8 Things Designers Should Teach Their Clients


When starting as a designer, you might encounter some issues along the way, especially in the relationships you develop with your clients. This happens mainly because the clients quite often have the wrong  idea of what we actually do and think that “anybody can design a website”. In their opinion it is as easy as opening Photoshop and drawing something, then writing three lines of code and there you go, you have developed a website.

We all know the reality of is totally different, but until we explain this to our clients, they will not start understanding us and will not value our work any more than they currently do.

The way of improving their opinion is trying to give teach them different lessons, either by telling them directly or by letting them understand through your collaboration. However, it is more likely to help if you do it before signing a contract, because your working relationship will change and will be clear to them from the beginning. This way you can set some expectations and they will better understand who they’re collaborating with.

1. You are an artist, not a laborer

It is good to start with this one. Explain to them from the beginning that what you do is called creative work. Tell them designers need talent, skills and experience to be able to deliver highly-rated products. Like any other kind of tradesperson, designers/artists know how to do their jobs. Nobody tells doctors how to do their jobs and this is because people know that their doctor knows much more than they do about their health. It should be the same with designers. Just because clients know that blue and red make purple or what an anchor or container is, doesn’t make them experts.

Tell your clients that regardless of what they may think, design is not easy, that’s the best designers are paid to make it look easy. Explain to them that even though you accept feedback (we will talk about this a bit more down the road), you are the expert and you’ll only do what you believe is better for the final product, even if they may disagree with you.

Image by toomas

This happens mostly with freelance designers. If you work in a studio, you will most likely be left to do the job the way you want it. The situation changes for freelancers, however. Clients think that because you’re a freelancer and don’t have an office or work 9-5 Monday to Friday (which many of them do, by the way), you are not a professional. Tell your client that you have working hours like everybody else and don’t allow him to call you at 10:30 at night asking for a one final small adjustment before the flyers go to print the next morning. By setting these boundaries clients will also be more cautious and will think twice before calling you too often or outside of your office hours.

2. You are the expert, not them

This is a huge one and I tell you this because there have been many times that a client has called me and told me how to do my job. The bottom line is that you know the web better than they do and they should not doubt that. They shouldn’t come and give you lessons about social media, usability and design, because you already know those – and most likely he or she doesn’t know them better than you.

Many people think that just because they know how to open Illustrator or made a nice wedding invitation in Microsoft Word once that they are designers. Establish from the beginning who is the expert, but be careful about how you tell people this, you don’t want to sound harsh or arrogant. How you can handle your clients depends on so many things that I can’t tell you how to properly explain this to them, but here are some ideas:

  • Try to explain all the reasons behind the major decisions you make. By hearing that you did something with a clear purpose they will realize you know what you are doing.
  • Showing data or research to support things you say is very powerful. Google this and use it if you can, clients will always believe in your solution when they will see that many other people do.
  • You could also use books, design rules and principles or even academic discussions or files to show that the way you do things is industry standard (or truly ground breaking and different).
  • The power of example is very useful if you know how to use it; show your clients other important web sites using the same technique or principles. By showing him that “big players” use it, he will ask for it himself.
Image by sachyn

There might be some other stuff you could use, such as showing up on time to client meetings, dressing appropriately, being organized, writing professional and well-thought e-mails and, obviously, meeting deadlines. The most important is to be taken seriously by the client and you can’t do this if you don’t follow these simple rules.

3. Feedback is taken into consideration, impositions are not accepted

This is another important one, especially when everybody thinks they can be a designer. Feedback should always be accepted and considered, because others might have better ideas. They might also have some ideas that will improve the final results. Moreover, if the web page you make heads in a direction that the client doesn’t want, this is not really good for your reputation, so always accept feedback.

There is a clear difference between feedback and imposition. If a client starts giving you guidelines and ideas on how to do everything, you should stop him and explain that you know what you’re doing. Assure him of the fact that the final result is going to be actually better than the one he wants, because you are the expert, as mentioned above.

However, it is a really difficult to explain your clients, so take care about not being too harsh. Take some time in the beginning to listen to their questions and answer them as accurately and precisely as you can. Most of the clients will feel that their need to be involved in the project is lower once you have a talk with them about it. Explain in the beginning that you would like feedback from him up until the deadline, but you will be the one who makes the final decision.

