t meet your level of quality, thus leaving the project.

To tell you the truth I still fight for my designs from time to time, when I consider it warranted. I’ve even left a few projects because I wasn’t happy with the outcome, yet during everything I remained respectful and didn’t resort to any verbal abuse, insults or anything that doesn’t have its place in freelancing work. It’s up to you to prepare everything in advance so you can avoid bad situations.

How do you deal with client disputes?