One of our focuses at Viget is to always be good consultants—even when it means pushing boundaries, challenging our clients to think critically about how they talk about themselves, or breaking the status quo with cutting-edge design and technology.

We always have a common goal with our clients: to make the best end product possible. We want to get there with a shared understanding, process, and enthusiasm about the work.

This context is always helpful to lay out at the beginning of any new engagement. But it also lets our clients know they’re in this with us—and that there are certain expectations that come with being a client. With this article, organizations on the receiving end of work like ours can learn concrete ways to help keep a project moving forward.

Appoint a client-side Project Manager.

While consultants are tasked with handling the work, there will certainly be times when we’ll need to get feedback on a deliverable, get a download of some organizational structure or industry, learn about a client’s product, and more.

Likewise, we always like to review budget, timeline, and tasks to keep our clients abreast of what’s happening on their project at any given time. All this means we need streamlined communication.

It’s most efficient to channel everything through one person on the client side. We recommend up to eight hours per week over the course of the project—sometimes it can be more, and sometimes less. This works best when that time is set aside as an actual commitment—it gets everyone in a regular and predictable cadence and will prevent your staff from experiencing project burnout.

Deliver batched feedback.

The best client contacts are skilled wranglers of batched feedback. We’ve experienced both sides of this coin—a single collated list from one person, and a smattering of thoughts collected from executives and other departments that often contradict one another, copied and pasted into multiple emails. The former is much more productive. Then we don’t have to spend a client’s budget combing through a list of line items that don’t add up, make sense, or convey different messages, and then have the back and forth needed to resolve them.

If there’s one person we’re communicating with, they’ll also have a good idea of the decisions we’ve made along the way, and why we’ve made them. That will help them filter out irrelevant requests or spark internal discussions that can be beneficial.

Along these lines, it’s also very helpful when a client provides feedback that is:

  • Thoughtful
  • Specific
  • Actionable
  • Rationalized
  • Timely
  • Candid
  • Goal-oriented
  • Supported with alternatives
  • Vetted

This is a lot to ask for, but the closer we all can adhere to this model, the more efficiently the project can move without sacrificing quality.

Get your stakeholders involved in key decisions.

More often than not, the executives who approved the budget or key decision makers for the company will need to weigh in. It’s crucial to identify these people early on, which is something we can do collaboratively, and get them in the room during strategic milestones.

This mostly falls under a client’s domain, but we are eager to support those conversations. We can assist by sending out an early agenda, conveying the importance of the subject matter, and impressing upon stakeholders how ignoring big milestone decisions throughout the project can have implications for budget and timeline down the road.

The repercussions of not getting the right stakeholders involved are significant. It’s important to take early steps to avoid it. Internally, agencies should work to figure out those milestone dates. And on the client side, do whatever you can to loop the right people in, and don’t be afraid to ask us for help. (We can always record a meeting or take diligent notes as a last resort, but this removes the opportunity for stakeholders to interact.)

Timeliness is key.

At the start of a project, you’ll more than likely see a wonderfully laid out timeline with phases, key milestones, and review dates. Sometimes, this falls apart as we go through the project. As one thing gets delayed, it causes another to get delayed, and so on. These timelines inevitably turn into living documents.

That said, there is a tendency near the beginning of projects to feel more comfortable letting things slip because the end of the project may feel far away. One of our jobs as consultants is to get as hyper-specific as we can plotting milestones out across a calendar, which means it doesn’t matter when something slips, just if it does.

We do everything we can to stick to schedules, so it’s important that clients try to do the same. If things start to slide, we’ll encounter blockers, may have to pause work, or be forced to make decisions that may impact work down the road. These feedback loops should be established and agreed upon before feedback actually needs to start happening—that way, everyone knows what to expect when we move into that phase together.

Help us prioritize.

If there are strict time or budget constraints for a project, it’s fair to think of software development in terms of trade-offs—a rapid development cycle often means starting with an off-the-shelf solution; comprehensive documentation means a less polished product; adding a new feature may require sacrificing an old one. The examples are numerous, but it’s best not to think about this kind of work in a silo.

