In My Experience /// Pushing Back / by Jen Bachelder


Pushing Back (How to Disagree with Your Client)

I was recently asked to provide some advice for a friend's student who wants to have a career in design someday. The ask came out of a less-than-stellar exchange that followed feedback on a project. Without seeing the project they were working on, this was the most foundational advice I could offer.


  • A big part of the job is educating your client, especially when personal preferences don't align with solid design concepts. I've found that when you're given a specific task to execute that you know is a bad idea, the best approach is to provide two options -- one with the exact ask and one modified with your better judgement. You can show them what they asked for and open up a dialog about another option.
  • If you're going to push back on an idea, have supporting evidence. Be prepared with fundamental ideas and examples the client will understand. Just saying "No," or "That won't work," is not only lazy, but comes off as defensive and puts a work-hindering wall up between yourself and the client.
  • At the end of the day, the client is the client. Sometimes, the client needs a reminder that they aren't part of the target audience. When this is true, offer some perspective.
  • Again, the client is the client. Essentially, they're your boss. Treat them as such.

Explaining Specific Conceptual Work

  • A lot of times (okay, pretty much every time you hand a file over), the client will need a detailed explanation of why you made the choices you did (what you were trying to communicate to the audience, what you want them to feel/think/do, what alternative options you cut, etc).
  • Tangent on "Options you cut": One of the best conversations I've ever had with a client came after I gave him two proposed options for a book cover. He immediately asked me why I didn't try it like "this" or "that." I went back to my initial brainstorming file, exported every art board, and sent him the 30-ish different "this" or "thats" that I'd eliminated for a variety of reasons. The rest of the project >>> smooth sailing.

Looking to the Client for Additional Guidance

  • When a project comes to a halt, getting additional guidance from the client can make or break whole thing. Sometimes, they don't know that they're not communicating a specific idea or element that they're looking for. It's your job to seek that thing out. When they provide examples of work that they like, ask why they like it or thought it was worth sharing. Try to get as much detail as possible (Is it the color? Line style? Simple? Complex? Is it from a competing brand/similar industry? etc).
  • If the client doesn't have any specific examples in mind, provide some or brainstorm together. A quick line-up and Q&A could inspire both of you.
  • Your job as the designer is to help the client solve their problem. It's your job. That's why they invited you in to collaborate. It's on you to find a way to move the project forward. Sometimes it takes a machete to find the path, but if you can get through the weeds, they'll call you with future projects.

Critique is Hard

  • It's difficult to separate our personal feelings from our work. We're creating something. Making and molding with both our thoughts and hands. It's an intimate thing. It's hard not to take critique personally. When you get feedback, make sure you're in the right mindset -- it's about taking the project and work to the next level.
  • Prototype quickly. Share some quick thumbnails so you don't pour your heart and soul into a new idea that doesn't make it across the finish line. Getting feedback early and often will only make it easier. 

Above all...

  • Remember, it's not personal.



Photo: Sérgio Rola via Unsplash