Coping with Non-functional Design Feedback From Clients

Having only graduated from design school a year ago, I still consider myself a “design newbie” with much to learn from the “real world.” There are many big and small lessons that I am still figuring out about the business of design. One lesson I find to be very important is the art of handling design feedback from clients. As a graduate of the design program at CSUS, I would like to think that I am pretty good at receiving criticism. When I was at CSUS the professors never failed to hand their students slices of humble pie. I am not a perfect designer (far from it) and oftentimes, with fresh eyes, they see things that I do not.  Overall I love constructive criticism.  But what happens if the criticism received from a client is not constructive or functional?

From Their Perspective

The more common criticisms are ones about particular font usage, color, images, etc.  Some of the less common decisions include feedback that affects key information on the design.  Keeping in mind that the client knows their business far better than I do, I try and look at the criticism from their point of view. I will ask questions like:

– Do these changes still fit with the project brief?

– Why is it important to the client that these changes be made?

– Is it bad for the client if these changes are made?


From there I try and find solutions to accommodate these changes. In many cases I try to find a compromise with the client. If I know a questionable design decision is being made I will often try and convey that to the client. Then I will look at the client’s suggestions and find a middle ground that includes the client’s feedback and will help functionally solve the problem.

Many times I will create a mockup of what the client asked for, to visually show them why their suggestion might not be the best idea. I will also create an additional mock up with alternative solutions to the underlying problem.  I’ll see which one the client likes, and find a compromise there.

Extreme Cases

Every once in a long while there will be a client who absolutely must have their way. It would be wonderful if their way was functional and could be executed with visual ease, but for the sake of this article, let’s say that the decision the client is enforcing is slanted far over to the strange side. Imagine scripty fonts that are hard to read as body text, or super bright neon background colors. All of which work to create a bad experience for the average website viewer. So what do you do when the client absolutely must have their way, and forces these changes onto your design?

I rarely encounter this situation, but when I do, there’s usually some emotion involved. I try not to let this happen, but every time there’s a lesson to be learned. I have conflicting thoughts that run through my head:

– Is the client always right?

– How can I deliver this, knowing that it may have a negative impact  for the client’s business?

– The voices of my professors telling me, “once you send the design out, you can’t undo it.”

But ultimately, I don’t want to lose this client. I need to make a living. I know that I have tried my best to find alternate solutions for my client, have asked second opinions from other designers, and done my best to change the client’s mind. However, if they are set on having their way, then I can only step back and understand that they are hiring me to be a pencil for their vision. I will not put it in my portfolio. I will just move on.


I would love to hear from everyone on how they handle this pickle. This is my opinion now and it can definitely change in the future. The rare times when an “extreme case” happens to me, I ask other designers for advice, Google for advice, and try to sit back and learn. I try not to take it personally. Please let me hear your perspective on this. Thanks!

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