The concept in its barest form is simple: there is only a certain amount of time that can be spent, so adding more things adds more time (and therefore, budget). We can use our best judgement for prioritizing one feature, artifact, or design over another, but decisions like these are best made in conjunction with a client. They will know better than anyone what is most important to them.

Ask questions.

Our clients’ levels of familiarity with digital work varies. Sometimes, explaining how to interpret a wireframe is a waste of time—sometimes, it’s a totally new concept and worthwhile exercise.

A client should feel empowered to ask questions about anything and everything that doesn’t make sense to them. Questions make the work better. Specific inquiries about how we landed on a certain design pattern, why we chose one tool over another, or why an interaction is prototyped a certain way can help facilitate critical thinking across both teams. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about our decisions—and certainly if what something means isn’t immediately clear.

We do the same on our side. As a Project Manager, I’m often reviewing designs or feature sets before they are presented to a client. It’s my job to interpret these with an outsider’s perspective as well. This sometimes airs requirements we may have not accounted for, helps uncover bugs, and gives the creators an opportunity to hear how their work is interpreted from someone who hasn’t been thinking about it as much (which is usually more representative of what the end user’s perspective will be).

Tell us when you don’t feel comfortable.

We’re going to extend a client’s comfort zone. There will be times when they’ll be pushed, hesitant, or surprised. That’s good.

What’s not good is when they feel uncomfortable about the state of the work, the budget, the timeline, or overall project health. We want to know that as soon as possible so we can course correct together.

Let’s be forthright about scope.

The word “scope” can make people cringe. It’s often a nebulous term used to encompass an individual perspective upon what fits within a project. The reason it’s nebulous and individual is because it’s impossible to fully define all work that will happen to get a software project across the finish line, and one person’s opinion on what goes into that may be vastly different than another’s. Unexpected items will come up.

However, there should be enough clarity established throughout the sales process to create a shared understanding of what we’re all working towards. With this idea as a guidepost, we can have productive discussions about what work can fit within budget, and what can’t. If budget can flex, scope can grow. If it can’t, we’ll have to think in terms of trade-offs. Our best clients understand this, and want to work together to find solutions.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that we always try to be good consultants. A big part of that means setting expectations, both for what clients can expect to see from us throughout the project, and what we’re looking for from them. They’re both equally important.

If I had to condense this article into one takeaway, it’d be this: the more aware clients are of how big an impact they can have on process and the end product, the better everything will turn out.

Stay engaged, be transparent, and work hard—and we’ll do the same.


Outer monologues – the feeling of freaking out on the inside, but remaining cool and collected on the outside – is something that we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives. Whether you’re trying your best to show that you haven’t been rattled after someone has made a snide remark, or panicking that you’ve left the hob on just as the lights darken in the cinema, this disconnect between brain and outer appearance allows for a wealth of visual interpretation, that Katy Wang recently took in her stride.

Working with a crew of three animators, with Katy acting as director, designer and a bit of an animator as well, the It’s Nice That Grad from 2017 was commissioned by Mailchimp for an exciting new series of shorts. In this episode, Katy was teamed up with American actress and former model Joy Bryant, and tasked with animating her life experiences in just under four minutes. “When I received the full recording of her interview, it was so interesting to listen to her talk about her upbringing,” says Katy, “and how her boarding school experience and relationship with her grandma contributed to so many revelations aiding her personal growth.”

Every word dripping with emotion, for Katy, the voiceover provided a myriad of themes to explore through her signature style of fluidity and colour. As we’ve watched Katy’s talent as both an animator and director evolve before our eyes, she’s come a long way since graduating from Kingston University two years ago. As well as gaining more client and commercial experience, the director goes on to tell us, “This might be boring, but a big skill which I’ve learnt is writing emails to clients; breaking down my process in a way that makes sense to them and negotiating things like budgets, deadlines and so on.”

Continuing to grow in confidence, and with the support of creative communities such as Panimation and She Drew That, Katy’s last year has seen her go from strength to strength. From teaching motion design at Sweden’s Hyper Island to working on that ever-tricky relationship that is a creative’s work/life balance, Katy continues to hone her craft through just the right amount of improvisation, experimentation, not to mention hard work.

