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So Your Client Has This Idea…

Published by Chris Coyier

...and you think it's a bad idea

You think it's a bad business move on their part. It's going to cost them a lot of money and you don't think it has a snowballs chance in hell of making any money back.

I mused this (totally hypothetical) situation on Twitter a few days ago, and quite a lot of people had something to say about it. I was actually quite surprised, most people said do the job. My initial feeling was definitely don't do the job, but now I'm not so sure.

Thanks to everyone who responded. I kind of amalgamated the responses and feelings from the responses. Let's take a look...

What the hell do we know?

It's their business, it's their customers. Sure, we think we know the web, but do we really know if this idea will succeed or fail? A bad attitude up front may kill a potential job before it ever has a chance.

It's about integrity

Aren't we doing clients a huge favor, and saving them lots of money, by saying no to a bad idea? Shouldn't they appreciate that? How many big design studios do you know with a bunch of failure websites in their portfolio? Doing right by your client gives you integrity, and that might be why they come back time after time. Integrity can be one of our most valuable resources.

Are we just robots?

When we walk into a hair stylist with a picture of a crazy haircut, do they turn you away? Does a pop machine second guess your choice of Mountain Dew when you put your dollar in? We provide a service. We design websites.

We got billz to pay

Saying no to jobs is saying no to money. We have kids and mortgages and buckets of popcorn to buy at the iMAX. Is this any place to get philosophical? Do the job, take the money.

Can a great design agency make any idea succeed?

That's the business we are in, isn't it? Making ideas happen. Many design agencies, if asked what they do, would say that they help other businesses succeed. Isn't it kind of like giving up or turning tail and running by saying no to a "difficult" job?

How deep will the failure be felt?

Is this company going "all in" on this venture? Make it or break it? This should surely factor in to our response. If you knew people could be potentially losing their jobs on this failure, that would be a lot harder situation than a little side project going under in a huge company.

Where is the blame going to land?

If this idea really does fail, what then? Does it flutter away in the wind? Does the company blame themselves? Or do the fingers come pointing at you?

Do we tell them?

Take it or don't take it, do we let it be known how we feel about the idea?


Food for thought.


  1. I was thinking that until I met my current client…. All I would say is, do the job, do what they want if it can be done. You can advise things may be a bad idea, but only advise.
    The more they want you to work, the more money they pay. The more something does not work and you have to resort to changing to what you advised, then they start to listen.
    Ultimately it is their business, they (should) know their own business, all we are doing is providing a service to show that business in a different but popular medium.

    • I agree with you 100% document your thoughts on it and do what they ask.
      Sometimes there are external factors that affect the equation, like office politics , ranking and business initiatives. When they have to revert back to your initial suggestions they will learn to trust you more.

    • Brian
      Permalink to comment#

      I’m with you. I’m dealing with the same issue with my client. We’ve been through seven revisions now, three of them major overhauls. I’ll admit, the issue I had with them is their direction. They gave me this site: as their “favorite”—they like it’s simplicity. I agree, it is simple, but my pride got in the way because I immediately thought it looked out-of-date, and wouldn’t showcase my talent. Seven mock ups later, I’ve bitten the bullet and put together something similar, probably too similar, and they’re happy.

      Suck up the pride and give your client what they want, even it’s something you won’t showcase to other clients. Lesson learned.

    • allcarvedup
      Permalink to comment#

      Indeed we must all remember that we work FOR the client. We are a pseudo-employee. I fully agree with documenting your reservations (not enough designers do this and of the ones I have seen that do, most take some holier than thou attitude…we are not gods…we are hired help)…heh…VERY TALENTED HIRED HELP.

      If the client wants a site with poor navigation and green and pink and bright purple…well, your job is to take this vision and make it work. Guide them…

  2. Permalink to comment#

    If you can afford to be picky and argue with your clients, be my guest. Have fun telling them that Flash menus aren’t as sweet as a styled list, or whatever…

    • You’re right on. They don’t care about what markup or tools you use. They have an idea, they want it sought through, and if you don’t do it they’ll go elsewhere.

  3. Permalink to comment#

    You voice your concerns, but assuming you know their market better then they do is foolish. As the keepers of the web we often get this better-then-you, I’m smart and you’re dumb, attitude. I’m as guilty as anyone. But let’s be honest with ourselves – we make websites and have an idea about marketing strategy, we’re early adopters and we often hang out with others like us. If anything, we’re often the ones disconnected.

