Are you acting in the best interests of your clients?

One frustration I have with our industry is that some designers don’t always act in their clients’ best interests.

There are several notable ways in which this problem manifests itself:

Not addressing the client’s business needs.

Designers take pride in the fact that they aren’t merely artists; they solve problems for their clients.

All too often, however, designers fall into the trap of trying to make something look nice, and they lose sight of the big picture. Websites with image-heavy splash pages are the perfect example of this, as are sites that don’t clearly indicate what an organization does or how visitors can find what they’re looking for.

Ask yourself: What are my client’s goals? Does my design actually help the client achieve its goals, or does it just look nice?

Not caring enough to do a good job.

You don’t have to be an amazingly talented and supremely creative designer who spends dozens of hours on every project. Not every design requires that.

Nevertheless, great designers are diligent with every project, even those with lower budgets. It’s usually pretty easy to spot a design that someone created just to get paid. They’re ugly, overly cluttered (or, at the opposite extreme, too simplistic), and often look like templates.

Ask yourself: What would I say if the client asked if this was the best I can do? Would I be happy if this were my design?

Not thinking about the long term.

With mobile devices now account for upwards of 30% of all website traffic, it no longer makes sense for most organizations to ignore customers who use a smartphone or table to access their website.

Unfortunately, many clients don’t have the luxury of being able to redesign their site or to create a separate mobile site. But if their current site was built in such a way that it can’t be made responsive — for example, if it’s table-based(!) or uses Flash extensively — they might not have any other options.

On a more basic level, I’ve worked with clients whose previous designer built their website in such a way that even basic updates were tedious and costly.

Ask yourself: Can this design or website be changed with ease? Is it reasonably future-proof?


And finally, in my opinion the worst of all of them…

Trying to prevent clients from being able to leave.

Although I often have no problem with giving a client the layered source artwork for their project — provided that the project has been paid for in full — there are many designers who will not do this, particularly because they lose control over the finished result. If a client (or their new designer) butchers the design, the original designer’s reputation could be impacted negatively.

Some designers, however, won’t turn files over simply because they want to be compensated more, or because they don’t want to lose business. In my experience, you’re more likely to lose business by being needlessly uncooperative with a clients, especially if you rely on clients to refer business. To me, the best solution is to factor your source artwork into the project price, so you don’t have to fight with (and lose) clients over files that typically have a limited useful “lifespan” in the first place.

Ultimately, this issue is a debatable one, and there are plenty of well intentioned designers on both sides of the fence.

Another practice that’s less common, but far worse in my opinion, is when a designer (particularly a web designer) claims ownership of the finished design in its contract, and uses that to prevent the client from switching providers.

This is somewhat prevalent when the design company uses a proprietary software platform or content management system, and charges a service fee to use it, often in conjunction with a lower up-front cost. Of course, it’s not reasonable for the client to expect that they’ll be able to switch providers without having to switch platforms, but if they’ve paid for a custom design (as opposed to selecting a design template), they should be able to take that with them in the form of static HTML files.

This situation came up not too long ago with a prospective client of mine. They were unhappy with the service they were getting from their current provider, a company that lures clients with a low initial costs but higher monthly service fees. Unfortunately because the client had a large e-commerce site based on a proprietary shopping cart, as well as a custom design that the provider wouldn’t part with, the client decided they couldn’t afford the cost of building an entirely new site.

Ask yourself: Do my policies punish clients for leaving?


Most designers have had clients who are difficult to work with and try to take advantage of them. Although it’s important to have strong contracts and to enforce boundaries, it can be easy to take this too far, to the point of doing a disservice to the people you rely on to make a living.

Sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between standing up for yourself and not acting in your client’s best interests. Where do you draw that line?