How can I work with a client that doesn't know what they want?


I am helping a client/friend with a website design.

He is a conceptual thinker. Yet his ideas are always inspirational but not practical.

He is always wanting a different direction after I show him my design. He wants something new and refreshing. He doesn't like the website out there because it's too commercial. I think it would be easier to manage later though.

I am struggling with him because

  1. I am not getting paid for this.
  2. I would like him to just choose a design.

However, I was wondering if you have any tips on dealing with client who has no direction, and doesn't know what they want?

What would you do? Choose some web and have him decide which style they like?

How can I guide him in the right direction? Any suggestions for me?

Thank you for the help!

4/27/2016 10:54:00 AM

Accepted Answer

Some clients you have to be brutally honest with and flat out tell them to pick a direction because otherwise he/she is merely wasting your time.

You have to often treat these types of clients as children. Not actually children, but in the sense that you need to allow the Client to make choices but you also need to specifically engineer the choices they have --

"Do you want A or B?"


"What do you want?"

This greatly cuts down the open-ended opportunity to ask for option C, D, E, F, etc. It's either A or B, nothing more.

If I were doing things for free.. I'd be very pressing on not wasting the time I'm willing to provide.

I also explain the concept of milestones.

I'm willing to build XXX for you.... This is Milestone 1. Anything which involves additional work above and beyond this is Milestone 2 and will be additional charges.

Of course, when working for free it's harder to impress how imperative this is to the client.

Also note, even if being paid for the work, there are clients with which money is literally not a factor and they can have this same problem. It takes some general business guidance, structure, and organization on your part. You have to be willing to say "No. I can't do that at this stage." and stand by it. People will listen if you speak up. But if you always imply it's "okay" they are running roughshod and continually altering the "plan", they will continue to do so.

5/5/2018 2:42:00 PM

When I have an initial meeting with a client, I give them a list of pre-briefing questions. There are two sets which might be useful here:

  1. Pick three (five, etc.) websites you love — they don't have to be from your industry. Why do you love them? What's appealing? The color? The style? The programming?
  2. Now, pick three (five, etc.) websites you hate. What do you hate about them? What's wrong? Why would you never do that or want that on your site? (If you have a site you hate, don't use that as an example. We know you hate it; that's why we're redoing it.)

I find that having these two lists (and the why, which is the more important part) helps the client to articulate or at least demonstrate his/her tastes, and helps me to narrow down what the person really wants.

If you send these questions to your client, and after two days you have a 15-minute meeting and the person can't even come up with two websites he loves and two he hates, tell him to get back to you when he can. If he's that far in the clouds, your job will never get done.