Design bind: Can you make the logo bigger?

The scenario: You’ve been hired to do some design work, you’ve submitted the deliverables, and they were accepted. You maybe even got paid. The client later comes back and asks you to change something in a way that you think breaks the design in an unacceptable way. What do you do?

We are assuming that you’ve already done the two obvious things you should: (a) you’ve tried to convince the client that their changes would break the design—but they’re holding their ground, and (b) you’ve tried to listen to the client to see if there is a way to address their concerns in a way that doesn’t break the design—and there isn’t.

So, what now? Do you implement the changes they want or kindly demur on the basis that the design, which is to say, the very thing you were charged to get right, will be wrong. On the surface this dilemma presents itself as a, “Do you serve the client’s interests or do you serve your own?” But it’s more complicated than that.

Let’s take the first option: you implement the client’s changes. Are you really serving the client’s interests in doing this? Will your client really benefit from making things based on broken work? Not a lot of people would think a client would benefit from making something based on faulty engineering design. Other kinds of design should be regarded similarly, but all too often this isn’t the case. However, this doesn’t change the reality: bad work leads to bad product. No one benefits from that, except the client’s competitors.

Regarding the second option, where you demur because you don’t want to produce broken design work, what will happen to the work that you have already done? A large share of it will probably be adopted, and the breaking changes will be done by someone else. When the client is asked who did the design work, it’s entirely possible that they will mention you because the bulk of the design is still yours. So does this mean it’s better for you to take responsibility for the changes so you can implement them in a way that minimizes the breakage?

If you’re in this situation, one of the things that might inform your decision is how badly you need the client for future work or as a reference for future work—either in the form of the client’s direct recommendation or indirectly by your use of the deliverables in your portfolio.

If you don’t need to use the work as reference, an appealing option is to insist that no reference to you is ever made regarding who was responsible for the design. This then frees you to either demur or to try yourself to minimize the damage the changes will introduce. Whether you can do this has a lot to do with the relationship you have with the client.

If you do want to use the work as a reference, one option is to include the product as you designed it in your portfolio rather than the design that ultimately got broken. Whether you can do this may be constrained by the contract you have with the client, but this too frees you to either demur or try to minimize the design damage. While this option may seem tantalizing, be aware of one pitfall: If and when someone sees the discrepancy between what’s in your portfolio and what the client adopted, questions regarding what happened may follow. This might lead to a conversation that depending on the dynamics of the situation you may prefer not to have.

So, a few options, none of them great, and none of them clearly better or worse than the other. Having a good understanding of how you rely on the client and whether you need the work as a reference can be helpful in guiding your strategy. In other words, the best solution depends greatly on the specifics of the project and your relationship with the client. Finally, be sure to consider your own mindset. I personally have incredible difficulty submitting work that fails to meet a high standard under any conditions. This is as it should be, and I know I am not alone in thinking this.

Copyright © 2020 Mithat Konar. All rights reserved.

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