The Top 6 Client Complaints About Designers (and How to Deal with Them)

By Thursday April 2nd, 2015

If you’re a designer, you’re no stranger to the stereotypical client commentary; “Can you make the logo bigger?” “We want it to POP!” and the like. We’re all familiar with the ridiculous and sometimes painful things clients say. But how often do we stop to think about the flip side of the coin?

If you’re a designer, you’re no stranger to the stereotypical client commentary; “Can you make the logo bigger?” “We want it to POP!” and the like. We’re all familiar with the ridiculous and sometimes painful things clients say. But how often do we stop to think about the flip side of the coin?

Clients have their own set of stereotypes about us, and they look out for signs of these issues early on. It’s time to face the reality of the situation. Nobody is perfect, and designers are definitely no exception to that rule. Though we may be blind to it, there are a series of things we do that are bothersome to our clients. Let’s explore a few of them and figure out how to navigate these errors.



“They aren’t proactive enough.”

While we don’t want to pressure our clients, it’s important to show initiative. Your clients want to know that you’re invested in the project, and that you’re thinking about how to make it the best it can be, not just meeting the requirements. They don’t want to feel like they’re the only ones initiating conversations and scheduling meetings.

As with any relationship, you don’t want it to feel like a one way street. Show that you are actively involved in making this a successful project by taking that initiative. Be proactive in project meetings and discussions, and be willing to take on more responsibility. If you see something relevant to their project or industry, share it with them. Go the extra mile!



“They design for their portfolios, not for the real world.”

I think we all know someone who’s guilty of this one, if we aren’t guilty ourselves. There are plenty of prima donna designers and agencies out there who want to create the coolest, trendiest work without having to compromise for real world usability. This simply isn’t practical. Commercial graphic artists are hired by clients, to work on client projects, where the client’s goals should come first.

If there’s a specific idea or project type you’re interested in pursuing, by all means, do so. But that should remain a separate project, not something you force upon your clients. While we should be stern about certain design decisions that are beneficial to the project, we shouldn’t be forcing unnecessary styles and omitting important information for the sake of a prettier portfolio piece.



“They don’t challenge us enough.”

This one may come as a bit of a surprise. I think we generally assume that our clients are at their happiest when we meet their every request without hesitation, but this simply isn’t the case. Your client hired you because you’re a professional. You’re supposed to be the expert here. If they suggest something that will hinder their project, your job is to speak up and get them back on the right track.

I recently experienced this firsthand with one of my clients. She had sent along a placeholder design for a coming soon page while her new website was being developed. While it can be nice to have specific design instructions, this new design simply did not reflect the direction their brand was heading, per our discussions. I told her that this was more of a reflection of where she’d been, rather than where she was going, and sent along a new design. She was so pleased, she called me right away with enthusiastic thanks for pushing back. I was so happy I decided to chime in!

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you think that your client may be moving in the wrong direction.

Moral of the story, don’t be afraid to speak up if you think that your client may be moving in the wrong direction. As long as you frame it in a polite and professional manner, and especially if you’re able to offer an alternate solution, they will happily accept your feedback.



“There is a disconnect between the strategy and their execution.”

This complaint is against designers who present strong concepts and ideas, but fall flat when it comes to delivery. We’ve painted a grand picture in the client’s mind of how amazing the project will be, but when it comes to putting in the work, the results are less than spectacular.

Maybe we didn’t put in the amount of time we should’ve or maybe we didn’t have the chops to create something as amazing as we proposed, but either way there was a major disconnect between what was promised and what was delivered. This creates more work for the client and causes aggravation.

This can be avoided by being more honest with both the client and yourself. Don’t tell your client you’re going to create an elaborate, interactive site with crazy animations and tools if you don’t know how to code. Be aware of your abilities and be honest with your client about what you can do for them. If you do have the ability to create something so grand, do the work necessary to make it happen!



“I feel like I don’t know them well enough.”

In this day and age, establishing relationships with clients is becoming increasingly important. You don’t have to be best friends, but fostering a relationship that is more than just emailing invoices and deliverables is important. The more comfortable and pleasant you are with your clients, the easier your relationship will be. Both parties will feel like they can be more honest with one another, which will benefit the project.

Additionally, business interactions are simply more enjoyable if you create a relationship with one another. Develop a rapport. Be cordial. Show that you care. If you show that you are genuinely interested in them, they’ll feel more comfortable putting their work in your hands. Being nice is truly beneficial to your business!



“They don’t know my business well enough.”

This one ties in with the previous point but in a different way. A lot of clients feel as though their designer or agency doesn’t know their business well enough. Beyond just being cordial and friendly with one another, it’s also crucial that we, as designers, understand what their business is all about. Know their products, services, approach to new business, clientele, methodology, the whole nine yards – it’s all important!

This is another situation which I recently experienced firsthand. At Brolik, we always start with a discovery phase, where we get to know our clients’ businesses inside and out, as well as their goals for the project. I’ve carried this practice into my personal work, and recently had a client who was absolutely thrilled to have a designer care so much about their business. After sending over the questions regarding their business and project goals, I immediately received a response from my client saying they loved the questions and thanking me for taking the time to learn about their company. Gathering this kind of information from my client not only helped me gain useful information about the project, it also benefitted the relationship.

In Conclusion

As designers, clients are the lifeblood of our business. Instead of always focusing on the complaints we have about our clients, let’s start paying attention to how our behavior affects them. Put in the extra effort to show your client that their project is valuable to you. Listen to their needs, but don’t be afraid to push back when they are misguided. Follow through on your promises. And overall, be a thoughtful, attentive, and conscientious human being!

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About the Author

Hannah is a designer at Brolik Productions. In addition to designing for the web, she has experience with branding, traditional print design, and package design. When she isn't scouring design blogs, Hannah likes exploring new places around Philadelphia and coming up with weird nicknames for her cat.