Posted by & filed under Design.

I know. You think this is going to be a blog by a designer complaining about how hard it is to put your art out there for clients to tear apart. But it’s not. I’ve been doing this for 20 years; long enough to develop hard enough skin to take most criticism at face value, pull out the issue being voiced, and come back with a solution that doesn’t take away from the quality of my design. Most of the time. But there are three things clients say that indicate bigger problems than those that can be solved by another round of revisions.


I used to take this as an indication that we should move to hourly billing. But now I know this means we need to focus on the research and strategy phase of a project and make sure the client is on board with the direction we will be taking before any design work is done. “I’ll know it when I see it” is just a way for someone who isn’t well-versed in the process of design to say they don’t have the skillset to give proper upfront direction. So that task falls on the creative director or designer. It’s amazing what a little bit of focus on the direction of a design, especially when a client has already approved it, will do to move a project along.


The majority of that upfront research and strategy should be focused on understanding the audience that you’re designing for. If you do that work, you’ll understand what the audience likes and what it doesn’t like. The number one challenge for people who aren’t involved regularly in creative projects is that they are unable to put their opinions aside and view the project through their audience’s eyes. When this happens I find myself saying, “It doesn’t matter what you like.” Which, if you know me, is not something you would expect to come from my mouth. But my point is, unless you happen to be the target demographic, if you focus on what YOU like you’re not going to appeal to your audience and the project will ultimately fail.


This one comes out when a client suggests a solution to a design challenge that you’ve already tried. “I actually started with the design that way and it looks really bad…just doesn’t work. So I did it this way,” you say. “Hmmm,” says the client. “Show it to me that way anyways.” Which is essentially saying, “I don’t trust you as the expert I’ve hired you to be, so I will decide what the best solution is.” If you’ve gotten to that point, you either need to hire a different designer that you trust as an expert, or you need to realize you’re not staying in your lane. If you need to control the project at that level then you should go find a young, cheap freelancer who will be okay with you standing behind their back and telling them what to do. Seriously. Save yourself a couple bucks.

There’s no question that design is hard. But I would argue that guiding a designer is harder. I’ve done both and figuring out how to inspire an amazing design is extremely difficult. If you find yourself saying any of the phrases above, though, you need to take a step back and either focus on the research and strategy or take a good hard look at yourself and the role you’re playing in the project. Pivot, adjust and move forward.

Brandt Hoekenga is the Founder and Creative Director for TIV Branding
TIV Branding is a boutique branding firm in Sonoma County, California. We specialize in building brands by using traditional, social and digital channels in unison. If you would like to discuss a project or find out more about how we do what we do, please email us at