    • allcarvedup
      Permalink to comment#

      Exactly, Jason. I have been on both sides…began in web, saw the other side, and jumped sides about 6 years ago. (I kinda like being the one giving the orders…ha ha ha…not just another designer making a generic site)

  4. Chase
    Permalink to comment#

    Are you saying the pet rock isnt a great idea? It made a million dollars.

    I think its all about the way you present it. You are there to give recommendations as well as do the work. They hired you because you are the expert on the subject. One thing Ive noticed at my work is that sometimes when I say something is a bad idea its a bit standoffish and that causes problems vs if I handle it better and say hey here is my recommendation because of X reason that typically its listened to because this is my job its why I am here.

    There is also a big difference if you are doing contract work vs full time at a company. If you are doing contract you may be more incline to let it slide.

  5. WC
    Permalink to comment#

    If it was an ‘absolute go-out-of-business failure’, I’d refuse the job. If it’s just a bad idea, I’d explain and then do the job, never complaining again.

    As with most things, it’s grey area, not black-and-white.

  6. I almost designed a website for a client that had a really dumb idea, and I was going to go with it until it got to the point where they wanted me to be a “business partner” and get paid when the idea “hit it big.”

    Thats the point I’d draw the line, I’d LOVE to design a site for the next Pet Rock or Crystal Pepsi.

    • HA! I had that happen to me also. lol. Pretty lame. Good sign that they probably don’t have any money to pay you.

  7. Permalink to comment#

    As a service provider, one should not generally offer strategic or business advice to a client, unless that’s the service you offer. I’ve had many clients in the past who have requested things I did not agree with or understand.

    Very often an enabler is simply there to fulfill something that fits into a grander scheme, so it would be unwise to make assumptions without the full context.

    On the other hand, if you relationship with the client is flexible enough to question and offer opinions, then I don’t believe you should hold back.

  8. When we walk into a hair stylist with a picture of a crazy haircut, do they turn you away?

    In a lot of cases, the answer here is “yes”! There are many stylists out there that will refuse to cut long hair to a much shorter style, or give certain styles to people when they know that they won’t suit it.

    Personally, I think that’s a bit extreme. I think it’s important to point out if you think something isn’t such a good idea, but I wouldn’t out-right refuse to do it based on my own opinion if the client is dead-set in their request. Of course, I’d try to suggest alternatives if I know of any, and it’s the kind of job where alternatives are possible—obviously designing a site from the ground up based on a bad business idea wouldn’t have alternatives, but displaying news items in a ticker tape would be easily implemented in a different way.

    I just don’t think that it’s as clear cut as “bad idea, don’t do it”/“do all jobs, it’s not your place to question anyway”.

    • DivinoAG
      Permalink to comment#

      The thing is, that is not really the question Chris is posing us. The hair stylist is not really a good metaphor.

      The hypothetical client is not asking you to make a bad website (or whatever). They want you to make a great website, with good design and good usability, just like you would do to any other client. But the website is promoting a very bad new product that just won’t work.

      Do you advise them about that product, or do you just do your job?

      The problem with the original question is that you can’t know if their idea is actually good, and you just can’t see it, since that’s outside your area of expertise. You might want to give them your opinion about it, but you cannot predict its success.

      It’s actually easy to make a better metaphor for this: would you do a design job for a company selling a product or service you don’t believe in?

      Would you design an astrology website if you are skeptic? Would you design a Muslin website if you are a Christian, for a democrat if you are republican, for a McDonalds if you are vegan?

      Would you give them your ideas of how their concepts are wrong? Do you just refuse the job altogether?

      As designers, I believe our job is to make an idea look good and interesting, not to pass judgment on the value of the product, service or company being shown. Anything more then a honest advice when asked for, is beyond our job description. You might want to offer it if you like, but be ready to deal with the possible consequences (like losing the job).

  9. I work in-house for a large corporation, so I don’t exactly have the luxury of turning anyone away. When a business (from inside the company) comes to me and asks for something I disagree with, I make my opinion clear but always say “I don’t like it, but if your happy, I’m happy.” Sometimes you have to just grit your teeth and bear it.

