How to Shift "Corporate" Clients Away from Boring Design

Published March 4th, 2024

This post started as a good discussion in our Discord #general channel.

I'm going to start converting these more long-form discussions and replies into blog articles for everyone here because I think the information is valuable and applicable without needing to produce a full video.

The essence of the discussion was this question (which I am paragraphing for clarity):

How did you design for "corporate" clients that like "corporate" design (e.g. boring, safe, unoriginal, same as competitors/the entire internet)?

This is always a tricky balancing game – and one I definitely handled poorly in my early career, firing clients who "didn't care about good design" as if my first idea was the only good design possibility on Planet Earth.

If-and-when you can feel in your bones that your client would benefit from getting away from their own bad taste (hate to break it to you, it's not always), or ending design-by-committee shenanigans, it's time to get strategic.

In the effort to shift them towards something more unique, something that separates them from their competition, there are a few things you can do.

Adopt an open mindset.

You as the designer are the expert. They're hiring you. But that doesn't mean you're infallible nor does it mean every idea of yours is gold. You need to hold your work in an open hand, willing to drop it and try again or let it fall through your fingers like grains of sand replaced by new ideas.

Don't take criticism personally. I know that design might have been a lot of work and there's no room in the budget to do it again, but the more you do this the faster you'll get. It's part of the learning process. Sometimes you just have to do more work than you expected, especially when you're learning.

Make Sure You Understand Their Goals

This is WHAT (Lesson 2.6) If you understand the client's goal completely, you'll find that there are many different options that can all work.

If you decide the goal is to make it "look better", you're entering into a subjective battle that you'll often lose because the client has different goals in mind. They might need to desperately increase revenue before they go out of business and getting anything out there might be better than waiting for the perfect thing.

Your client/contact might not be the decision maker. In that case, they're hoping to make a good impression on their boss, you need to make sure they don't look foolish by bringing something way out of left field that nobody asked for. After all, they hold the money, and you need to get paid.

But in the process of understanding their goals (I recommend a a casual discussion( β€” you have an opportunity to help them narrow down if they have too many. It's nearly impossible to achieve more than 2-3 things on any single page.

Get them to break their goals apart into different pages, each solving discrete problems.

Make Sure You Understand Their Audience

Next you want to understand their audience β€” the WHO in this equation. If the person visit a site you're designing is a purchasing officer or mid-level manager in a b2b company, then you have to make sure the design meets the expectations of legitimacy – basically to not look too unprofessional or out of place, lest they distrust the company.

Conversely, if the audience is college grads and young web developers, they're more likely to reject plain, boring design as being too stuffy.

Be Sure You Can Demonstrate How Your Design Solves The Goals

This is where you probably have the most chance of getting a client to accept a more "fresh" design.

For example, if the goal of a page is to get a user to click a specific button, make sure there aren't a dozen other buttons or actions they can take. Everything on that page should be working together to convince them that the answer to their problems lies on the other side of that click.

If their goal involves differentiation themselves from their competition (and if it doesn't, ask them if it should), you have a prime opportunity to show them screenshots of competitions page, identify how they're all similar, and do something wildly different.

Evolve, Don't Redesign

And finally, your goal isn't to get them to like your personal design style, but rather just think about how to bring your design style into their existing brand. Look for how you move it along the spectrum a bit, rather than throwing out everything they've done.

Grand-sweeping redesigns are very rare, and very very expensive. Clients are often thinking about stuff like "but we just printed 250,000 business cards with that logo/color/element, we can't afford to reprint", or "I know my boss's daughter did the current design and we can't tell him it's bad" or whatever β€” so you need to be flexible and pick your battles.

Find ways to extend their style in new ways, shift the layout to be more compelling, rely less on sliders and other black hold design patterns. Start by bring one or two new unique elements and take a different approach to the layout reusing everything they have that doesn't suck β€” evolving the brand instead of redesigning it.

Add a Pimple

Oh and one last piece of advice. When you're super happy with a design, make one thing a little bit ugly or out of place. Make the logo smaller, or pick a weird color for one element. Give it a pimple.

More often than not the client will feel the need to make a change β€”Β any change β€”Β so they can get you to do more work and feel like they collaborated. They might say "I like this design but the logo needs to be bigger" or "I don't like that purple button, can we go with the regular orange here?" Then you make the logo bigger and boom. You're done. πŸ˜ˆ

© 2024 Radical Design by Jack McDade