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4 Ways Clients Can Hurt Project Outcomes (and How You Can Save the Day)

Whether you’re building a website, mobile app or even a marketing campaign, everyone involved is working towards a successful outcome. And, although the stakeholders share this common goal, they may have very different thoughts about how to get there.

This can be problematic. Everyone involved has to be on the same page. If not, that puts a project’s success in jeopardy. With people pulling the process in multiple directions, it’s too hard to get a grasp on which is best.

Clients can be especially difficult to deal with in this area. And it’s not because designers are somehow perfect (we’re not). It’s often a matter of competing styles and/or understanding what needs done and the methods for doing so.

With that, let’s explore some ways that a client could negatively impact the outcome of a project. Along the way, we’ll also discuss some potential solutions. Let’s get started!

Lacking a Clear Goal

It stands to reason that you can’t help a client achieve their goal if no one knows what it is. When you’re provided with either a vague description or maybe none at all – what can you do?

The first task is to try and understand your client’s perspective. Part of the issue could stem from a lack of experience in working on creative projects. Maybe they know they need a website, but haven’t had one built before. Or they had a bad experience with a previous designer. Thus, they’re in the dark about what they should expect.

It’s also possible that their particular line of work may not lend itself to this type of thinking. Luckily, they hired someone who does know a bit about the subject – you.

Having an honest conversation about the project can do wonders. Steer the talk towards what a website can do for their organization – be it sales, leads or brand awareness. When a client better understands what the potential outcomes can be, they can make an informed decision.

A group of directional signs.

Demanding Complete Control Over the Project

If a client is paying you to do a job, they should rightly wield a certain amount of control. They get to determine what the optimal outcome is and set (or agree to) budget parameters. A designer’s job is to make it happen. No argument there.

But there are situations when a client becomes a little too dictatorial. And it can lead to some really poor choices being made.

For example, think about a person who insists upon a color scheme that isn’t accessible. This is morally and (potentially) legally objectionable. Yet, even when advised against it, their “damn the torpedoes” attitude puts the project at risk.

Of course, there are any number of other scenarios where a controlling client can wreak havoc. It could be choosing software that isn’t right for the job, picking the cheapest possible web host or refusing to acknowledge mobile users.

This can be a tough one to resolve – but it’s worth the effort to try. A data-driven personality may be swayed by some hard proof of the consequences. Or it may be a matter of establishing a level of mutual trust (or enlisting someone who has that trust to plead your case).

If you simply can’t get through to them, so be it. They will have to live with the consequences. And they can’t say you didn’t warn them.

A person holding their fists together.

An Absence of Leadership

Yes, some clients may demonstrate the exact opposite behavior of the aforementioned power-hungry boss. And the results can be just as bad – if not worse.

You often see this in the form of design politics. Different stakeholders are all pushing their (conflicting) ideas simultaneously. The person nominally in charge does nothing to help sort out the mess. Meanwhile, you’re trying to prevent a bad case of whiplash from turning your head back-and-forth as they argue in front of you.

Attempting to work with all of these different factions is unlikely to be productive. After you do exactly what the head of advertising wants, the human resources guru may just tell you to put it back the way it was. Such is life when in political turmoil.

If no one is taking charge, then you’ll have to step into the void. Kindly explain the issue to that head honcho and implore them to take action. If not for the good of the project, then at least for your own sanity.

Sometimes this is exactly the wakeup call that’s needed to get things going in the right direction.

Letter tiles that spell out "CHAOS".

Copying the Competition

There’s a myth that, because your competition does something, you have to do it too. Nobody wants to be left out of the fun. It sure seems like a lot of organizations subscribe to this philosophy.

That’s not to say a competitor didn’t do something well. In that case, it’s great to be inspired by an idea that can be implemented into your own project. The problem is when a client becomes enamored with something that’s not so good.

When working with a new client, it’s common to ask them for a few example websites that they like. It’s a good way to get a feel for what they are looking to achieve. But, almost inevitably, that list of examples will include some poorly-crafted site from a competitor – and that’s the one they like the most.

Seeing this might make your skin crawl. But it’s important to stay calm and find some positive aspects of this no-good, very bad website. You can point these items out to your client, then gently explain the failures as well.

As a gesture of good will, it’s OK to suggest an idea or two that can be brought over to your client’s project. From there, you can go about the process of building something much better.

A neon sign that reads: "Don't just take, give".

Help Your Clients Make the Best Possible Decisions

It probably goes without saying that clients aren’t looking to sabotage their own projects. Some simply have preconceived ideas about what works best, while others lack concrete ideas.

This is where a web designer can play a pivotal role. By acting as a guide, you can help a client develop a solid strategy and learn more about the processes involved. As they become more familiar with the pros and cons of various ideas, they’ll likely make better decisions.

That, in turn, will lead to a more ideal outcome. And that’s a goal everyone can agree on.