    If you’re in a situation where you are able to turn away something you don’t believe in, I suggest taking full advantage. Unless of course that means losing future work from that client, then you have a real decision to make. But what if this idea of theirs is a dud to you but for whatever reason they believe it’s great? Even if it isn’t perceived that way by their audience.

    That may sound crazy but it happens more often than you would think. People take pride in a project that they had the idea for and actually gets fully developed and created. Then they start really getting confident and pushy with more outlandish ideas in the future. Before you know it you’re having 10,000 24 x 36 posters printed out with a low res image and 3 sentences that barely take up 1/10 of the poster.

    I guess there are a lot of factors to take into consideration and it may really only be best judged on a case by case basis. My advice: always be careful what you get yourself into!

    • Jamon
      Permalink to comment#

      “I don’t like it, but if your happy, I’m happy.”

      I love that line. Well done.

  10. Simple: It’s a methodical process of steps… Think about it… you analyze if it’s good or bad for the client to do the requested move and then let them know based on your experience that you think it’s not gonna be a smart move (in this case). If the client decide to do it anyway, you did your integrity part of letting them know your professional opinion… now you can freely take the job and Pay Your Bills as we all do.

    • Permalink to comment#

      You got it. That’s pretty much how it goes. State your opinion politely, remain consistent with your integrity and respect the clients decision to disagree with you if they choose to.

      If you really have an abundance of work and you’re too busy to deal with unreasonable clients, then turn it away and deal with the fallout. Ultimately though, for reputation’s sake, just do it and move on.

  11. Daniel
    Permalink to comment#

    Surely, the best thing you can do is advice them about hat your experience say.. but the costumer must decide what he will get.

  12. Its all relative really – Yon don’t have to be all elitest and say “The idea sucks, if you do it you’re going down” but you can discuss the idea via the design process that you go through… if there is an alternative that you think might work better then offer that as an idea. If they are so inlove with their idea that they don’t take your advice, or they believe themselves correct then you can do no more really…

    At the end of the day its their product – if they are willing to pay you what you ask with a healthy deposit and you can make it look good enough for your porfolio – go for it… You do have the power to choose though, each case is individual and should be handled that way.

  13. Very good post for people outside of the design business also, eg. consultants, etc.

    Basically, you should just do the right thing. You can feel what the right thing is deep within you. That’s what you have to do.

    “Character is doing the right thing
    when nobody’s looking.”

    J.C. Watts

  14. Permalink to comment#

    I try to pay attention to whether or not they’ve asked for my opinion. In some cases my customer holds my opinion in high regard and likes to know what I think. They call just to bounce an idea off me. With other customers I can tell that they’re not interested in my point of view. They want what they see in their head, and if I don’t want to do it, then I say so (with a ‘why’ of course). And they’ll probably take it somewhere else.

    Also, and it’s been said here already, bad ideas aren’t usually backed by much money.

    • Jamon
      Permalink to comment#

      Also, and it’s been said here already, bad ideas aren’t usually backed by much money.

      Probably because the customer has been unsuccessful in the past for the same reason–lack of business acumen. This isn’t a put-down but rather a realistic way to approach the project. You always should treat customers with the utmost respect even while disagreeing.

  15. DivinoAG
    Permalink to comment#

    I read quite a few of the answers posted on Twitter for your question, and all I can say is that, yeah, in a perfect world, where integrity is the norm, sure I would tell them why I think the idea is bad, how they could improve it, and so on. But the real world is far from perfect, and like I said on Twitter, honesty and honor is not as well regarded as it should.

    If I have a good relationship with the client, and I know they will appreciate my honest feedback, yes, I tell them. But if it’s a new client that I don’t know how they are going to react, and they haven’t asked for my opinion on their product, just for my work… then it’s on them. I do the job, get the money and pay my bills.

    I say that because I have had the experience of losing jobs after giving my opinions about not-design-related issues, and hearing “you take care of your part, and I take care of mine”. Not one time, not two, but many times. If I have almost weekly discussions with my boss about giving good design advice to our clients instead of the usual “just do what they asked you to do” he always tells me, I’ll surely won’t get myself where I wasn’t invited.

    Sorry, but the whole “give them honesty, and they’ll respect you more” is just pure utopic.

