The changes requested by the client look terrible, what can I put in my portfolio?


So for a while now I've been lerning web design / web development, done a few small projects for classes (I'm a student), read up on the subject, watched videos and so on. I'm now somewhat familiar with design principles and I'm able to build a clean, good-looking, responsive website.
So recently I had a chance to build my first 'real' website. It was for a choir which a relative of mine is involved in, so I offered to do it for free.

So I build a nice website, felt pretty confident about my design and showed it to my clients. They said it looks great and such, but asked me to do tons of 'tiny' changes, like changing the background-color, the font-size of certain elements and so on. Worst of all, instead of using one of the Logos I created they decided to go with something one of them drew, which rips off the Logos of not one, but two major companies, is terribly bloated and looks horrifying alltogether. (Later, I asked a friend of mine who is a trained designer who agreed that my original suggestions looked better by far).

So the problem is, I was really hoping to start building a portfolio with the Logos and website I created. But after all the changes I implemented (tried to explain to them why those were bad ideas, but they wouldn't have it), the website looks really awful and is not something I want to have listed as my work. So, how can I go about adding my original site and the Logo I created to my portfolio? I have saved my original design in a seperate git branch, so I can go back there, take some screenshots or even mirror the original site to a server.

Should I link to the live website and mention the changes that I didn't have control over, along with some screenshots? Or should I replace the pictures and copy they supplied with dummy text/pics and upload the page to a subdomain of my own server (and link to it in my portfolio)? Or is there a better way? Also, how can I do that in a way that the clients won't feel that I'm treating them dismissive or condescending (as in 'stupid clients had stupid ideas so here's my ingenious original design')?
On a related note, should I bundle the website and Logo design in one portfolio-entry or seperate them?

8/31/2015 9:03:00 PM

Accepted Answer

This can be the result of a deeper issue that I want to address before answering your question directly.

I think many designers feel they need to do everything a client asks without a second thought. But let's face it, clients ask for some terrible things, and that's okay. They aren't designers. They don't know any better. It is the designers job to help educate the client on what good designs is, how it looks, feels, and works.

Typically when a client asks for something like a background color change—or some seemingly silly design change, that is only the tip of the ice berg. Maybe they are actually concerned their content isn't standing out enough. Maybe the best solution is to make the body copy larger, but they can't see this so they ask for a darker background color.

I find a good way to resolve these issues is to try what the client asks for. I am surprised by how often the client is actually right. But often it proves true that the design solution the client asked for doesn't work. When that happens, I come up with a solution that addresses the clients actual concern. Then I show the client the options and say "here is what you asked for" then I explain why it doesn't work, then present my solution to the issue. Most of the time it works. It also leaves the client feeling like you went the extra mile—because you did—and valuing you more as a designer.

Now occasionally this doesn't work. Some people just have bad taste, or don't really care about the project they have you working on. This is the kind of client that you don't want to work with in the future. So what do you do from this point?

I think it's important to remember that the purpose of a design portfolio is to show the work that you have done, not the work your client has done (like asking for poor color choices and font sizes). I think it would be okay to show the work as you would have done it. You should explain this in your portfolio, tactfully though. Something like "This is the design solution I presented that was ultimately not used by the client, but I was really happy with it." If you have already articulated to the client why you think their design choices doesn't work, they should not be surprised or think that you're rude if they come across their project on your portfolio that looks a little different.

Anyways, I hope that is helpful. I look forward to seeing what advice others have to offer.

8/31/2015 9:38:00 PM

In these kinds of cases, I publish the design that I made. I am not always the developer of my own designs, and as you pointed out, sometimes the client is determined to have something their way, without really caring about the loss of aesthetics that goes with it.

I don't think there's any harm in publishing original designs, non-approved designs, or anything like that (including imaginary projects etc). After all, you are trying to show your skills and your eye for how everything fits together. I think that you should go with something that you're proud of. If it ever comes up in an interview, like "why doesn't the live site look like the design?", then you can (politely) iterate over the changes that happened and why and that you wanted to show your ideal version in your portfolio :)