Recently signed to Blinkink, the Outer Monologues commission is the first of many directing projects for Katy. Using her key creative instincts, she decided to focus on one particular aspect of Joy’s interview that she felt would resonate with everyone and anyone, regardless of whether you know who Joy is or otherwise. “It’s the part where she talks about going to boarding school and reaches this turning point in her youth where she no longer has an inferiority complex” adds Katy. Combining this emotive section with bold colours and abstract visuals to reflect Joy’s experiences of growth, insecurity and knowledge, the final film culminates in an inspiring work of self-discovery and coming of age.


Trust, clear project goals, and objective feedback creates an environment that repels stupid suggestions.

Do you struggle when asked to implement bad design ideas from your clients?

You’re not alone.

An experienced product designer (we’ll call him “Dan”) contacted me with some excellent probing questions about this fundamental design challenge. It created a deep back-and-forth discussion which helped me uncover the tricks I use to stop bad suggestions before they derail my design projects.

Dan asked:

One thing I struggle with is when exploration turns into decision making. When it’s time to get the design approved, things too often descend into “how a web design goes straight to hell”. I manage an okay level of quality in the end, but have to fight hard for every pixel.

10% of the time my ego gets in the way, I’ll admit.

90% of the time it’s just bad client feedback.

I can wrestle clients back around to a better path most of the time. But is there a bettert way to avoid clients derailing their own projects, and me having to implement their poor ideas?

All of us, no matter what our level of design experience, are challenged by poor client suggestions. The difference between experienced and inexperienced designers is the way we deal with that feedback.

It may feel like clients constantly derail their own projects with bad suggestions, but let’s remember that they aren’t design professionals, and you are. If their creative ideas are as good as yours all the time, you’d have to question whether you’re still the design expert in the room.

Bad ideas don’t come at you like some uncontrollable outside force. You’re driving the design process. You have more control over them than you think.

The following tips will help you eliminate poor client suggestion from being expressed in the first place, and deal with them respectfully when they do surface.

Some clients simply suck. Sorry for throwing shade but it’s the truth. There are personalities that are difficult to work with, disrespectful, or downright destructive. No amount of hand-holding and relationship building will overcome their deficiencies.

These clients are best avoided no matter how promising the project sounds. They are the ones who will be more stubborn in their bad ideas and refuse to trust your expertise when you try to steer them straight.

A quick story about one of my only failed client relationships…

Years ago I worked with a husband and wife team starting a new side gig: a premium dog accessory brand.

Part way through the web design process they began accusing me of creating designs that looked too “templated” and “cheap” even though those two words are polar opposites to the type of design I create. There was obviously a miscommunication about what they were expecting. The style was in keeping with the visual inspiration they provided, yet they didn’t like it.

I invited them to meet me and hash it out in person so we could all get on the same page. My only demand was that both partners were present for the meeting (because I had previously observed that they disagreed with themselves a lot and I wanted to make sure the two of them were on the same page as well).

That single, polite meeting request soured the relationship to the point that they wanted to cancel the project and not pay for any of the work to date. Clearly, they felt effective communication was too much to ask, and would prefer I read their minds instead.

Needless to say the project was cancelled.

I later found out that they’d been through a similar series of events with previous designers, all with the same poor result of unravelled relationships leading to cancelled projects. They were serial bad clients. The kind to avoid at all costs.

When clients are that bad, you can usually recognise the red flags early and avoid the project. But sometimes they deceive and charm you at the start, and their true colours don’t show until later.

The other side of the coin is that your personal brand and marketing must be attracting high-quality clients. If bad clients stop coming to you, you can lower your red flag radar and focus more attention on effective collaboration.

The more your client stakeholders trust your expertise and respect your opinion, the more likely they are to agree with your proposals and allow you to override their preferences when you have a strong case to do so.

Ideally, your clients come pre-loaded with this trust, because they’re repeat clients or come from word-of-mouth referrals. These are the best clients because your reputation has already built a trusting relationship.

When dealing with fresh clients you have to use your initial communications to demonstrate your ability and build that trust. So when the time comes to make those decisions they are less likely to oppose you.

Establish trust through professionalism, dedication, honesty, and over-delivery.

Never underestimate the power of listening and understanding. If your client feels you’ve deeply understood and empathised with their needs, they will better trust to you to meet those needs in your own way.