4. Communication is crucial

It is very important to have a good relationship with your client during the project and also after it. Therefore try to maintain close contact with the client while you work together. This is also important because it is the only way you can find out what your client thinks and wants. Don’t just show up after three weeks with the final product done for delivery. Even if you respect the deadline and work within the budget, the client might still not be happy because he was not involved in the development process at all.

Image by YOdesigner

Many clients tend to be too involved in their projects so many designers try to stay away and only show up on the delivery date with the project, charge the money and leave. This is rather likely to end your relationship on neutral terms and the client will never come back to you for more work.

If you involve the client a bit, he will feel that he is part of the project and that he is the one who makes the decisions – although we know it is not like that. Explaining from the beginning or better yet specifying in the contract that you will ask for client meetings a few times is a good idea to make the client feel he will be part of the development process more than he actually is. Including clients usually means they have a great appreciation for the work you do as they see it develop from basic idea to final product.

5. Web is not print

There is a general misconception out there that web and print are very similar. Well, they’re not and we know it, but how do we explain this to our clients that are mostly familiar with print? They might want a web site that looks like a brochure – while you don’t. It is important to take the time and explain to your clients that the web is very different from print (even though I think we can all agree that until you know the difference it’s easy to understand why people think they’re almost the same) and there are different rules. We just decided upon who is the expert, so why not show you are one and educate your clients? You don’t need to read them a whole design book, just explain some basic principles and provide examples – clients will be more than happy to accept you as the expert when you show them and act like you are one.

6. “One small final change” does not exist

If you have even the smallest bit of experience you’ve heard this quote already. Another problem is that this usually comes at the last minute before the deadline and it affects the whole process, including the probability of you meeting the deadline. Even the simple process of changing a color might be complicated, because you need to go back and re-export the files, change the stylesheet and even make general design changes to complement the new set of colors.

In my opinion one the most important clauses you need to stipulate in a contract is the revision clause. Explain to the client in detail that for every change from one point in time on, he will have to pay extra. Allow them one or two revisions (depending on the size of the project) and charge money from then on. They will think twice before calling you with four hours before the deadline with a small, minor final change.

7. Set reasonable deadlines

We know that all the clients want the product as fast as possible, but some clients don’t understand the time it can take for even a simple website (for example our first lesson) and set difficult or impossible deadlines. Explain to them that a web site can’t be designed, developed and deployed in two days and don’t sign the contract if the deadline is not reasonable. It’s better to avoid these clients than work for them and not get paid, or get paid less because you didn’t deliver by their difficult deadline.

This is not easy to explain either, but you can actually come with a schedule draft and explain to the client what will you use each hour for. There is a high probability that he will understand. Another tip is to never deliver a schedule draft that you think is just enough for that kind of project. “Just enough” is never enough. Double or triple the time you think you need – the client doesn’t know how much the design phase takes anyway. Now I’m not saying to scam the clients into paying you more than you work for, but you need to make sure you have enough time for those minor, small changes and for the emergencies you might encounter.

Another good thing about setting such a deadline is that clients will always be happy to get the product earlier than expected. I always say: “Under promise, but always over deliver.” This makes clients think you worked more on their project than you should have and they will be happy to pay you at the end of the collaboration and even hire you again some time soon.

8. The contract is not just for fun

We’re not playing the designer – client game. This is serious business and the contract you sign with the client has to be respected. It is important to have a strong contract, but regardless of what kind of deal it is, always turn back to it if needed. Moreover, tell the client from the beginning that the contract is important and you want it to be respected. He will actually get a good impression about you and will see that you are serious and professional about what you do.

To give you some ideas about what should the contract include I made a list for you, as it follows:

  • Client meetings
  • Work hours
  • Contact hours
  • Milestones
  • Licensing (who owns the product at the end of the project)
  • Budget
  • Payment rules
  • Revising rule

This is not everything, but those are some of the most important clauses you want to include in a contract with a client.

Keep in mind that this tip is not about having a contract (we shouldn’t even talk about this), but about revising it together with the client. Make sure he knows what’s written there. Nobody reads contracts nowadays, especially with banks, car rentals and many, many others. Therefore keep it short and force the client into revising it by being there when he signs it.

Bottom line

Being a designer or developer is not easy and I am not saying this only because of the amount of skills you need, but because you need to work with people and they are always different. You will never have two clients or projects that are the same. Challenges and difficulties in communicating with them always appear and it’s up to you to solve them. It is not easy to stand up to someone who pays you, but it is worth doing. They will respect you more after you do it and most of them will just accept the rules. Don’t be afraid to share these lessons with your clients, only be aware of how you do it.

