Getting Clients to Embrace Fresh Ideas

Getting Clients to Embrace Fresh Ideas

The internet is full of brand new proof of concepts and ideas just waiting to be implemented on exciting new projects.

Actually getting the approval to use these features is another story entirely. Some of the most interesting ideas turn out to be hard sells when putting them into to practice.

So what’s a web designer to do when clients insist on stale ideas?

Know Your (Actual) Audience

Your client can mean the world to you, but the world is not your client. The world audience does not always share all of your client’s needs and direction. Success (in most cases) is built on the ability for other people to interact with the finished product, and not just the client’s approval of color scheme.

It’s not easy to tell a client that their idea isn’t going to work out, but unfortunately it’s sometimes a necessary part of the job. If you hired an architect to build a house, they wouldn’t build something that would fall down (even if you insisted). Web design is the same way.

Three Facts of Client Work

As a web designer, it’s important to make note of a three main points. As simple as they may be, it’s easy to overlook them:

  • The person funding the project may not always know what’s best
  • You’ve been hired as the professional
  • The Internet is a big place

So what now? At which point do you, as the web professional, try to stop clients from pushing a project in a misguided direction?

Don’t Get Discouraged

Be careful about simply accepting a client’s disapproval without further questions. This does not mean that you should become overly-confrontational, but sometimes clients don’t know how to communicate the real problem at hand. It’s up to you to dig further in and get to the real problem.

Does the client not like a design because of personal taste? Or is it actually because their screen resolution is set unusually low? Expect further questions to come out of each round of feedback. If you’re able to pick up the underlying issues, you’ll be much more productive in revisions.

It’s your job as the designer to bring a person up to speed. This doesn’t always mean forcing them to upgrade their machines, philosophies, or business practices — but does involve a certain amount of education about the rest of the internet. If a small part of their market falls into the same pitfalls (e.g. screen resolution), it’s not always a good decision to plan for the lowest common denominator.

Ask Good Questions

Let’s say that your client requests a menu change that would cause a lot of confusion for users trying to navigate. Especially if they love a bad idea, how do you guide them in the right direction without being overly-forceful?

Give your client an opportunity to come to an answer by themselves. Rather than insisting “This menu will work better”, ask them “How would the user be able to find their current location”, or questions leading to the problem. The best person to have on your side is the client’s own mind.

Food for Thought

The goal of an argument is not to win. It is to get the other person thinking differently. Once you’ve done that, they’ll fill in the rest of the gaps on their own.

Using the example above, a good food for thought example would be “How would your intended audience like/use this?” This does two things:

  1. Presents the issue at hand (User experience)
  2. Forces the client to look from a new perspective (and not just their personal opinion)

Even though a client starts the project, the client is rarely the target audience. Designing for the Internet is designing for other people.

Explain the Purpose

It’s easy to get caught up in explaining the concept of a new feature, but don’t lose sight of the goal. What is the purpose of the new idea? If you’re only explaining the concept, you’re more likely to deal with existing bias. Hold on. Bias? How can you be biased against an idea?

A Tale of Two Networks

What’s the difference between MySpace and Facebook? Technical things aside, it’s actually a tough question. Both are social networks that allow people to connect and maintain online relationships.

If a client isn’t up to date with the technology happenings, it’s easy to assume that the audience found on Facebook is the same angst filled teenagers on which MySpace built its reputation. This same problem appears for sites like Twitter (e.g. pointless updates) and a number of other useful (but not always recognized) web services.

Consider the two options below for selling the idea of Facebook:

  • Facebook is a portal to network with millions of people.
  • Many companies have used Facebook as a way to connect to young people in their everyday life. Company A ran a campaign that boosted traffic to their website by 300% last month.

The first statement explains, but it doesn’t stimulate the same business enthusiasm as the second one. Simply pointing out a potential audience isn’t enough, you’ve also got to lead them with concrete examples of success and application.

First One in the Pool

Not all businesses want to take on the risk of being the first to “test the waters.” You’re up to speed with trends (reading this proves it!), but there’s no guarantee that the client is on par. Show them the other companies that are already succeeding, and it will make your job easier.


