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6 Practical Tips for Designers to Avoid Conflicts with Clients
Serhiy Lavrynenko
Serhiy Lavrynenko
205 August, 3, 2019 12 min

Sooner or later, any freelancer or design company, regardless of their specialization (the web, graphics, architecture, 3D-modeling), price level and professionalism, may deal with conflict clients. Creative work, in general, is a very problematic sector that depends on a subjective opinion. Therefore, it is especially important to protect your backs and avoid problem areas in the relationship with clients.

In this article, we have outlined six main issues, which a design company (or a freelancer) needs to take care of in order to avoid conflicts with clients or protect themselves if they do occur.

Draw up a contract for the provision of services correctly

The contract should always be signed, regardless of whether you trust the client or not! The contract, like the nuclear weapon, is an effective deterrent. No one will ever rush to use it to solve a conflict until no other possibilities are left, any lawyer will confirm that. The mere presence of a contract holds the conflict parties within reasonable limits.
If you can smell trouble coming in the relationship with your client, you can freely write him or her a letter with a reference to a separate clause of the contract which describes the rights you have or vice versa, the client has no right to demand something from you. The only question is whether the contract contains all clauses that can protect your rights. 

In your agreement prescribe all the possible problem situations in the way it is beneficial to you: contract termination, people in charge, work approval, reimbursement and refund, and copyrights. Even if the client demands to use their contract, insist on adding the paragraphs that are necessary for you. 
For example, our agreement consists of 11 pages in 12pt font size. If we face a new situation related to the deal, the contract should be updated immediately to avoid such cases in the future.

Some clients are joking that the contract they have signed to receive huge loans included fewer terms and conditions than we have for website design or development. 

Get the detailed design requirements

There is nothing worse for a designer than to be blindfolded at work. Don't be misled by the absence of restrictions for creativity. Each client has his or her likes and dislikes. The only difference is the stage at which you learn about them - at the stage of making the technical specification or at the stage of presenting the final design. 

If your clients say, 'You are professional designers, and I fully trust your opinion',  you shouldn't buy into this flattering. Most likely, they are simply too lazy to waste their time filling out your brief. However, it is your responsibility to make your client give you the maximum amount of information (their preferences and dislikes, preferably with specific examples). If necessary, sit next to them (or arrange a Skype call) and ask the follow-up questions. For example, we have briefs with sets of questions and answers. The more the client starts to think about the upcoming project, the more detail he or she will be able to provide.

Don't be afraid of a huge amount of rubbish you will receive from your client. No one is forcing you to use all this stuff in the design. Having all the client's requirements on hand, you can discuss them and say what is on trend now and what should be forgotten immediately. In such a case, the client won’t get an unpleasant surprise during the presentation and you will have no need to justify yourself and redo your work.

Present your work personally

Presenting the design to the client in a proper way is half the battle. If you want to spoil the clients' impression of the design, just send them the archive with the images — let them look at it and figure out how it works on their own. If this is not the case, the presentation should be made in person. 

If the clients are far away, and you can't invite them to your office, arrange a Skype call. Let me reveal you a terrible secret— despite the fact that humanity has been already flying in space for more than five decades, controlling the computers with the power of thought and creating artificial intelligence, most of your clients don't know how to set 1:1 scale and view the design in its real size. 

Moreover, they have poor imagination. They don't know what happens if you hover the cursor over a form or click on the arrow in the slider. They need someone to explain everything and make your presentations as visually compelling as possible. 

If you have drawn the logo that can be in different versions (for example, monochrome and color), spend a little more of your precious time and show how to use the logo on different media (luckily, there are enough mock-ups on the Internet and most of them are available for free). Get the idea of your design across to your client. In most cases, this will be more than enough to approve the work. Even if the client does not like it, he or she will be sure that you have really put a lot of time and ideas into the design.

Use the interactive presentations services

Adding to the previous point — the design presentation should be as interactive as possible. For this purpose, you should use special online services that allow you to model the real use of the design. If you are presenting a website design, it will be much better if the clients can see its pages in the browser window rather than in the program for viewing images. This will allow them to estimate the real page size and the active area within a single screen.

If you look at the website design from your Full HD monitors with IPS matrixes, it does not mean that the clients do the same. They might want to have a look at the website on the screen of the old Lenovo, and it would be pretty good if the service itself opened the page in the correct scale. The list of services for presentations you can google yourself. For my part, I can advise on a simple and convenient service - InVision. It allows you to create interactive prototypes out of usual images.

Don't be afraid to make difficult decisions

Let's imagine a situation. The client doesn't like the design concept you have created and now he or she is expressing dissatisfaction with your work in a rude manner. You ask for specific comments on the design. However, the client has become a different person. He is no longer a cute and fluffy animal as he was at the first meeting; he has turned into an arrogant person, who is openly expressing doubts about the ability of your company to complete the project. 

You are preparing the second concept, but the result is the same — the client does not like it. What to do next? Should you continue working to the bitter end, since  'the client is always right'? Maybe you don't need to spend more time and nerves on him? The client is behaving aggressively, and if he hears something he dislikes, then his reaction is hard to imagine at all. Do you have to return the advance payment? But what if the client wants to sue? This is a rough list of issues that may arise under the psychological pressure from the client. 

But if you have read the first paragraph carefully, there can only be one solution — stop the cooperation immediately. Without being rude calmly ask the client to break the relationship. If the client insists on an official statement, indicate that you have executed the terms of the contract and have prepared the two concepts; however, since the client was not satisfied with both of them, you do not see the possibility to continue working. Offer the client other contractors and wish him good luck with the project completion. 
The main message of this situation — if the conflict with a client has shown up at the early stage of the project and has not been resolved quickly, most likely, the rest part of the project will also be problematic. Time is the most valuable asset. Don't waste it on those who are not worthy of it. 

Ask for the design approval

It is very important to get a confirmation from the clients that they like the design concept and ask to continue working on it. Even if they look adequate and non-conflicting, you need to be on the safe side.

There can be two options. The first thing is to ask them to send you an e-mail message with the text 'The design concept is approved. There are no claims to the contractor' and the files of the design in the attachment. The second option is to print the design on paper and get the signature with a seal (if any).

Unfortunately, Ukrainian legislation is not perfect yet and does not give a clear answer to how designers can protect their rights, so the lawyers can call into question both of them. For example, in European countries, this issue is solved very simply by means of an electronic digital signature. 

However, as I wrote earlier, our task is not to win lawsuits, but to stop conflicts at the very beginning. 

May all your projects be successful!