Kilian Valkhof

Front-end & user experience developer, Jedi.


Web, 14 July 2008, 3 minute read

Design critique by clients is one of the hardest things to deal with, because, well, comic sans is not a bloody option. However, you’re not going to convince them by just saying “no, that looks really bad”. You need more information from them, you need their Why.

What’s up?

There is often a misunderstanding between designers and clients. Designers want clients to provide an overview of their business goals and client perception and apply their knowledge to make a design fitting with those goals. And clients, clients want more blue. Or yellow. Or mauve.

Dealing with design critique starts right at the beginning of a project. At that time, it’s best to confront a client with the way you work. what do you expect from them and what can they expect from you. I use a website requirements list that only touches on looks at just one question (asking if they already have ideas for the design themselves) and I’m considering taking it out. The rest of the questions are all based on their business goals. What do they want the website to achieve, what do they want their visitors to think about them, who do they want their visitors to be (and no, everyone is pretty much never a target audience). Then, the next question is…


Clients say A, but mean B. You hear this a lot, and that’s because it’s true. There is, however, one question that will lead almost every client from A to B in a quick, painless way. Why?

Why happens when you craft a perfect design fitting to their every business goal and targeted at precisely their audience, and the client doesn’t like the colours. You ask them why they don’t like the colours. Perhaps he discussed his website with his wife, and she really liked hot pink. By explaining why the chosen colours fit with the clients business goals, and thus provide an advantage for them, you can help a client realise you want the best for his business, not the best for his (wife’s) personal taste.

By asking why, and allowing a client to explain his reasoning, you can show him, in a non-insulting way, that design is not about personal preferences.

Luckily, however, it might just be that a client has a perfectly valid business reason for wanting hot pink instead of whatever colour you chose. Being able to recieve design critique means that you can objectively decide whether the client is, indeed, right, and hot pink fits their business goals better.

Just because

ew. ew. If in any way possible, avoid clients that do not provide solid reasoning and arguments for their critique. If someone can’t tell my why they do or do not like something, I’m not listening to them. By asking the why question a lot at the beginning of a project you can easily filter these clients out. Filtering them out doesn’t always mean not taking them as a client. Sometimes, clients like this are really easy on design choices, and sometimes charging a lil’ more covers the frustration just fine ;)

This is the system I use to handle clients and design critique, What system or method do you use?

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  1. I think print designers that don’t have a clue about the web are worse. Varying browsers and resolutions don’t mean a thing to them! “I want this line to be exactly this font size everywhere and must only contain only these words, and this box must always be in this exact position even if they resize their browser and text. Oh and the footer ads must be above the fold because a visitor has to scroll to see them which is dumb”.

    At least a client won’t insist they are right because they have been “educated”. They say A and they mean A, even if B,C or even D make more sense and are actually possible, A is the answer. It gets worse when they say come to the “compromise” of “ok, as long as it works in our studio browsers then we don’t care”. Sigh.

    Anyway, excellent post! I am not a designer so I don’t have to work with clients on the design front, but the occasional “I was thinking about adding an animated gif…” phone calls are usually easily dealt with because they understand we know what is best for their business. I should point the studio’s designers to this post though, I’m sure they would have plenty of fun stories and techniques! :D