Would you compromise your design and how far should you go?


I am pretty sure that most of us here, or at least those do graphic design for living, have found themselves in following situation:

  • You agree with a client to do the design, agree on price, schedules, formats etc…
  • You work hard, make adjustments, collaborate with client; everything goes well in the beginning.
  • At some point you realise that the client does not listen your professional advice regarding design and prefers his/her own ideas that might not look so professional (choice of fonts, colors, odd choices of elements, shapes etc…).
  • No matter how hard you try, the client is persistent and will not accept the designer’s advice.
  • You get back to work, try to make the best out of it, and the final result is not so good, mainly because you had to stick to the client’s wishes.
  • Work is shipped, payment done, and you don’t want to include this work in your portfolio because it is not good. After all, it is not your work, it is something that was physically created by you as a designer, but the ideas, concept, story, and message came out as a result of nonprofessional person, your client.

Ok, they pay for it, and as long as they are happy this is fine. But, the more compromises you make, the more time you spend working on bad design. If you are a young designer on a quest to get recognition, you don’t want to work just for the sake of money and then face the lack of good design in your portfolio.

Maybe at the beginning of your career you don’t care that much, but later if life this might be a big issue. At some point you will be approached by a big client that might offer you long-term contract, but first they will want to see your work. No point explaining to them what you did and why you made so many compromises.

They will not be interested in that.

Every project is precious as your time and you want to do use it wisely and produce great work.

How would you deal with such a situation?

7/31/2015 9:44:00 AM

Accepted Answer

I'm a software engineer turned manager, but the same question could be posed with little modification in my world. Others have already said similar things, but I'll add an answer as much to underscore the point as anything.

The very core of a business relationship is to provide product for remuneration. Every person must decide upon their own boundaries as to what the acceptable mix between creative freedom and what a client deems remunerable will suit them.

As to your portfolio, why not add it? Much as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is the impact of your work. If it is something you consider utter trash or detrimental to landing the contract, perhaps that's a line not to cross. But part of the hiring process is to explain your work, victories and lessons learned from less than victorious outcomes. And sometimes the more outlier situations are the ones that get you noticed.

Let's say you include a design that didn't suit your artistic sensibilities. If it was a success, you've demonstrated that your ego doesn't override your desire to get meaningful work done and in being able to do so success was achieved. If the work fell short, you've still demonstrated cooperation. Underscore why you made the points you did and why the results of your decision would've led to a more positive result.

Now let's say I have three software engineers in for an interview. The first two are solid and embody those two cases, i.e. one can speak of successful compromises while the second has some examples where he stood up for his architectural design but was overruled and it fell short. The third case looks very strong on paper and is unflinching in his conviction to design very solid systems.

The first two could make the second round of interviews. The third will be thanked for his time.

8/3/2015 10:01:00 PM

Here's the cold, hard truth.....

You are not special.â„¢

There's no reason clients should believe what you suggest is any better or more aesthetically pleasing than their own opinions.

That is the hurdle you must overcome. So, how do you do that? Through a proven track record, experience, and specializing. You may have to complete 500 projects to get 10 good ones, but if those 10 good ones gain new clients looking for that particular style, you are making headway. The goal, eventually will be to have 80-90% of your clients looking for that style of project.

Nothing gets just handed to most people. You have to put in the work to get to the end goal. And for some, they never reach the exact "perfect" state. But it may be possible to get very close to it.

If your desire is to have your design aesthetics adhered to by all your clients you need to have some special style or reason clients are specifically contacting you. The more specialized you are, the more clients will tend to take your advice and suggestions.

If it is possible for the the client to go find anyone else to complete the same project for relatively the same fee... well... again, what makes you so special??

This is really true for many, many professions. I'm sure professional auto-mechanics chuckle a bit when do it yourself-ers explain how things "should be" done to them. I'm sure contractor's cringe at homeowners telling them how to complete a remodel. However, few argue with the electrician about how to wire something (more specialized). It's just human nature for many to believe they are as adept as a professional in everything they do.

Unfortunately, the younger you are, the more this tends to happen. Some people perceive life experience as all experience whether that's true or not. And this also depends upon the client. Some clients will never see a designer as anything more than a "Photoshop Jockey". If you can avoid those clients, you generally have more freedom with design.

My thought on the matter has always been, "If they want to pay me for my opinion, then ignore the very thing they are paying for, so what? It's their money."

Either way I get to put food on my table, pay the mortgage, go out for an evening, put gas in the car, etc. So you need to ask yourself are you only working to make a portfolio or are there other things you need to accomplish through your work?

If you are working solely for a portfolio, stop dealing with clients and create your own projects because every client is going to ask for something you'd rather not include. And I do mean every client, even the great ones that allow you to design how you want to design.

I'd hazard a guess that probably 60-80% of the work almost all designer's do is not the work they want to do or work they feel is portfolio-worthy. This is especially true when starting out. It is only through time and experience that you ever get to a place where you are fortunate enough to spend most of your time doing the projects you want to work on.

Don't lose heart.

Working on unexciting, overly client-driven, work is something everyone must deal with. Stop focusing so much on the work you don't like and just get it done. Instead Focus on the work you do like when you have the opportunity to complete it.