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How to tell clients they are wrong: the art of pushback

By June 27, 2016November 4th, 2021Workflow

Good designers create exactly what the client wants. Great designers deliver what the client needs… There is a big difference.

Great designers create successful outcomes under any circumstances – even when changes and requests for their work seem to derail the project.

As a designer, you have to be ready to sell and defend your work at each and every point. This is where understanding handling pushback comes in.

When is the right time to pushback?

The most crucial time to pushback. When it will hurt the goal of the project – and hence impact the results.

As well as project goals, some other common areas impacted include:

  • Accessibility and readability
  • Website load time
  • Budget
  • Time constraints

It is your responsibility as a designer to make sure the client is aware of how their requests will impact the finished product.

How to approach pushback

Like a design solution — each and every case of pushback is different. You should approach it in a way that suits the unique situation and client.

Pushback isn’t about saying ‘no’, but as opening a dialogue with your client. You share the same goals – find out why they aren’t aligning. Pushback is a way to gently guide the project in the right direction.

Here is my guidance and best tips for pushing back on requests and changes:

1. Do your homework

You can’t pushback on something ‘just because’. If you don’t like their taste, choice or suggestions – simple instinct won’t cut it. You’ll end up in a battle of opinions that will end up in disagreement.

Step back and analyse: why? Why don’t you like their approach? Why do you see your approach as a better solution?

Will the design resonate with the target audience? Or create accessibility issues for a large portion of the audience?

Then research. Find articles or facts to back up your reasoning. Share these insights and discuss how it will affect the outcome of the project.

2. Take it back to project goals

What were the intended goals of the project, and how will they be effected? A reminder of what is most important to the project might be enough to nudge it back on track.

Relay this information with your client. Including examples that relate to financial outcome will resonate with most project leaders or business owners.

3. Another approach

Explanation and reasoning may be enough – but sometimes there are other factors driving a certain decision or change request. You might not be privy to their unique view or insider perspective.

If the client doesn’t like your solution; and you don’t like theirs – both likely have valid reasoning behind them.

There are endless ways to solve a design problem. With a few tweaks or new perspective maybe there is a another solution – even a better one!

4. Don’t be afraid to be wrong

Perhaps the client provided a new insight or something that wasn’t part of the initial brief. Never be afraid to be wrong.

If you’ve come to understand why there was a change in direction, thank them for sharing the insight! (and helping you create a better solution)

5. Know when not to pushback

The client wants what they want. They haven’t provided further details or perhaps there is another driving force behind the decision.

As long as you have advised them of any impact their decision and given your recommendation – you have done everything you can.

It can be disheartening to not have your expertise trusted, but don’t take it to heart. Learn from the experience. There are other clients who will respect and value your knowledge.

Keep it up!

The fact that you are passionate about your design is a sign that you are a great designer. Never stop caring about your projects and clients. Be that great designer!

Read more: Bad clients don’t exist, only bad designers.