profession January 16, 2018

Why you shouldn’t try to be friends with your client

Today I decided we should talk about something that designers and design companies (actually all professions) suffer from: the inability to say no to the client.

This is something that deeply annoys me. On a scale of 1 to 10, one being the lack of caffeine and 10 people who thinking Comic Sans is awesome, this is an eleven.

Especially in Portugal, we embraced the idea that we should always please the person that is – directly or indirectly – putting food on our table. So besides wanting to impress our employer, we go the extra mile to impress clients (who more often than not are pushing for crazy ideas).

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that we are considered one of the most friendly countries in Europe because of things like these.

What I don’t like is the old fashion mentality that “the client is always right” and that he/she always gets away with everything. That’s bullshit.

So please, let’s stop pretending we don’t know that people take advantage of this kind of things. They do. The fact that we let them get away with it reinforces their actions and it becomes a never-ending vicious circle.

We are not and should not try to be our clients’ best friend. (Unless you are working for or with your best friend. In that case, be careful, be very careful.)

Here are 5 main reasons for not letting your client do everything:

1. He/she isn’t always right

People get things wrong. It happens all the time.

Even so, we have to tell the truth to the client even if it means he might be pissed off at first.

It’s not easy, but we have to explain when things work and things don’t and why he/she might be missing the point. Being straightforward will increase mutual respect and a healthy relationship.

We don’t have to be rude or arrogant in order to reason with someone (although sometimes we really feel like it).

2. You are the expert

You should do what it’s necessary so the client can get what he needs. This does not imply sugarcoating him (there’s enough sugar in this world). There’s a line between being friendly and professional and being irresponsible and naive.

3. The client is paying YOU

That’s right, we are being paid. So you have an obligation to deliver your best work. You don’t get to lie or deceive the client just because you know more about the subject than he does. The same goes for him. He doesn’t get to do whatever he wants just because he is passing a check.

4. Your work is not a matter of taste

This is a problem that every designer has to face. Somehow, people tend to think that Design is about making things prettier and therefore, it’s a matter of taste (I know I roll my eyes at this too).

It’s less about liking it or not and more about solving a problem in the best possible way.

Ideally, you and the client have to be on the same page but if you are not, don’t start a war over a red vs. blue argument. It all comes down to the project and the context, not personal taste or the “I’m the designer here” argument (rolling eyes my again).

5. He doesn’t always know how to communicate

A lot of times people struggle with communication. They know what they want and what they are looking for; they just don’t know how to put it into words. This is especially true in fields like Design.

In order to prevent misunderstandings, you need to communicate with clients, not avoid them. He’s not some kind of monster (hopefully).

Keep in mind that no matter how intimidating it is to you, it will be a lot worse if things go sour in the end. Let them know that you have their best interest in mind and communication will get easier.

Don’t throw rocks at me just yet. I know that what I’ve said doesn’t often happen and sometimes we have to do what we have to do to survive. Including swallowing frogs ( It’s a Portuguese expression. It means that we have to go through stuff we don’t like).

But still, we need to start addressing this kind of topics in order to make (or see) some changes.

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