There’s always a first time for every designer, and I see this in my DMs, in my coaching calls, in every Facebook group I’m a part of in this industry:
“My client really wants to use *insert ugly fontname /design element/color scheme here*, and I hate it! What do I do?”
It’s usually followed by “I don’t want to put my business name on something that looks like that…”. Your client has asked for a design decision that you don’t agree with, and you want to find the right balance of making them happy, while still maintaining the quality and overall style of design that you’ve created for your business.
There are many, many things to unpack when it comes to this question, so let’s start by asking the most helpful question:
How Did We Get Here?
This may not help much with this client, but it’ll prevent you from dealing with this issue in the future. There are a two main reasons you may find yourself in a situation where you’re not agreeing with the client’s design choices!
You haven’t established your style fully.
That’s okay! We all start out somewhere, and our styles change and develop over time. I used to get all sorts of different clients, asking for boho, elegant, simple, colorful, romantic - you name it, I’ve designed it.
The best way to establish your style and make it clear to clients is actually not to do more client work, but to design just for yourself and share the work that comes from those designs that feel truly “you” - and not to share anything else that doesn’t. That way, clients will reach out to you already expecting your style and will be more likely to agree with your design choices.
2. You haven’t earned the client’s trust.
It’s up to you to show value up front and make the client trust you. You should not let, or expect, the client to run the show, because if they’re giving you all the direction - why are they paying you? A designer’s value (at least, designers that get paid the big bucks) is in translating vague ideas, feelings, and stories into the invitation suite. People don’t pay custom designers to simply type their names in the fonts that they request. They pay designers to come up with new, unique concepts for them based on their overall vision.
If a client is dictating the process, it’s likely because they don’t trust you to translate their vision. Some clients are naturally less trusting, and try to be more hands-on, but it’s up to you to prove your value throughout the relationship by asking the right questions, demonstrating expertise that they can count on, and even by pushing back on them when necessary (gently, and with reason!).
Notice that both of these reasons are things you have done wrong from the beginning, not the client. If you have any issue with a client, there’s almost always something you could’ve done to avoid it. I realize if you’re reading this, it’s probably a little late for this advice, but it’s important to understand how issues are created to understand how to fix them!
So, What Do I Do, Laney?
Alright, the issue has arisen. The client wants to use that one font that makes chills run up your spine, and you don’t think you could possibly put out a piece of work with that font you hate so much. Now what?
First of all, breathe. It’s just a piece of paper (yep, we can use that phrase for the positive sometimes, too!), and you can figure this out.
The way I see it, you have three options:
Just do it. It works for Nike, it can work for you. It’s definitely the path of least resistance, and if you’re on a time crunch, may be the best path forward. It might make you cringe, but you know what? This isn’t your wedding. You’re not paying for it. The Customer is always right, and all the logic that goes behind that statement - your client will be happier, you’ll get through the project, and you may even get some positive reviews/referrals (and duh, the money).
Plus, you don’t have to show that work. You don’t have to literally “put your name on it” in any way, so as long as something isn’t literally offensive to anyone or “wrong” for some reason, then does it really matter if it’s not your personal taste? All design is subjective, so someone who’s not embedded in this world may not realize that font/color/graphic is completely overused or outdated - they may just like it.
2. Say No
On the flip side, you can totally say no. Especially if there’s a reason - maybe that font is extremely romantic and the client specifically wanted his pieces to be more modern. Maybe the color she’s asking for will clash with the linens she’s using. Maybe it just won’t fit in the space allotted.
Whatever the reason, and even if it’s a little “fudged”, you are the expert here, and your client is likely to listen to you if you’ve shown your value and earned their trust. They don’t know the ins and outs of design like you do, so feel free to (again, gently) direct them toward what you want to do.
It’s the cornerstone of every good relationship, and probably my favorite of the 3 options (although they all have their time and place). I will guarantee you that there’s a good middle ground in 99% of situations like these. Ask the client what they like about said “ugly” option, what they don’t like about your proposed option, or what direction they’d like to see the piece take that they feel it’s not currently taking.
Most likely, you can come up with something that’s not *dreaded font name* but is maybe not your first proposed option either. I find that clients have a tough time vocalizing their vision for design, because they’re not graphic designers. They don’t see 500+ fonts on the daily, and don’t understand which ones give what vibes, so asking the right questions can get you closer to that solution that works for you both!
Whenever I see this question, my first thought is honestly that the person asking it is a little selfish. They’re thinking of their own preferences, marketing photos, etc. over the needs of the paying client, which is not typically my MO. But I also see it the other way - you want to create a cohesive brand, and don’t want to let clients talk you into choices you feel aren’t true to that.
It raises an important debate, which is whether you’re in this business to be successful and make money, or you’re in this business to create art for the sake of art. We likely all lean one direction or another, and that can change at various stages in your business. I honestly am a business person first, and an artist second, but that’s not always the case for creative entrepreneurs.
If you find yourself disagreeing with your client’s preferences, you should first think about your immediate goal for this project - is it to create some beautiful portfolio work, appease a client that isn’t quite your fit, create something that works for a rushed timeline, or something totally different? That’ll help direct you forward and come up with the best solution. Then ask yourself how you got there in the first place, and what you can do to avoid these situations in the future!
What do you think? What are your favorite strategies for dealing with these clients? Let us know in the comments below!