29th Dec 2015

I don’t like it – A Graphic Design Dilemma

Graphic designers, whether they are in freelance graphic design or employed by a massive marketing machine, live in fear of hearing the words, ‘I don’t like it’, coming out of the mouths of their clients and it doesn’t matter how long you have been in the game. These four words can offer a crushing blow to your confidence, but by the same token they can also provide one of the greatest opportunities for learning and growth on both sides.

What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is a use of image to express a theme or idea. The role of graphic design in marketing is to make the viewer buy a product or service by the use of art, and like all art – it’s subjective! There will be times when in spite of your best efforts your customer will not like what you produce just ‘because’. Art is art! What you can do is try and minimize that risk before you even put pen to paper


Making effective design takes time. To make sure your time is wisely valued make sure you start off knowing exactly what the customer wants. By a process of discussion and probing questions you can divine what you customer envisages and to a degree, set expectations. If their replies are a series of, ‘I don’t know’, make suggestions and good notes about what is not wanted. This too is an invaluable source of guidance.

These discussions and questions are the foundation of a great graphic design, so don’t be tempted to skip it, or skimp on it, and don’t be afraid to clarify anything you are not sure of. Some people come to graphic design agencies to lean on their experience as they have ‘no idea’ of what they want. The flip side of this advantage of being free to leverage the expertise is that the designer goes off in their own little art world and produces what they want, not what is asked for or needed. It may turn into something that would win marketing awards but the everyday customer doesn’t like.

The Confrontation

At the point of final presentation to the client the designer has been through a gamut of emotions which makes them feels like they have given birth to another child and are very proud and excited about their new art offspring. The words ‘I don’t like it’ do not even figure in their vocabulary as they are firm in the belief of, ‘What is there not to like? It’s hip, it’s stylish, I did it – it’s all round perfect! They’ll love it!’ When the words do come it’s hard not to take it personally. But you really shouldn’t.

Instead of immediately throwing your art board on the floor, screaming, vowing you’ll never draw again and running into the corner and weeping, the next question should simply be, ‘Why don’t you like it?’

The Conversation

By asking the question ‘Why?’ you open up a dialogue to find out where you need to go. It may be that you have produced exactly what was asked for, but now the customer has seen it, they just don’t like it.

Don’t take ‘I don’t like it’ as an answer. Try to guide the conversation to provide solid graphic design reasons that you can interpret into change.

If your customer really can’t answer why he doesn’t like it, try ‘What don’t you like about it?’

Expect answers like:

‘I don’t like the colour’

‘It’s too cluttered’

‘The font is too curly’

‘I like letters. These words are too long’.

These are all graphic design signposts to latch on to. They may just be the worst design advice ever, but the conversation is started. It’s up to you to find a delicious compromise.

Swiftly Moving On…

Take whatever they say seriously however hideous, and consider it. Remember some people have no idea what they do want and only decide what they don’t want when they see it. They may say, ‘I don’t like the blue’, one minute, then then, ‘Can you add more blue?’ the next. When this occurs, look at guiding the conversation down a line that utilises all your graphic design experience, and, if you need backup, all the other graphic designers experience around you. Someone needs to make viable decisions and guide the graphic design process. IF you have other resources – use them!

At the end of the day it is your reputation as a graphic designer that is on the line so try and steer it round to an effective solution for all of you.

Don’t forget the audience

One trick you can have up your sleeve when you hear a stubborn, ‘I don’t like it’, is to remind the client that you are not designing for them, you are designing for their audience. What you or client likes or doesn’t like is secondary to what is the preference of the audience, but also what takes the audience on  the right journey to the goal you have in mind. Great graphic designers with great graphic designs can do that. Keep that thought in control of all the decisions made.

Value objectivity

Bear in mind that all conversations you have about your designs have to progress you to a successful final piece. Value objectivity and look at what direction is given in an objective manner and see it as constructive. The customer has valuable insight into the audience too, so make use of it.

Avoiding the answer

Another way to navigate the situation is to avoid getting the ‘I don’t like it’ answer. No, we don’t mean presenting them the design saying, ‘Here it is, you love it, now pay the bill’, and shoving them out the studio door, you can also avoid it by asking the right questions.

By asking the right questions you can guide your customer into telling you what you need to know.

These questions might include:

‘What do you like about this?’

‘How effective do you think this will be?’

‘Do you think the users will bond with this?’

These questions focus on the positive aspects of the design so that will be first and foremost in the mind of the client so that you can build on the design from there.

Questions that divine what needs altering can be:

‘What do you think will be less effective with your audience?’

‘Is there anything you think we need to take another look at?’

‘Does it express what you want to say to your audience?’

These are all questions that get them to think about the audience thinks first leaving personal taste out of the equation.

The ‘Yes’ Man

These questions are equally valuable for someone who likes the design from the get go. Both of you need to understand each other and you both need to know what makes the design work. It is these kinds of interactions that give you insight into your audience and how you can best serve them.

If someone takes only a millisecond to say ‘yes’, then pull out his check book to pay and leave the office, you need to have a longer conversation about what works  and the needs of the design in relation to the audience as your client clearly doesn’t care. Just throwing a finished design out there doesn’t mean it will work. Someone needs to take the time to make sure it does what it needs to.

By collaborating with your client rather than just reacting to their personal opinion, you both become more invested and committed to the outcome of the project and can enrich the design to point where it is perfect for your audience.

From now on you can always look at ‘I don’t like it’ as a great opportunity to learn.