When it comes to the world of design, it is important to own your personal style, tastes, and judgments. While working with clients, it can get harder and harder to own up to your personal beliefs and tell the client "no" when they ask for something absurd. I'm sure many of you out there have visited the blog, Clients From Hell, where some of the crazies questions, demands, and situations of designer-client relations have been documented. While it is amusing reading them from the outside, it is important to think about what you would do in some of those situations. Would you cave and give the client what they want? Would you try to persuade them to your point of view? Or if they are still stubborn, will you have the nerve to drop them all together?
While working with a client, there will be many times that you have to sacrifice some of your perfect design to satisfy the (what you believe is) unintelligent requests of your client. Maybe its that they want a different background color, or they want to change the wording of a certain phrase, sometimes you just have to do it. In an article by Dennis Kardys called "Give the Client What They Want," he explains that it can be hard to make changes you don't fully believe in, "you've poured passion and problem solving into a design which is both well thought out and remarkably tasteful [...] and there is a pride of ownership that goes along with that." But, he also asks you, "how drastic is their request? What would the actual consequences of implementing those requests be? [...] Client involvement is part of the web design process. In order for the project to be deemed successful, designers need to be able to objectively listen to the client, and give them something they want." Sometimes you need to pick your battles. In the real world of design, when you have a client who's paying you, sometimes you have to drop your personal ownership and do what they think they want. Of course there are times though, if you feel a bit more strongly, you can try to persuade the client.
Clients will always have, to us, silly opinions and requests. Again in Karbys article, he emphasizes that "it's really important to be able to communicate the rationale of your design decisions to the client." Even if the client already agrees with your decisions, they should understand the thought behind it. But it is even more important that they clearly understand why you did something if they are asking you to change it. You, as the designer, need to take ownership of your design and personal decisions and stand up for them. Explain to the client why you believe in your choice, don't argue, blame, or get upset, first try to be rational about things. In the end, its your work, and your name is attached to it, you need to be able to own that design. Karbys makes a good point when he states, "blaming an ineffective website on the result of poor decision-making by a difficult client, will not change the fact that ultimately you build ineffective and unusable sites." In some cases though, when a client is truly unruly or difficult, you may need to take complete ownership of yourself as a designer, and drop the project or client all together.
Being proud of your skills and owning your work can sometimes call for firing a client completely. In an article by Doc4 Design, an ad agency in Arkansas, called "Live to Design Another Day: Know When it's Time to Fire a Client," Doc4 explains that "an extremely successful businessman once told me that if you begin to compromise work, prices and time for clients, then the reputation and credibility of your company is lost, and for a design agency this is everything." This is especially true for freelance designers as well. Your work, time, and prices are everything, and clients will often try to take advantage of you if they can. The blog, and now book, Clients From Hell is filled with stories of clients trying to get out of paying full price, insisting on poor design requests, and devaluing design, and if you are faced with a client like this, you may need to end business with them. If a client compromises your design too much, that can also be reason to end business. Doc4 explains in the article a situation where the client had so many changes to a design, they hardly recognized it anymore. They stated that, "to put it simply, we were embarrassed to have our name associated with the project. So, if you have to sacrifice your integrity to please a client, they should be fired, because the success or failure of the project will ultimately fall on your shoulders." As I explained before, you need to get your clients to understand your rationale and justify your design; sure you can let things slide, but not so much that the design isn't yours anymore.
Keeping ownership of your personal design opinions, judgments, and skills can be a sticky situation with some clients. I know I've already dealt with some similar situations as those on the Clients From Hell blog. I've had bosses take advantage of free labor from an intern, I've had clients pay me far too little for the work I was producing, and I've had some requests that really compromised my design. In all of these situations I've slowly learned when to stand up for myself, and even when to fire the client or quit. As I mature as a designer, I am gaining more and more confidence in my skills and in standing my ground, and only regret that I didn't take a stand sooner in some cases. In the end, Karbys puts it well when he says, "be flexible and accommodating when it comes to matters of personal taste. Be firm in your objections to demands that reduce the effectiveness of the design or impede usability."