  16. Max
    Permalink to comment#

    Interesting post with some insightful replies.

    I had one of these “scenarios” that became a valuable learning experience. I had a client, a really nice older gentleman who represented a group of retired businessmen. They had this idea that they were really excited about. I knew it was a really long shot, but agreed to do the job.

    But once we started the site design the dumb ideas never stopped coming: the worst case of design by committee I have experienced. They chose cheap stock photos that really failed to represent their idea. I began to voice my concerns and present alternatives. Things sort of went south from there. I wanted to salvage what I could to help ensure the site would be well received by the public. They began to see me as an obstructionist and even created fresh paperwork for me to sign saying I would do their bidding without question from then on.

    This was a red flag for me though: I backed down and never made a comment again and just did the work. I knew the idea would fail though. I was right as it never went anywhere. The group lost money, the economy tanked and I never received my last payment. My contact says he has no money and simply can’t pay me.

    I just left it at that and deiced to simply be satisfied with the learning experience as the whole sorry episode included most of the textbook designer-client follies one could think of. While I was right on the money about the merits of the project I was guilty of sticking my nose in where it did not belong. I think I also will recognize this kind of situation in the future and trust my instincts and just walk away next time…

  17. I think that you have to be as effective as possible when dealing with clients. You want to give them the best product you can while meeting their demands as best you can. If you are tactful enough, you can almost “have your cake and eat it too”.

    I come from a long history of customer service positions, anything from basic service up to escalation issues, and I can tell you that you can get so much more done by telling them what you can do and why it is a benefit. If their idea total stinks and you don’t want to do it, you need to come up with alternatives to get to the same results (site business) while incorporating as much of their bad idea as you can. Telling a client what you CAN DO instead of what you WONT DO, or think STINKS will usually result in a nice comprimise and keep integrity on both parts.

    Just my two cents…enjoy.

  18. I’ve refused to do certain things for a web-site, because it was a bad idea, and the client truly just wanted his project to succeed.

    For instance, he has a web-site with a green background, and a couple large images in the content area, that make up the design. I built a print stylesheet to not print all the green, and not print the design-y pictures. Only the branding and the content.

    He insisted it print exactly as the web-site, because the web-site looks cool. And I continued to refuse, stating that it’s such a tremendous waste of someone’s ink, and anyone printing the web-site only wants the content anyways.

  19. Great conversation guys!

    Let’s maybe take a SPECIFIC situation and see what you guys think. (This is completely fictional).

    A client has an idea for a web service. Basically, a little bit of javascript you can insert on any page, to track data on the visitors. People can sign up for this service, it costs $200 a month, and then you can place this javascript on your pages, log in and look at how many visitors you got on your site (that’s it’s only feature)

    They want to call it SUPER WEB TRACKER 9000 and they want to pay you $10,000 to create it.

    What do you tell them?

    • send them the links to google analytics, and a few open source ones and if they still think that it is going to work and are going to proceed whether you do it or someone else does it then i would do it. id rather get the money than someone else if its going to be done anyways.

    • DivinoAG
      Permalink to comment#

      Do I know them? Do they trust me or is it just a random job?

      Like I said before, things are not black and white, and we shouldn’t make the mistake of treating like it is.

      If they are clients that trust me and respect my judgement, then sure, send them off to Google Analytics and tell them there’s a good service just like they imagined for free.

      If they just got my number somewhere and want to make this job and move along… and they didn’t ask what I think about the idea, just sent me a briefing, then they’ll get the job done by the schedule.

      I don’t make assumptions about their product, or about their good sense. If they don’t have good sense enough to research before releasing a product, what makes you believe they will understand and agree with your opinions?

    • Permalink to comment#

      I would press for more details and, if nothing points to a unique product next to Google Analytics, I would enlighten them about GA. If they still wanted to go ahead with it and cough up the 50% down payment, I would certainly do the job. I might wait to put anything connecting the product to our company or mentioning it in our portfolio until I saw it prove my expectations wrong.

    • Permalink to comment#

      I give them a link to Google Analytics and if they still want the site they get there Javascript and I get the $10,000.

    • …I take cash. lol.

