You and your team have invested hours into research, insight and come up with a presentation that will blow the client away. When it comes to present the designs, you’re excited to share what you’ve all been working to show. When you’re through, you gauge your audience but don’t see the enthusiasm you were hoping for. The client rejects your designs.
Unless you’re pitching to a new client, it’s unlikely they’ll dismiss an idea point blank in the midst of the design process. Unfortunately, not every design we create can make an impact on our clients. The most important thing to know that it’s okay to get rejected every now and again.
As James Kent, founding partner and executive creative director of Why, says, communication is 80 per cent of a designer’s job. A good designer needs to sell ideas, concepts and variations on a theme throughout the project, minimizing the risk of outright rejection wherever possible.
Rejection is always a possibility, and if you’re faced with it, don’t panic. Here are some tips on what to do if your client rejects your designs and how to win over those skeptical clients with advice from leading designers.
Read the room
Clients are just people, so it should be easy to pick up on cues being projected by the people in front of you. It might feel as though some are skeptical or that others need persuasion. As a designer and presenter, you should be able to pick up on these signals and tailor your presentation to help your client see the potential of your work so that they can make informed and confident decisions.
“A good designer and presenter would be able to see this and tailor their presentation to fit these people and to answer their requirements, allowing them to concentrate on the work and make informed and confident decisions,” says Kent.
Engage in conversation
If a design is going down faster than a burning zeppelin, you should stop presenting. It’s better if you just acknowledging things aren’t quite right. Take the time to converse with your clients. At this stage they’re most engaged and this is when you can pick the key drivers that will make them love the next route you show. If you continue to labour on arguing over an idea that the client doesn’t like, eventually even you’ll become sick of it.
Sarah Cattle, creative director at Pearlfisher, adds that giving clients the time to absorb the ideas is helpful. “What on first viewing may evoke a strong reaction, either way, can change within 24 hours,” says Cattle. “Encourage clients to combine their immediate gut reaction with their perspective 24 hours later.”
If the response is an ultimate rejection, however, it’s time to listen to what they’re saying. It’s not easy to hear negative feedback about your design – it often feels personal (although it isn’t). It is definitely tough to hear negative feedback and naturally your defenses will go up, but stop, take a deep breath and consider what your client says. Maybe they’re right.
“Designers must remember this,” says Steven Wills, creative director at Substance. “Clients have a far greater understanding of their specific business and marketplace than the designer does and therefore have a valid and important perspective in shaping what is ultimately created.”
Fight for your ideas
After doing your due diligence and listening to and understood the clients feedback, you might still want to fight for your designs.
Sometimes not putting up even a little fight and doing an about-turn the moment a client rejects an idea suggests that you might not have confidence in the solution. This might cause the client lose faith in your ideas. If you don’t know how to fight for your concepts, then you haven’t designed with the right process.
Do your best to convince the client as to why your idea works, and then they’ll have to reason as to why it doesn’t. Showing the evidence, concrete insight and reason behind a good design is crucial to back up all ideas.
Robert Soar, creative director at Dragon Rouge London, tries to think of all the questions a client may have. “I need to prove that I have thought of everything and this gives the client more confidence in us. They become more open to being persuaded that our idea is right as a result.”
In the end you’ll both either agree or disagree, but it will result in a compromise, which is beneficial for both sides.
Provide real world examples
It’s hard for clients to argue with you when you’re following a design principle that Nike, Apple and Coca-Cola are also employing. This is why using real-world examples to make a case can help to convince a client of the merit of a design idea.
One trick, according to Go Media president and designer William Beachy, is to show clients both the way they’d prefer the design, and yours. This gives the client the feeling that they’re in control. In fact, reassuring the client that they’re in charge is a crucial step in dealing with rejection.
No matter how adept at present you are, eventually there will come a situation where you’ll have to return to the beginning of the design process. The challenge from here is to find the energy to start over.
Don’t try and design yourself out of an idea by sitting at the computer, fiddling around and hoping the next route will solve the problem – because it won’t. Take a step back before starting a new design and work with the client. Retake every step of the process with them so they’re party to all the information and insight. Then when it comes time to present again, they’ll see how you came to that conclusion.
Understand what the client doesn’t want
Having to create new design ideas can cost time and money, but rejection can also be helpful in the design process. Sometimes the first solution to a problem isn’t the right one.
For example, when Sarah Cattle and her team were at the first stage of a project for natural skincare brand Green&Spring, she fell in love with a concept that was later rejected. Rather than give the client another set of concepts, which would have taken another two weeks, she created loose conceptual boards, with sketches and inspirational imagery, which took her around two days. When those pieces were presented to the client, they fell in love with the ‘British Bird’ concept.
“[After rejection] you are now very clear what the client does and does not want.”
Through the fog of possible disappointment and the energy spent on praising the merits of your brilliant original idea, what’s worth remembering is that you should always pick your battles.
Understand your role. In the end, you’re being paid to give the client what they’ve asked for. Do you due diligence and give your opinions respectfully, working for great design always. But know when to hold back and give the client what they want.
“Learn to put your ego on the shelf for a while. Ultimately, your design is not you. You have tens of thousands of these projects ahead of you. So let’s not give ourselves a heart attack over every one,” says Beachy.
Have you ever been in a situation where you put in your best effort into a project, presented the idea, but the client rejects your designs? Share your story in the comments below.
Need to laugh off a rejection? Check out ridiculous demands made by advertising clients.
Daniel is an Art Director and Graphic Designer with over a decade of experience in advertising and marketing in the Greater Toronto Area.