Why You Should Explain Design Decisions to Your Clients


Have you ever found yourself totally in love with a design mockup you created, only to see your client pick it apart? Even worse is when they advocate for changes you aren’t comfortable with.

Designing websites for other people can be a lot like rolling dice. Sometimes you get lucky and your client loves what you’ve done – no changes required. But more often it seems like a nearly endless process of making revisions until they’re fully satisfied (if that’s even possible).

It’s a common refrain for web designers. But we’re not totally helpless in this area. Even though we can’t fully control how our clients will react, there is one strategy that can help keep the situation from getting out of control: Explaining your design decisions, preferably right from the very start.

A Proactive Approach That Yields Results

To clarify, we’re not advising that you craft a huge laundry list of every last detail. And certainly not before you’ve handed in a mockup.

What we are talking about is providing clients with a general rundown of what you did and, more importantly, why you did it. This is something that could be delivered along with your initial design.

This helps us accomplish a few things right off the bat:

It Provides Context

Clients are often more willing to accept something if they know the reason behind it. In the case of a website, this could mean anything from understanding why you chose a certain layout to why you reconfigured a navigation structure.

If your line of reasoning makes sense to them, it’s more likely to avoid the chopping block.

It Facilitates Productive Conversation

Once in a while, you’ll run into someone who is very quick to make harsh judgements of your work. This not only stings your ego, it can also make the design process that much more difficult. If nothing else, it kills your motivation and might make your client a little wary as well.

These reactions are often based on a client having a very different expectation for what they were going to see, as opposed to the design you provided. By offering up a clear and simple explanation, you can at least partially offset the element of surprise.

While they still might not love the design, the subsequent conversation can be much more productive. This will result in a better final product.

It Demonstrates Your Professionalism

Submitting a design for review with no real explanation is a bit like dropping someone off in the middle of a strange city without a GPS. Sure, they may find their way around, but it probably won’t be as pleasant of an experience.

That’s why, if nothing else, taking the time to help guide someone through a mockup reflects well on you. It shows that you put serious thought into your work and are willing to have an open line of communication. This is a great way to help build the ever-important client-designer relationship.

Two people sitting at a table with coffee cups.

What You Should (And Shouldn’t) Include

There’s a delicate balance when it comes to spelling out various details of a design. If your writeup is too long-winded, you’re bound to bore or confuse clients. They may even skip it altogether.

Therefore, the key is to provide a document that serves as a general outline. Focus on the most important parts of the design, such as:

  • Header and footer;
  • Navigation;
  • Hero area or other featured content;
  • Anticipated areas that will use animation or other special effects;
  • Mobile-specific elements;

For example, if you have set up an area of the home page for a specific type of content, make sure your client understands the intent. Likewise, if you expect to use a slider in the hero area, it’s something you’ll want to mention.

A good rule of thumb: What seems obvious to you may not be so easy for others to figure out. Don’t assume that everyone will automatically pick up on your thought process.

So, what should you avoid mentioning? That really varies based on the client and the project itself.

In general, it’s probably best to stay away from highly-technical aspects – such as how you’re going to build a particular feature. Most clients aren’t so worried about how you achieve something so much as they want it to look good. Start off with the basics and offer to elaborate on any particular areas of concern as needed.

A group of people sitting at a desk.

Please Explain Yourself

In the end, writing out the thought process behind your design work is all about creating a more collaborative environment. Remember, when it comes to design, you’re the expert. When you provide clients with a better understanding of where you’re coming from, they can make more informed decisions.

Not only that, they will be more likely to make any changes within the framework you’ve outlined for them. That’s the difference between perhaps tweaking a font or color as opposed to ripping apart entire templates.

So, on your next project, try pointing out the design decisions you made along the way. While there’s no guarantee that your client will sign off on it without changes, you both should be in a better position to deal with what comes next.

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