Have you ever had problems persuading a client to go with an innovative idea? How did you handle it? Does your web design organization have any strategies that work well? Share them in the comments below.

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Posted Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 · Back to Top


Add Comment

15 Comments 10 Mentions

  1. Niels Author Editor

    Great article, maybe next time more detail.


  2. Ben Ackles Author Editor

    I recently had a client request to have a sidebar with different a background color for every page. Although, I disagreed with the technique, I implemented the change regardless of my own reservations.

    In hindsight, I should have presented the issue at hand (user experience via consistency). However, as a relatively novice freelancer I thought it would be better to listen to my client, while unconsciously neglecting the real audience; the end user.
    .-= Ben Ackles´s last blog ..socialcoop: Costly Free Credit Reports – Just checked it days ago at Now I found out it’s not so free. – =-.


  3. Design Informer Author Editor

    I enjoyed reading this article. Definitely some food for thought here. Keep up the good work guys!
    .-= Design Informer´s last blog ..How to Mix Faces in Adobe Photoshop =-.


  4. Vunky Author Editor

    Great article. There should be more like them.

    When I present a design to a new customer I usually make up two proposals. One with their idea and one “improved” version. Nine out of ten times the second one get’s chosen ;)
    .-= Vunky´s last blog ..What I’ve been up to this summer =-.


  5. Ben Ackles Author Editor

    I really don’t like the “[Name]’s last blog…” feature. I think it might be better to offer it as an option. I could see the advantage in many cases, but my Twitter page is temporarily my “Website” while my own site is in development. I really don’t think my last tweet is too relevant. It looks like I’m trying to sell something, which I am not.

    Just something to consider coming from an end users perspective…;)
    .-= Ben Ackles´s last blog ..socialcoop: Saturday night’s shellacking…was the absolute, most thorough loss of Carroll’s USC tenure. =-.


  6. Allen Author Editor

    Nice article! Sometimes it is hard for a client to understand your ideas. I like using the technique to get them to think on another perspective.
    .-= Allen´s last blog ..Local SC Web Design Directory =-.


  7. Isaac Author Editor

    Really useful blog! It’s so important to not stress out at your client, just gently encourage them to review the examples of good modern ideas and explain the benefits they (often) don’t know or understand:)


  8. Dalesh Kowlesar Author Editor

    I’m having this problem right now with a client for a holiday resort. There are so many brilliant ideas that I could use to bring them out of the stone age but they insist on stale design and concepts. It hasn’t been easy but I did my best to work my way around it.


  9. JD Ross Author Editor

    A lot of this comes down to integrity. Some customers choose you for your expertise, while others might choose you for your skills. What types of projects and clients you want to work for is up to you.

    And I like the “last blog” feature, though it’s kind of awkwardly worded. Maybe “latest blog post”?
    .-= JD Ross´s last blog ..Do you eat in the supermarket? =-.


  10. Web Design Kent Author Editor

    good article, hardest thing often to explain to clients is their new website isn’t for them, its for their clients… some simply don’t understand this and you end up with sub standard work which gies nowhere near my portfolio!


  11. wien Author Editor

    nice articel, very helpful, thanks


  12. Adam Author Editor

    @Web Design Kent
    I agree with you. Sometimes the client doesn’t want to look at the site and what its objective is.

    Good article! Thank you!
    .-= Adam´s last post ..Google vs. Twitter =-.


  13. Robert van Hoesel Author Editor

    Very usefull article!
    Do you also have some tips for bringing a concept to 4 or more people who all think differently?


  14. Zach Dunn Author Editor


    I recommend you get them all thinking towards the same goal. Creating user personas are a great way to do this.

    Personas allow you to roughly summarize the kinds of people interacting with your site. When you have a “specific” person in mind, it’s easy to build the result successfully.

    An example persona might be: “Susan is a middle aged mother with an interest in pottery. She doesn’t spend much time on the computer. Her main experience with the internet is buying books and supplies.”

    Using the Susan persona, how would you create a site she would be comfortable in? What elements matter most?

    Brad Colbow drew a nice comic about personas recently that explains the concept in simpler terms.


  15. nilo8 Author Editor

    Кажется, нужная работа



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