Should clients have the ultimate say over design?

Paul Boag

Clients like to have the ultimate say about design sign-off, but are they best qualified to make that decision? If not, then what is the alternative?

Web designers are always complaining about clients interfering with design. Many web designers feel frustrated that they are hired for their expertise and then over-ruled by the client. They are essentially reduces them to the role of a pixel pusher.

Trust your designer

The feeling within the design community is that clients need to trust their designers expertise, and rely on testing to validate the designers decisions.

This is certainly an easy argument to make. After all, the client is rarely the end user. It is not uncommon for a client to hate a design, but for the end user to like it and it to fulfil business objectives. In fact I remember working with the University of Portsmouth in the days of Myspace. We developed a design that reflected the preferences of the undergraduate audience we were focusing on. Like Myspace itself, the design was in my opinion hideous. I hated it, the client hated it, but the end user loved it and it performed well in testing.

Although a compelling case it could be argued that it is not the whole story.

The client’s feelings matter

If the client doesn’t personally like the design it makes them less invested in it. If they don’t believe in the design they are less likely to maintain and promote it. This is just human nature.

Furthermore, most clients have other stakeholders to please. Although these people are not the end user, they are crucial to the success of the site. If they don’t like the site then it may struggle to get further investment or receive the internal support it needs.

It’s not a black and white issue and so one I would like to explore as part of our debate season on the podcast. Our debate topic is therefore as follows:

This house proposes that the clients preference shouldn’t be a deciding factor in the appearance of their site.

Where do you stand on this issue? How much say should a client have over the final design of their site? Should they trust designers more or should designers take clients concerns more seriously? Let’s discuss in the comments.