How to Balance Client Needs vs. Your Portfolio

The following questions may sound silly. But let’s say that you just booked a new web design project. Now, ask yourself:

You’d like to think that most designers are ethical. And they’ll keep their focus entirely on client needs.

But we’re all human. And sometimes, we add bells and whistles to a project for the wrong reasons. We may not even be aware of what we’re doing.

It comes down to those little decisions we make during the design process. Sure, they can enhance our portfolios. But they may not have a positive impact elsewhere.

Thus, understanding our motivation is crucial. Are we focused on our clients or ourselves? How can you tell the difference? Let’s try and identify who that fancy feature is benefitting.


Look What I Can Do!

I’m fascinated by all the cool trends sweeping the web. Sometimes a new feature will grab my attention. And I simply can’t wait to use it in a project.

Parallax scrolling is a prime example. It’s a widely used effect. But I’ve yet to add it to one of my projects.

Then, I found myself working on a website that seemed like a good fit. It included a stunning hero image that would wow users. So I implemented it.

Technically speaking, the result worked well enough. I beamed with pride when thinking about my accomplishment. And I know that my client will love the aesthetic.

The reality was different. My client wasn’t thrilled about the feature. They correctly pointed out that the effect was distracting to users. It took attention away from the page’s goal of driving conversions.

It turns out that the effect made the site harder to use. It didn’t help visitors find what they were looking for any faster. If anything, it got in the way. So, what went wrong?

Looking back, I was focused on the wrong thing. I used parallax scrolling just because I could. And it didn’t improve the finished product.

I wasn’t happy with myself. This was like a child being mischievous to get a parent’s attention. It may work. But not without annoying someone along the way.

Sometimes web designers add features for the wrong reasons

Features Should Have a Purpose

Don’t get me wrong. We can still make use of cutting-edge features. But the feature needs to serve a purpose. Whatever we implement should solve a problem or improve the user experience.

Microinteractions, for instance, can be a great way to guide users along a path. They can make processes more intuitive. And animation can call attention to an important piece of information. It’s all about picking the right time and place for using them.

We run into problems when adding features without defining their purpose. Think about what a given feature should accomplish. Is it just for showing off? Or will it benefit both users and your client?

Web design is nothing if not a “me too” industry. We often use these elements to prop up our ego and income. Plus, none of us want to appear to be behind the times.

But we may come to a different conclusion if we’re honest about the project’s needs. Many (if not all) of these extras can likely be left out.

A good rule of thumb: If it doesn’t add anything useful to the final product, it doesn’t belong.

Web design feature and special effects should serve a specific purpose

What about Client Requests?

Web designers aren’t the only ones adding bells and whistles. Our clients often request these features as well. So, what do we do in these instances?

It’s a tricky situation. We want to keep our clients happy. But we also need to think about best practices. And we owe our clients an honest assessment.

Therefore, the same philosophy should apply. Discuss feature requests with your client. Be sure to mention the pros and cons of implementing them. Most importantly, try to define their purpose.

It may be enough to change their mind. And if not, at least you tried to put the project’s needs first. You can’t win them all.

Have an honest discussion with clients regarding feature requests

Design for Your Project, Not Your Portfolio

Great design exists to make things better. However, getting there takes a lot of thought and some soul-searching.

In the end, it’s about finding the right solutions for the task at hand. Having an impressive portfolio means a lot to our success. But doing right by our clients means even more.

With that in mind, it’s OK if your portfolio is missing those trendy features. Maybe you haven’t found the right time yet. There may be an opportunity to implement them down the road.

It’s more important to help clients solve problems and achieve their goals. That will mean more to your chances of future success than anything else.


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