You try to frame the discussion around business impact and project goals. Client goes “yeah that’s nice, I still want [insert annoying request]”. What do you do?

That one bad decision could open up the floodgates to others — wave upon wave of bad follow-up requests. Is there some soft skills sneaky persuasion technique to avoid this?

Manage feedback expectations

When it comes time to present a design for review and collect stakeholder feedback, it falls on you to set the right expectations and ensure your client knows what feedback is useful and what isn’t. That means:

  • Setting clear boundaries for the type of feedback, who needs to give it, and a deadline for its submission.
  • Steering the feedback towards objective goals vision rather than subjective preferences.
  • Asking clarifying questions to get past prescriptive solutions to the root concern.

Read more on giving and receiving great design feedback:

If, after properly directing the critique process, you’re still receiving suggestions from clients that don’t align with your vision of a successful design solution, go back to the basics.

Align project goals

First, make sure you agree upfront what the goals of the project are — these legitimise all ideas considered for implementation. If they cannot connect their request back to one of those project goals, it has no place in the discussion. If you’re both on the same page is very easy to dismiss bad ideas in a way that’s not disrespectful or personal. Everyone has the best interests of the project at heart, and can allow that to overshadow their egos.

Second, your client isn’t their customer/user. As harsh as it sounds, their personal preferences are nearly irrelevant. Does what they want match what their user needs? Do they have any analytics or research to support that?

If the project goals are user-centric it makes it difficult for bad or subjective ideas to enter the picture.

But even if bad ideas align with the right goals, you don’t have to implement them. Come up with a better idea that satisfies the same underlying concern.

I struggle with face-to-face meetings. Sometimes stakeholders will throw such a weird curved ball request that you don’t even know how to react. I get overwhelmed by the stupidity of the suggestion and don’t know how to reply on-the-spot. In the meantime another two people chipped in saying how great that feature would be and then suggesting another two extensions to it. All while below the table my legs start shaking nervously while I watch the project derail in front of me.

Via email I have enough time to respond. In person I choke. I’m an introvert and I naturally try to avoid conflict and disagreement.

I hear you Dan. That’s why asynchronous communications (like email) can be far easier to deal with than live discussion, even for those of us who aren’t introverts.

Defer awkward decisions

When you get put on the spot to respond to a bad idea, defer the decision until later. Say that it’s an idea worth exploring, but you can’t assess how well it will work until you’ve had a chance to go do some design exploration. Stay polite and open-minded — put your best poker face on — even if inside you’re about to lose your marbles. Then you buy yourself time to compose a good rebuttal.

The more people involved in the conversation the better it is for divergent thinking (generating ideas) and worse for convergent thinking (evaluating those ideas and deciding on the best). So when talking face-to-face with a group, stay in the divergent mode and don’t stifle exploration, but make it clear that you will need time to assess those ideas before deciding which ones are worth pursuing. Don’t allow questionable ideas to expand too far unless they have unanimous support from the group, yourself included.

This strategy of deference is useful for all kinds of other essential client communication. Don’t allow yourself to get put on the spot when asked for a price quote. Buy time to compose your estimate the next day.

Any time you’re asked for a decision that you feel underprepared to make, there’s no shame in saying “I don’t know for sure yet. Give me a day to think about it and I’ll get back to you.”

That’s always a better option than blurting out the painful truth on the spot.

I’ll sometimes say “look, it’s my professional duty to steer you away from that decision because [logical reasons why it’s bad]. But given that you have your heart set on it, I can implement this for you”. I find this works. Most people back off. But that doesn’t leave the best vibe, so I use it sparingly.

Just like Dan, I fight hard for quality, and I use a similar line when I have to fend off bad ideas. Don’t be afraid to use it more than sparingly so long as you keep it polite and respectful.

Stand your ground for the right reasons

Standing your ground shouldn’t be about ego. It isn’t “I’m right and you’re wrong” because I’m the design expert and you’re not.

That may be true. If a client is paying you for your expertise, they’re only getting top value out of you if they allow you to use that expertise with some level of autonomy. But…

You stand firm when any idea is doing a disservice to the goals of the project. You stand firm when you’re asked to do something that’s harmful to the end result. And you better be sure you’re right.