Have you encountered these issues with your clients? How did you solve them, or you just worked without working anything out?



  1. my remarks:
    1. “You are an artist, not a laborer” – you tell clients THAT, they’ll use their “artistic talent” and tell YOU what THEY think is right. plus, they’ll regard your work as something that can be done in minutes, because (with so many examples of arrogant, careless and/or starving artists) that’s how people in general view those who work with art. also, they’ll tend to undervalue you, seeming as so many “artists” have a “real job” on the side.
    2. “Google this and use it if you can” – are you serious? that’s how you apply research on your work?

  2. Good post, but a little too militant for me. We’ve just finished a job with perhaps our most difficult client ever (and I’ve been doing this for 20 years now). The first meeting had the client and his wife, plus my team. It soon became obvious that he was only at the meeting because his wife had insisted that the logo he had designed himself was not up to scratch (one of the worst logos you’ll ever see). At a later meeting he even brought his son who disagreed with dad in front of us “You are the only one who likes this design” … “I don’t care: that’s what we’re having”. We designed a range of solutions for him, but it was obvious that he was so attached to his logo that we weren’t going to get anywhere… he was not prepared to believe that we knew better than he did.

    So after several attempts at trying to educate him as to why our solutions worked better than his, to no avail we agreed to disagree and allowed him to impose. I could have just told him to get lost as suggested by this article, but we need the money. I have staff, premises, overheads to pay, and this guy had cash to spend…

    We got paid, but will never promote the final work as our own because we hate it… no harm done though. After 20 years or so in graphic design you learn when to stop banging your head against difficult clients, learn to shrug your shoulders and just do what they want. If you are so precious about your ideas that you cannot compromise with this type of client then maybe you should be an artist and not a graphic designer.

  3. Gretchen

    I agree with the earlier commenter who noted that this line of thinking gives all designers a bad name.
    A large part of the designer’s job is selling ideas; you don’t sell an idea by telling your client how much of an expert you are. You do it by solving a business problem with an elegant design solution. And by not being an inflexible jerk along the way.

  4. Claus

    Great article and many point can be directed to other creative business.

    Like to add a word about delivery. Never tell a client a fixed date for a delivery if you depend on feedback from them. Lets say you need a written approval of a draft before programming and you allow client 1 week to work this out. Client don’t come back before 1,5 week and another 3 days later with a few additions. If you promised to deliver on lets say 23rd of January and the clients feedback is handed over totally 1 week later than agreed, he still may ask/expect you for that delivery date. Instead state in you contract that i.e. your work will be delivered 2 weeks after written approval of… ..instead of delivered on specific date.

    This advice gave me back my nights to sleep in instead midnights behind the screen.

  5. miguel

    Good article but very platonic. The reality is that those 8 factors though important, need to be flexible and mutual. A lot of designers are beyond unprofessional and treat design as fine art, and it’s all about finding a good middle ground. Bottom line, the client is almost always right. They pay the bill, and well, the ball is in their court, it’s up to us as creatives to be “creative” in the way we play the game, and keep the client happy – even if sometimes we have to drop some comic-sans.

  6. There are lots if things here that are well and true, but I have learned that taking this attitude with clients makes one out to be the “pining over my lovely art work” type of designer who gives us all a bad name.

    Yes be professional and expect deadlines and working under reasonable conditions, but don’t be an ass about it. You will also go further positioning your offering as tools to help business’ marketer their products/services with the goal always to reach certain goals most often: MAKE MORE MONEY! Results are what clients care about and when you speak their language, you earn more work and more respect. They will naturally value your opinion and a lot of these issues stated above will not be applicable. I used to say something along the lines of “it is best to listen to me because I know best.” Now I just demonstrate my competence using language they understand and they ask my opinion. I am with Ashley, set project goals and judge all parties comments against meeting these objectives.

    It seems no coincidence to me that some of the more successful designers/marketers I know don’t dwell on these issues. They have overcome them by earning trust from their clients, and by working with better clients.

    • Gretchen

      “It seems no coincidence to me that some of the more successful designers/marketers I know don’t dwell on these issues. ”


  7. Morgan

    Haha I like point 5. Web is not print. So often, clients tend to think that designers can do everything. We’re not gods. Why not ask a mechanical engineer something about software…both are engineers right? Somehow I notice these myopic traits only tend to apply to the creative industry. It can be quite annoying having to explain endlessly.