    • redouane
      Permalink to comment#

      I’m affraid it’s very hard to say. Rates for web site design and develepment can vary enormously, depending on factors like experience, geography, the client’s budget, even time of year! what to charge for your web design services depends on number of factors: your costs(your clients are not just paying for the hours you put in. They should also be paying your education, training and experince, as well as your hardware, software, time spent on research. If they don’t cover those costs, you have to.), the expertise, experience, and skills you offer, the percieved value of your services to your clients(Consider rhe value that a client will get from what you offer. How will it affect the image or profitability of their business?).

  20. Permalink to comment#

    Looking at it from another angle, if you think it’s a really bad idea or, in Chris’s specific example, a major rip-off, do you want that in your portfolio and on your CV for evermore?

    So you get your big payday (or not), but do you want to be known as the guy/girl who designed and built the website for the company who shortly afterwards lost thousands and went bust, or was sued for millions for selling dodgy products?

    Mud sticks.

    I would say treat each case on its merits and if you are not comfortable with it then politely steer the client elsewhere.

    • DivinoAG
      Permalink to comment#

      It only goes to your portfolio if you put it there. Don’t advertise works you are not proud of, it’s not even a good idea to show people every single work you ever done. Your portfolio should display what you do best.

      Work is work, if you can afford to let a job go away just because you’re not going to be proud of it, you don’t really need to work.

    • Permalink to comment#

      By that criteria you might as well sell crack on street corners.

    • DivinoAG
      Permalink to comment#

      I’m sorry you had to go that far, we are just having a discussion about ideas here, there is no need to get offensive.

      I’m a designer, not a salesman, so no, I wouldn’t go to street corners to sell anything. But as someone who’s been working for more than 10 years with design, I know that many, many times we need to do works we are not particularly proud of.

      Sometimes it starts well but the client just directs it to some Frankenstein of fonts, colors and pictures that we would be embarrassed to show to our own mothers. Sometimes (like my current job) we are working under someone else, and we don’t have the option of refusing anything.

      When we put together our portfolio, we pick our best 10 jobs or so to show to our next potential employer. Of course those awful jobs won’t be among them, but that’s life. I would love to be able to look back and see that every single work I did was the absolute best possible, but I don’t dwell on things beyond my control.

    • Permalink to comment#

      For $10,000 I’m a pop machine and they want Mountain Dew. They are the ones that hit the button.

    • Permalink to comment#

      In what way is that offensive? By your criteria, anything goes as long as you are making money.

      Would you build a porn site? Or a creationist website? Or a racist site? Does it just depend on how much?

    • gongze
      Permalink to comment#

      what’s wrong with a porn site XD

    • DivinoAG
      Permalink to comment#

      [going back some levels here, the indentation is making it hard to read]

      It is offensive when you make it sound like I would gladly point a loaded gun to somebody’s head and pull the trigger if enough money was involved.

      I don’t need to be a woman to make Victoria’s Secret’s website, I don’t need to know how to drive to make Chrysler’s website. I’m not producing content because I’m one of the potential clients of said content. I’m making it because that is my job as a designer.

      If you have a fundamental belief against whatever is being advertised on the website you were asked to make, sure, refuse the job. But you are making quite a jump here, because that was never the question, not the first one, and not the one commented above.

      You assumed the proposal Chris made was a rip-off, but he never said anything like that. There are several companies that offer services similar to Google Analytics, such as Woopra, Yahoo and Microsoft. The only catch about Chris’ proposal was that it sounded like really bad business, and would never work that way, so your client would be throwing money away.

      No one is asking anyone to do something illegal or against your personal philosophical beliefs. The question was only: would you do YOUR JOB even if you knew the clients idea wouldn’t work?

      So, going back to your point about putting that on your portfolio: if you did your best job, even if the product didn’t catch on like it should, why wouldn’t you? You are not responsible for the efficiency of product or service of your client.

      A website can look absolutely awesome and still no one uses. Accept your responsibility, and leave the client worry about his. You can help him if you want, but you cannot do his job.

  21. DivinoAG
    Permalink to comment#

    I was discussing this subject with my coworkers today during lunch, and while I posted a few comments here saying that I would definitely do the job, I feel I must say something additional.

