Is The Client Always Right?

The domain of business coined a saying as old as time — “the customer is always right.” This phrase, once considered the Holy Grail of client satisfaction, has morphed into a sticking point for designers. Creative professionals across various disciplines are intimately familiar with the delicate balance between their creative vision and the expectations of stakeholders. As they progress from novices to masters of their craft, they face a conundrum that tests the very essence of their work.

Being a full-time creative professional today has its own unique challenges. While securing work is undoubtedly a blessing, the clients who provide these opportunities can sometimes be quite demanding. This dynamic raises essential questions for both industry veterans and newcomers. What’s more important: a designer’s ability to effectively communicate to the user, or their ability to follow instructions? Additionally, do creators have a say in a customer centric environment?

Seeing Eye To Eye

Designers are, at their core, craftsmen guided by their unique visions and creative talents. However, they must skillfully fuse their artistic flair with the client’s practical requirements and preferences. The real hurdle is in preserving the essence of the designer’s vision while wholeheartedly respecting the client’s wishes. It’s not about right or wrong; it’s about blending both perspectives into the project without sidelining the client’s needs. This calls for finesse, boundless patience, and an exceptional aptitude for active listening, understanding not just what’s spoken but also what remains unexpressed.

When working with clients, normally the first step is comprehending their perspective. Being able to decipher their motivations and expectations allows you to do what you do best, create! This stage goes beyond a design brief; it’s about unearthing their dreams, ambitions, and desires. A client might present you with a project plan requesting a new logo for their company. However, by taking the time to understand their rationale, you might discover that their true aspiration is to rebrand and better connect with a younger, more tech-savvy audience. In this case, the project scope is the ‘what,’ but the motivation is the ‘why.’ It’s not just about creating a logo; it’s about igniting a fresh, dynamic image for their brand to thrive in the digital age.

When to Stand Firm on Design Choices

What happens when client feedback contradicts core design principles? Fundamental tenets like balance, contrast, alignment, and hierarchy, form the bedrock of effective design. Departure from these may lead to a creation that is confusing, disorienting and down right unappealing. For instance, when you’re instructed to clutter a website with excessive elements, it disrupts visual balance and harms the user experience. While this is a big no no for you, it isn’t a hill worth dying on. At the end of the day, bad designs aren’t illegal and your employers have the freedom to spend money on them.

This is where you get to develop your judgment skills. Learning how to pick your battles will benefit you over the duration of your career. Each time you opt for compromise, you’re building up trust and rapport to arrive at a synthesis with your stakeholders. In general, when you can show a history of flexibility and a willingness to find common ground, most clients are likely to be open to collaboration and finding solutions that work for everyone. It’s all about fostering assurance and cooperation.

With that being said, there are a few areas where you may need to put your foot down. For that, there isn’t a better place to get started than the onset of a project.

Project Goals

Set clear project goals at the beginning – they act as your guiding north star. They help you stay on track and remind you where to go. Beware of input that veers the project away from these targets, resulting in designs that no longer serve their purpose. For example, if a website aims for fast loading times for mobile users but the client insists on adding heavy multimedia elements that slow it down, designers should emphasize how this affects the project’s core intent.

When goals change, stay calm; it’s part of the job. Iterations are common in our field. Your role is to manage them and assess how these adjustments affect the project’s scope. This allows your client to make informed decisions. Reevaluating project objectives with your stakeholders involves understanding their preferences and ideal outcomes. Inquire about their definition of success for this assignment, and once you have that, create actionable steps to achieve those aims.


Keep an eye out for unrealistic dreams. Whenever you receive suggestions that could unreasonably impact the project’s budget, timeline, or resource allocation, shake some sense into your client (metaphorically, of course). For example, if you’re presented with a request for design revisions that inflate expenses and timelines, it’s your responsibility to adhere to the financial plan and schedule. Staying within resource limits ensures success and completion of your project.

Prevention is better than cure. With a clear project scope in place, everyone involved, from your team to your client, can better anticipate the project’s challenges, allocate resources more effectively, and reduce the likelihood of scope creep – those unexpected and uncontrolled expansions of project tasks or goals. Ideally, you’ll want to develop the scope of your project as early as possible. Knowing what you’re getting yourself into goes a long way.

Two coworkers choosing the best option of colour

Brand Identity

Brand consistency is pivotal for building recognition and trust. Some aspects of it like colors and style are flexible depending on the purpose of the design. However, If a stakeholder proposes changes that deviate significantly from pivotal parts of their brand like their logo or trademarked features, it weakens recognition and drives away customers. In such cases, be sure to explain the importance of brand consistency for the sake of your client’s market presence, as we emphasized in our discussion on project goals. There are some exceptions to this.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. For companies pivoting into different customer segments, a degree of adaptability is necessary. A great example of this is McDonald’s expanding into India. With a population of 1.4 billion people, the Indian market was too big for Ronald the clown to ignore. One of the biggest problems they faced when venturing into this territory had to do with their most iconic menu item, the Big Mac. About 80 million people don’t eat beef and on top of that, a whopping 20–39% of the country’s inhabitants are vegetarians. To succeed in a location like this, McDonald’s introduced more herbivore options and items inspired by Indian cuisine.

Designer Integrity

Creative practitioners often find themselves juggling the interests of both the client and the user. Occasionally, stakeholders might propose ideas that could negatively impact the user experience, even bordering on exploitation, which can raise moral dilemmas. It’s at points like these where your personal and professional integrity come into play. It’s important to be discerning when considering whether to work with a client whom you perceive as unethical.

Your professional integrity is the rock upon which your reputation is built. You need to be firm whenever a stakeholder’s request includes design elements that could harm users, mislead consumers, or go against established design standards. When your dedication to responsible design choices is on full display, you’ll be recognized as a trustworthy practitioner who prioritizes both the creative and principled aspects of design. If you’re looking to sharpen this facet of your skillset, our article ‘Balancing Between Creativity and Ethics’ is for you.

How To Win a Client’s Trust

Unlike the lottery, you can easily increase your odds of winning your clients trust with a few shrewd maneuvers. 
Educate and Explain. Take the time to educate clients about design principles and your creative process. This includes explaining your design choices and the reasoning behind them in a clear and accessible manner. This can be done as early as the project goals phase.

Showcase Past Work. Share your portfolio and case studies that highlight your successful projects and the positive outcomes they’ve generated. Demonstrating your track record can instill confidence in your abilities.

Understand Their Industry. Make an effort to get to know your client’s industry, business, and competition better. This shows a commitment to tailoring the design to their specific needs and market.

Provide Options. When presenting design concepts, offer clients a range of options that align with their goals and objectives. This demonstrates flexibility and a willingness to work collaboratively.

Deliver on Promises. Your clients should know they can rely on you to do what you say you’ll do. Make it a habit to always keep your word. Whether it’s meeting deadlines, sticking to the agreed budget, or delivering the quality of work you’ve committed to.

Interior designer working with young couple. Lovely family and professional designer or architector discussing conept of future interior, working with colour palette, room drawings in modern office.

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Gcinizwi Dlamini Avatar

Gcinizwi Dlamini / Content Writing Intern @ Phase

Writer, part time super-hero and mint chocolate ice cream advocate.