Sometimes, you have to agree to disagree. But what do you do with clients who just fundamentally have terrible taste in design? They’re paying the bills, creating a problem that almost every designer has to face in his or her career at least once: How do you tell your clients that their taste sucks?
We asked five designers at four leading design firms how they deal with the nightmare client who is actively thwarting their ability to do their jobs. Here’s what they had to say.
“I have said this when a client has asked me to do something visually putrid: ‘I can’t do that, and it will be nearly impossible for me to explain why I can’t do it, and if I show it to you, you may even like it. But pretend that I am a lawyer and you asked me to do something patently illegal that would cause my disbarment and professional shame forever. That is what you are asking me to do.'” — Paula Scher, Pentagram
“‘Your taste sucks.’ Politely translated: ‘It’s not about what one likes or dislikes, it’s about what works.’ Our experience is that the initial feelings and reactions about visual identity designs are meaningless because we are trying to establish something that can endure for many years and have the potential to become iconic. We therefore try to shift the focus and the conversation away from personal taste and subjective preferences (“I like circles; I hate blue”) and toward more strategic considerations: Does the design work? (We also never show a client anything that we can’t live with if selected.)” — Sagi Haviv, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv
“Ha, I would never tell them their taste sucks! I would simply try to give them my best recommendation, based on explicit connections to the content of a project. [As designers,] our job is to educate clients on why we make the decisions we do, based on precedent, legibility, and/or function. If a client is telling us how to design, they’re probably not a client worth having.” — Jesse Reed, Pentagram
“Working with clients with bad taste has to be one of the toughest things to do if you are passionate about the work you do.
I try not to get into any arguments because at the end of the day it is their brand not mine.
Try these tactics:
1. Remind them they hired me for a reason and ask to save their money and just do it yourself.
2. Ask them if they want “my professional” opinion that clearly does not match their “non-professional” opinion.
3. Depending on the situation I will try to find examples of how other companies have made a similar mistake they are about to make.
4. Let their actions speak louder than my words by letting them make that mistake and wait for them to hire me to correct it.
5. Simply tell them I disagree and remove myself from the project.” — D’Wayne Edwards, Pensole
“We’re pretty straightforward and real with our clients, if they suggest something that will not work, we just tell them it’s a bad idea.” — Jessica Walsh, Sagmeister and Walsh