    My main problem with the idea behind the question is that assumes that we can just refuse the job if we really disagree with the product or service this client is trying to sell (I’m assuming this client is not gonna endanger someone’s life, he’s just gonna lose his own money). Reality is that, if it pays good money and we need it, refusing just out of principles is just a silly proposition.

    But not every single designer needs money that desperately. I’m sure many of you are doing fine, and won’t starve to death if a single client backs down. In this case: absolutely, advise the client, and if he refuses to listen, then don’t do the job.

    While money is always good, there is no price to your integrity. Just make sure you’re not full of integrity but out of food.

  22. Permalink to comment#

    If I painted Houses for a living and a guy wanted his house pink. I paint the house pink. No I don’t put a sign in the front yard with my name on it saying I painted the house I just paint it. The guy is the one that is going to have to live in it not me. You can take this question Chris asks how ever you want the bottom line is I provide a service and if someone wants me to provide that service then I do.

  23. Our job isn’t to tell them how to market their business, it’s to explain why a “skip intro” screen is a bad idea.

  24. Permalink to comment#

    Not only should you do what the client asks, but you should do it well, and most importantly be EXCITED about it. Clients love when you are excited about their projects. Fact is, the general public/ people are idiots and will buy pretty much anything. You see people driving PT Cruisers right? Enough said.

    • Lisa
      Permalink to comment#

      Hey, I loved the PT Cruiser, and I’m pretty sure I’m not an idiot.

  25. Daniel Apt
    Permalink to comment#

    I also believe that good agencies have such a good portfolio, because they’re able to create outstanding products, even though the client’s idea might not be great, the agency’s product lifts the client’s idea to a next level.

    • Permalink to comment#

      I was about to post the same thing,

      If the clients idea just sucks, its our JOB to create something awesome from it.

  26. Rhett
    Permalink to comment#

    I wear my heart on my sleeve. I am ALL for that “Work the job if you believe in the company” policy. I’m running into that right now: there’s a student group I’m working for that wants to become professional while still in college. The parts aren’t in place! And they’re convinced a bang-up website will make things magically happen!

    There’s the fundamental issue that technology cannot make up for morals, focus, and training. Given that, hell YES I’d turn down the job if I didn’t believe in it. And your integrity will lead you to the clients who share the same.

  27. Permalink to comment#

    I try to take a Devil’s Advocate type of role with anything my clients send me. If I think I see a hole in something, I’ll find a way to ask about it. Depending on the client I’ll push for better definition on their part and help them clarify their offering. I’ve never had a client blow up in my face because I pointed out something to them. Some clients, though, may not want to hear. That’s their problem. Good clients appreciate a team-player spirit and, after all, they’re paying you for your expert opinion. It’s really just a matter of finding the right way to point something out. Often you can do it just by playing a bit dumb and saying something like, “Can we just go over this one more time. I feel like I’m not getting something here…” If you’re meeting with a team, or you’re on a conference call, usually there’s someone else there in the mix who also has misgivings—and once you pipe up, they will too.

  28. Our clients pay us to do what they ask. If a client asks me to do a job I feel is beneath my skills, I still do it. Think of how other industries do it.

  29. DMC
    Permalink to comment#

    I’m glad a discussion about this came up. I’ve got a similar yet different situation coming up shortly. I’ve got a job I’m interviewing for that appears to be managing an organizing a companies website. There is a bit of confusion, but I’ll find out soon enough.

    The problem being that their website is new… As in end of last year, start of this year new. Problem is, it needs some seriously help. Still uses tables everywhere, lots of random and repeated javascript everywhere, no analytics I can find, no privacy policy. It needs some serious help in both design and organization.

    The dilemma being, I could really do some good and like what I’m doing, but at the same time I have to figure out the best way to interview for it. I have no clue what they think of their site. Being also that I’m usually a fairly direct person, I’m going to have to try and figure out how to hold myself back and be 90% positive while being 10% negative. They also appear to be into making their own social networking site now too, I’m not sure what they are really up to either with that since it can mean so many things.

    While not the same thing, the problem comes up where, I need a job. At the same time, do I possibly want my named linked to a website that, in its current state, would reflect very badly on me? Either way, I can hope that when I go in they know they need improvement and I can show them 11ty billion different things I can wand want to do to help them.

    Reading the comments here has certainly help in weighing the pros and cons of different things.

