Step one = acceptance. Seriously though, let’s establish the fact that creative differences are not always a bad thing. Having differing opinions can really help elevate your design to the next level. The challenge comes into play when we start to take criticism, opinions, etc. too personally. And I’m definitely guilty of this.
So … how do you NOT take it personally? When our goal as designers is to make the client happy 100% of the time, doesn’t an unfavorable opinion jeopardize our chance of getting more work? Not necessarily. After all, the client hired you for a reason. A negative critique usually isn’t a personal attack, or a universal dissatisfaction with your knowledge or design skills. We can’t possibly achieve “design perfection” all the time, and most clients understand that. I really try to keep that in mind when facing an especially difficult review.
Here are a couple other things I try to focus on, to better communicate with our clients and drill down to the REAL issues. These continue to play a part in helping us cultivate strong, long-term relationships … and arrive at the best possible design solutions.
1. Everyone has likes and dislikes. And they’re not the same as yours.
You might like purple and orange. Your client might hate that color combination. You might prefer structured, linear layouts … while your client likes things a little more free-flowing. This is totally normal — and probably not worth fighting about. As long as these differences don’t diminish or degrade the quality of the design you’re creating, what’s the big deal? The worst thing you can do is try to change the client’s mind, and have them resent you for it. A better plan of action is to listen to the reasoning behind their opinion, and then adjust. Compromise and communication are always better choices than arguing a point for the sake of being “right”.
2. Accept constructive feedback. If the feedback isn’t outwardly constructive, look for ways to dig deeper.
A lot of times, clients don’t know WHY they dislike a design, and this leads to feedback that isn’t particularly helpful, like, “jazz it up a little” or “make it pop more”. Those are two of my faves. And I used to get upset when a client would say them. Now, when I hear that type of non-descript feedback, I look for opportunities to ask more questions. “Can you show me an example of something you DO like?” … “What part of the design bothers you most?” These questions show the client that you value their opinion and are truly invested in the success of their project. Many times, this open conversation leads to a conclusion that they really DO like a lot of the design, with a few minor adjustments.
3. Not every client is YOUR client.
Occasionally you’ll find yourself in a situation where things just aren’t working out. Maybe you’ve struggled through a few projects and can’t relate to the product. Or you’ve had a few challenging conversations with the client and you get that feeling in your gut that your personalities will continue to clash. RELAX — everyone goes through this. Good thing there are a bazillion more designers out there! When you get to that tipping point, the best thing to remember is that you’re making a positive move for everyone involved. Explain to them that you don’t feel you’re the right person for their projects, and refer them to other creative professionals in your area. They’ll appreciate the gesture and you’ll preserve your reputation and professionalism. Definitely a win-win.