As the famous quote goes:

Strong opinions, weakly held.

Stick by your convictions, but stay open-minded. Offer opportunities for other stakeholders to disprove your idea and convince you another way is better. If you show them that courtesy, they give you the same in return.

Backup decisions with data

I can be very direct when telling my clients that one of their ideas isn’t going to work. But I give that weight by backing up my position with research, analytics, best practices, or at the very least an explanation of the logical design process I took to dismiss the idea.

When I have a visually oriented client who has to see something to believe it, I show them a mockup of their bad idea presented side-by-side with my preferred design solution. More often than not, they come around to agree with me once they’ve compared the two rationally.

A quick story about “showing not telling” what better design is

I have a long term client who I’ve been partnered with for 10 years. The company’s entire business is based around its website and it generates millions of revenue annually. We’ve had an awesome, trusting relationship, but it’s had a few trying moments too.

Six years ago we were designing the last version of their website, and things got off to a rocky start. Our egos were clashing. The client was frustrated because they thought I was ignoring their requests.

In fact, I wasn’t. I was considering every suggestion seriously and often experimenting with them in my designs, but then dismissing them internally if they didn’t pan out. I was presenting a better alternative to my client, but not the original request. They couldn’t picture things in their head the same way I do. They couldn’t agree with why I dismissed their solution without seeing for themselves.

So I did a 180 on my design process. I started showing them every suggestion they asked for (no matter how small or bad it was) and presenting my preferred alternative solution alongside it, with some justification for why I thought one would work better than the other.

In all but a few occasions, they sided with my proposal after comparing the two.

After a while, that process gained their trust, and we fell into a rhythm where I no longer had to mockup each suggestion. They trusted my alternative solved the underlying problem more effectively than their initial suggestion.

The process was frustrating for a few weeks, but we came out of it having a stronger relationship with more mutual understanding and trust.

Clients will appreciate you sticking to your guns and respect you more if you do so, as long as you demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about. I’ve had clients comment that my stubbornness for good design is one quality they like best about me, even if at times it led to creative disagreements.

Smart people like working with others who stick by their convictions.

Choose your battles

If an issue is really fundamental and will have negative ripple effects across the whole project, I won’t back down until we find a resolution that everyone is happy with.

If the issue it small and isolated, I’ll stay firm on it once or twice, but back down if they persist. Move on to more important decisions. There are always higher priorities worth your attention.

I’ve had to tell clients “look, I’m not comfortable implementing that because it lowers the quality of this project and I am dedicated to my craft, and I don’t push out low quality work”. I’ve always have the client give in, but that only buys me a bit of time. It doesn’t fix the problem.

It shouldn’t be just buying you time. If you have a disagreement that big, use it as an opportunity to address the larger underlying problem. Get you and your client on the same page before you continue any more work.

You should only have to go through one or two large disagreements like that. If you haven’t been able to find common ground by then, the client is worth dumping (or you’re worth firing — are you sure you know which it is?).

Remember that most of your clients have never been through a design process like this before. They may not understand that their communication style isn’t productive until you tell them. The moment you realise you have a personality clash, or simply a disagreement over potential design solutions, address it head-on. Find out what about your current process isn’t working, and revise that workflow to optimise your client relationship and collaboration.

Clients just want the best result for their design project. When they make suggestions, it’s with good intentions. But intentions aren’t enough. They need the faculty to produce good ideas, yet they may not have any expertise or training in the creative problem-solving process. They want to be involved as much as possible, but they haven’t been taught the most useful ways to contribute. They revert to blurting out their preferences so they can feel like they’re in control.

As designers, it’s up to us to guide clients through the process, building trust and respect along the way. If we can make small course adjustment the moment we realise we’ve headed astray, we can avoid conflicts, inflated egos, and misaligned preferences.

If you find yourself continually working for “bad clients” with “bad design ideas”, chances are your process is to blame. Are you marketing to the right people? Have you set clear boundaries for communication? Have you set the right expectations for productive feedback? Have you even agreed on the right project goals?

Get your house in order, and you’ll find it becomes a fortress of trust that repels bad client ideas.

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