  30. Permalink to comment#

    Great points! :)
    How about… “So Your BOSS Has This Idea…”?
    I’d love to hear that too :D

  31. Imagine yourself in the client’s position. You have a wild, outside-the-box concept for marketing your widgets that is risky but you’re excited enough to give it a shot. The problem is you don’t have the artistic or technical skills to pull it off. So you come to me. If I give it my best shot and put your wacky concept out there at its colorful best, whether it makes you a millionaire or falls flat on its face in the mud you’ll remember me as the go-to guy who gave your edgy concept wings. If I say no, I’m the jerk who wouldn’t help you with your idea. Forever. Even worse, I’m the arrogant you-know-what who thought he knew more about widgets than you do! Should I tell you I think it’s a bad idea? You bet. But I should also do the job.

  32. Max
    Permalink to comment#

    The problem is one size does not fit all.

    I have done projects where I have been brought in to do just the CSS. The rest was done by a team: designer, developer and content creators etc. No need for far ranging discussions on my part.

    Then there are those jobs where you wearing all the hats at once. A client comes to you, says he/she knows nothing about the web but needs a site. I feel part of the “service” is guiding the project to a certain extent. Lousy ideas need to be dealt with, content needs to be search engine friendly, splash pages dropped, throbbing animation avoided, Comic-Sans needs to be eliminated etc… You know the drill…

    But, you need to know where the boundary is: that line in the sand will shift from project to project…

  33. DivinoAG
    Permalink to comment#

    I really think this discussion is very interesting, thanks a lot Chris, be sure to throw more of those curved balls at us, it makes for very health talk.

    Two things I wanted to throw at you guys: first one is just to point out that I feel some are making the mistake to assume this hypothetical client wants us to make a bad work, which I don’t think is what Chris proposed. They want a great, elegant and beautiful website, with nice fonts, colors and pictures, a design to be remembered. The problem here is not with the design, but with the product/service the design is advertising.

    The second point… well, try to imagine yourself a few years ago, this hypothetical client walks in and he wants us to make a great website for a new service. As he describes the product, you immediately think “OMG, he wants me to design Facebook’s status updates as a single website.”

    You probably think “why would anyone go to a different website just to adjust their status, when they can do exactly that on Facebook, along with plenty of other functions?”. Would you refuse this job, would you try to convince the client his idea was bad because there was already a better, more powerful service you can do exactly that? Imagine you convinced them the idea was bad.

    Well, congratulations, you just killed Twitter.

    History is full of ideas that sound really bad at first, until you see it under a different light, under a different context. It is impossible to predict when something apparently stupid will be successful against all odds. Just look at the Pet Rock image at the end of this article; would you ever imagine that would sell?

    It’s because of that I repeat my previous opinion: do you know the client and they trust you? Then go and offer them your opinion. If you don’t know them that well, then only say anything if they ask for it. But to even consider refusing the job because the client’s business plan doesn’t sound solid is silly. You might smile for a second if you hear the plan busted later, but I assure you, you are never going to forgive yourself if the thing becomes an unexpected success.

    There is no success without risk.

  34. Jeff Campana
    Permalink to comment#

    I’m not a designer, and know relatively little about web stuff amongst this crowd, but I think that there are very few if any ideas that are doomed no matter what. I guess I’m with DivinoAG, that there’s no way to tell what can or cannot succeed until it succeeds or fails. I think, however, that a designer should be willing to share concerns. Design is problem solving right? Maybe your client doesn’t see the problem, but pointing it out doesn’t mean a red light, just a hurdle. Maybe it will require a lot of hours and $$$ to figure it out, but that’s what you’re there for, eh? Sounds fun.

  35. Permalink to comment#

    If they’re trying to sell a crappy product, a good website may actually help. I wouldn’t argue, but just do the job, and do it well. If their crappy product or service then sells you may get more work from it.

    If they’re trying to have you design a site with out of date features and crappy usability I would tell them why it’s not worth the trouble and suggest something that may work better. “Suggest” is the key word here, some clients are stubborn, but a little suggestion never hurt anyone.

  36. Permalink to comment#

    I always assume that the reason I’ve been hired is to help the client make money. Sometimes they aren’t. I’ve had a few that were just in love with “owning a business.” There’s not much that can be done for them. And frankly those site owners tend to be cash cows because they will constantly be tweaking things. Everything but what would actually help the site, but they will be tweaking.

