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One of the major challenges for any graphic designer is balancing the notion of “the customer is always right” with providing a fair and reasonable quality service/product that represents you well. For instance, if they hire you for a standard movie poster, but demand a billboard of epic proportions, that isn’t reasonable. But what if they ask you to violate your design sensibilities, what then?

The Dilemma

Without a doubt, it can’t be argued that a good graphic designer and business person has to have considerable respect for each and every one of their customers, but where do your creative input and skills weigh in on the ultimate product. When we are requested to change and amend elements of our work, we should do so without question. But what if your customer strongly wants a change that you know goes against your experience or more importantly the established design rules?

Unless you have a firm contract that states otherwise, any change that your customer demands should be made. As they are paying for a product, their desire will win out. But the work is yours as well and is a direct reflection of you skills and your business. Future customers will encounter your work and judge it, affecting future business opportunities and your reputation within the design industry.

Weighing Your Options

One needs to weigh the impact of violating one of the accepted rules of graphic design when you change a clients design to suit their demands. Can you educate and guide the client in a better direction? Alternatively, can you incorporate their demands without dismissing or caving in to them?

Your ability to explain in terms they can understand what the changes they are suggesting could negatively impact the website or design is key. Is there a way to comprise by incorporating their the essence of their intention rather than the practical deleterious change they suggested? Can you identify the customer’s core concern to involve the customer in an alternative solution. If you are able to the client and their concerns in the design process, it will make them feel like they are still achieving their ultimate goal.

It is not enough to simply be a creative powerhouse. When managing a project and client, design is only one portion of the endeavor. You are also an educator, professional, translator and negotiator with your client to achieve the goal of providing a quality product for your client.

Who Knows Best?

Undoubtedly, on the inside you might be asking “who knows best?” But that isn’t really your objective. Your customer comes to you with a unique history and understanding of their audience. It may come with tremendous experience or just a personal preference. But they are coming to you to actualize their intention. Would you go see a lawyer and over rule their recommendation that is based on the law simply because you held a different belief? That is where the tension can enter the relationship. Isn’t the client coming to you for your expertise? Do they have the right to tell you how to do your job?

From prior experience, I would recommend that before you enter any design project, there should be a clear understanding of both parties and what they bring to the project. Understanding your role is essential so that you can ably translate the client’s requirements into a design. One helpful tip for when you encounter difficulty of vision on a project is to create a visual choice comparison, for the customer to see exactly they have requested next to what you would suggest. Along with gentle education regarding why you suggest the different direction, can give you the best chance to influence your customer in a mutually beneficial direction. You want to create wonderful designs that are profitable to your client and that you can be proud of so they can create more work for you as well.