  8. Tina

    “One small final change”. Haha.
    Almost done with everything, the client says, after many meetings and drafts in actual sizes “I looks nice but I didn´t realice it was that wide, can you reduce the width a little bit?”…

  9. Sarah Bauer

    I think it’s quite important to strike a balance between providing a client with the tools they need to best communicate their business campaign, while entrusting them with the responsibilities of an expert in their field (which they hopefully are). There needs to be some give and take, not just “I am the creative, you are the client”. If there is a strong, open communication between the two players in the project, then a mutual respect for the others’ profession may be achieved.
    Furthermore, whether in design or content auditing, presenting the client with a strategy for completion (a proposal can cover this), can explain the details of a project and describe the steps taken.

  10. I have read numerous articles on the subject of “educating the client,” but I must say Christian… Yours takes 1st place. Splendid read and every point is correct. Too often does the client almost try and take advantage of their designer/developer. It is up to you as the one in charge of the project to lay out and stick to these guidelines.

    Excellent, excellent, excellent! Bookmarked and tweeted!

  11. Ashlee

    This is one of those subjects that comes up frequently in graphic design, and with time and experience I’ve softened my stance on the “The Designer is Always Right” approach. As someone said above, the designer knows their business intimately– but not the client’s. In order to minimize friction that may be caused by a disconnect between the designer’s vision and the client’s vision, the first thing I do with a client is establish a project objective based around a concrete business goal. Going forward, all concepts and suggestions– mine included– are checked to see if it supports the objective.

    I find that this approach shifts the client’s mentality away from trying to dictate the nature of the design and instead puts them in an objective business mindset, which is where their input will be most effective. And by proving to the client that you’re working towards a common goal– the client’s best interest– they’ll be much more inclined to defer to your expertise.

  12. Jian

    I really enjoyed this article. I loved this specific line : “Being a designer or developer is not easy and I am not saying this only because of the amount of skills you need, but because you need to work with people and they are always different.” Damn right. Very well said. Bravo.

  13. Totally agree with all the above points. Most of the times, client think that they are expert, but actually they are not.
    They ask for silly changes saying this is small final change, I really hate this.
    Every client must understand that web is not print, this is really an important point.
    Thanks for this very special article. seems very much practical.

  14. “You are the expert, not them”?? You might know design, but you don’t know their business better than them.

    • Scott Rosema

      Ed, I think you missed the point of that statement. It was stating that the designer is the expert on design, not the client’s business. Knowing all about your own business doesn’t mean you’re an expert on all things RELATED to your business. As a designer, I can create products for all kinds of other businesses and I will be the expert on DESIGN for all of them, even as I don’t know their business as well as they do. And that’s because I’m focused on the designing aspect. They will educate me on all of the elements of their business that I need to know about in order for me to deliver the best results but I will still be the expert on what I deliver, not them. They are most certainly the experts on what they do but, unless what they do is design, they are not the expert on the design of what I deliver.
      One quick example: I recently designed the logo and business card for an auto mechanic. We hit it off great because right up front we established what our roles where. He was the expert on fixing cars and I was the expert on designing. Neither one of us tried to perch above the other with our expertise; we simply stayed within our boundaries and the project turned out great.
      I suspect, Ed, that you may have dealt with some egocentric designers or possibly ones who didn’t communicate very well with you.

    • Christian Vasile

      You are the expert in web design. Never said you are the expert in geometry, physics or astronomy – but you are better than them in design. That is why you are a designer and he is… something else. So I think I was quite right when stating that.

  15. wendelle

    Thanks for the article Christian! I always encounter this kind of problems, it’s good to have ideas how to handle it better :D

  16. MJ-8

    WOW…after reading this article, i felt as i was telling my own story. They say that you tend to learn from your own experiences and mistakes. I have definitely learned mine about the “CLIENT” who believes he knows it all. Well, or should i say “SHE” the partner!!! Sorry for ranting, but i was waiting for a long time to get this of my chest. After accepting the project and couple of mock-ups sent to client, i was told, that it was the “CLIENTS WIFE” that was the main designer and my job was to recreate her ideas onto Photoshop and then code it… Educating your client(s)? Even the best examples of good practice or practical examples, sometimes can be hard work of your best efforts of convincing your client! Definitely in my case…
    Due to some of the experience of my own, I am becoming a believer in “…some of the projects are worth turning down, even if it’s really tempting”.