    Once I can establish that we are both after the same thing, I can make my arguements from a purely business perspective.

    I’ve determined recently that my new answer when a business owner disagrees with me is, “It’s worth testing.”

    If they aren’t willing to test the two approaches then I know I’m dealing with an “owner” and not someone who wants to make money.

    I prefer to work with people who want to make money so depending on how busy I am I can decide to take the job or drop it.

  37. I would do the job, according to the brief I’m supplied with. The client is paying me to create what they want. If I have reservations then I will make that clear and at the same time make it clear I would do the job I’m asked to do. I would add a clause to my contract stating that I am in no way liable for any loss of business as a result of what I’m asked to deliver, etc and make sure the client understands it and signs it before work commences.

  38. Daniel Lord
    Permalink to comment#

    I think you can take a page from another service profession’s handbook: You tell them that in your professional opinion, reminding them that’s part of what they pay you for, you advise pursuing other approaches. Explain why the alternatives are more attractive . However make it clear that, as their client, they make the final decision and you will execute any choice they make with the same professionalism they hav come to expect.

    That other profession is lawyers and they have been giving advice for hundreds of years very suyccessfully. Lawyers know how to offer advice but always subject their opinions and advice to the clients wishes.

  39. Well… you’re either there to do a design job or you’re there to be a business consultant.

    Express misgivings if your relationship with the client (internal or external) is good enough.

    If you’ve really got a bug up your butt about the project and feel it “violates your integrity” then don’t do it.

    But to take the stance (as at least one commenter did) of not doing what the client wanted for seven revisions because it “wouldn’t showcase my talent”…well… that’s puerile.

  40. When I get a new client I generally always ask if they would be open to my input throughout the project. I have never had a client that so no. When I think there is a bad idea I tell them “I am not sure this is a great idea” and then I give my suggestions. By doing this it has lead me to more design and development work because my clients generally agree with my suggestions and refer me because they think that their experience with me was great.

  41. I’m sorry, for me is actually a pretty easy mater.

    See, I decided since the beginning that I would not work for email advertising, and I have even included a clause that my work cannot be used to such ends, or else.

    I also won’t also stuff for “adult entertainment” purposes, or any other subject that I may find objectionable. It might be tough times but I will not compromise my principles for cash or fame (not even for both).

    When it comes to a bad idea, I try to be positive about it. Saying no to a bad idea closes the potential to develop their train of thought further so the idea becomes a good one. Or maybe keep an open mind, I mean, can you look us straight in the eye and tell us that you really thought that twitter was going to do so well? You don’t know, you simply can’t. An open mind and a weather’s eye can help you navigate through most ideas. Remember, you don’t know, you simply can’t.

    I do advice you to stay apart from ripoffs, knockoffs, and clones. They will usually do you no good. Even if your client wants to be the next youtube, it should start with a fresh approach. More of the same won’t help your portfolio either.

    In any case, for whatever reason any idea can either make it or tank. If they tank… then it’s not the end of the world, learn from the mistakes you and/or others might have made, and that’s it I guess.

  42. Jess
    Permalink to comment#

    Hey, I’ve been reading and watching (web-stalking?) for a while now, but never commented. This one came at a good time for me, freaky really, because I was considering emailing this exact topic to somebody. It was a great post and conversation.

    I just wanted to come out of the shadows & say something on how much a west-coast blog and podcast is helping a Southeast Ohio girl learn the ropes. Thanks much. The internet is a marvelous thing.

    On topic, it’s an interesting conversation, but I’m still rather conflicted. I’m pretty much getting a “You’re providing a service, so advise if you must, but in the end just do the job to your best ability, unless it conflicts with your core moral standards” vibe. Or maybe that’s just what I’m choosing to get out of it. Sounds about right.

  43. Permalink to comment#

    I loved Crystal Pepsi.

  44. rob

    I will do just about anything for money, except comic sans, that’s where I draw the line. This reminds me of a song, titled “Take the money & Run.” P.S. I liked Crystal Pepsi, I think with better packaging design they could have succeeded.

  45. Permalink to comment#

    Mike Montiero makes a point about this:

    His full talk is worth a watch:

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