Tips For Having Tough Conversations About Design With Your Clients

Every designer knows what it’s like to have tough conversations with clients. Tough conversations can be as simple as collecting an overdue invoice, or trying to help a client understand why background music is a bad idea. Sometimes tough conversations are more involved, like suggesting elimination of elements that don’t support their goals, or making design choices so their site is accessible to people with disabilities.

Touch conversations can try your patience. Rather than avoiding a client or getting frustrated, the following tips will increase your chances of achieving a satisfying outcome every time:

  1. Understand a client’s resistance to the unfamiliar

Clients want to stay on top of what they perceive to be the latest and greatest trends. They’re not developers or designers, so they only see the industry from the consumer’s point of view. For instance, when the design world was first moving from tables to pure CSS, it was difficult for anyone but designers to see the future potential.

Likewise, anytime you introduce something unfamiliar to a client, they may not see the benefit right away. Be ready for some resistance, but understand that resistance is coming from a lack of knowledge. Take the time to educate your client when you notice they’re missing important information.

  1. Learn to speak a client’s language when they’re upset

As a designer, you know the industry lingo. Your clients may not, and won’t always use terms in the right context. Learning their lingo – and speaking it with them – is an effective strategy to handle conversations when clients are frustrated or upset.

When a client is upset, they’re not in the right space to accept your terminology corrections. Don’t get hung up on correcting their use of terms. Jump into the conversation with the intention of relieving their frustration. Focus on understanding what they’re trying to tell you. Listen and ask questions for clarification.

When you do speak, match their lingo and they’ll calm down faster. When you can guide them to a calm state of mind, you’ll understand what they’re saying more quickly. You can always clarify terms later.

  1. Be willing to explain when you suggest the unfamiliar

You’re likely to be met with resistance for suggesting unfamiliar design or content elements. Resistance is normal, but you need a strategy to overcome objections. For every suggestion you make, be willing to explain and provide examples so your client can see exactly what you’re talking about.

For instance, say you suggest removing their homepage slider and replacing it with a branded header image. Your client will wonder why. Everyone else uses a slider, what’s the big deal? Be ready to explain why sliders can be a distraction and cost them conversions.

Another area of unfamiliarity for many clients is the type of content they should be posting on their blog. Your client will probably want to write the content themselves to save some money.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging your client to write his or her own blog content. However, when you suggest writing articles containing satire, humor, or creative titles, you might encounter some resistance.

Your client needs to know that creative titles and content are going to get their links clicked in search engine results pages.

Adding a little humor and sarcasm is a great strategy, and the content can still be educational and actionable. For example, an article titled Want to Scare Off a Buyer? Here Are 7 Things That Do the Trick tells people what will tank their ability to sell their home, while simultaneously providing practical advice for what to do instead.

Sarcasm and humor can be profitable. Satire is what turned The Onion into a bonafide media company with a profitable in-house advertising agency.

  1. Don’t assume the client is wrong

If you think a client is wrong, first ask yourself why you think they’re wrong. If you don’t agree with their request, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Train yourself to be objective when you encounter a situation where you disagree with a client’s request.

Smashing Magazine explains this in depth and says that when a client makes a request that doesn’t make sense, rather than saying, “I just don’t think it will work,” ask them how they think their request will benefit their business. If the client can’t connect it to their main goal or a KPI, they’re more likely to believe you when you tell them it’s not a good idea.

Be willing to be wrong

Nobody can be right all the time. If you expect your clients to listen to your expertise, be willing to listen to theirs.