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Design Dilemma: Why Do Clients Love Bad Design?

It’s the bane of every creative. Why is it that clients seem to love bad design? Out of all the concepts presented to a client, why does almost every designer complain their “worst concept” is the one inevitably chosen by the client?

The dilemma “Cathy” has is a frustration with what she sees as mediocre designs around her at her job, as well as those chosen in design contests she enters (yes, we’ll cover the problem with design contests later on). So, join us as we delve into another Design Dilemma, helping to answer your questions, queries and concerns about the murky world of design.

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The Dilemma

“Cathy” writes:

Hi Speider,

I realize I’m asking “the question” that has been asked and asked again and maybe you’ve already covered it (I’m pretty new to your blog). Why do businesses seem to not care about having great design?

I do the layout for a small community newspaper and occasionally participate in contests on 99designs and sometimes I’m pretty amazed at what both the advertisers and contest holders do in a bad way.

“If people want to have something designed that they can be proud of and does what it’s supposed to do, Why don’t they put some effort into working with designers? Why don’t they care?”

For the paper, our ads are provided by the clients. I’ve seen a lot of text-based and visually unappealing ads and quite a few pull their ads or just don’t pay probably because they think advertising with us wasn’t working. Ads have to be eye-catching and appealing if they’re going to be effective. You can list all the benefits of your business, “until the cows come home” but the ad is almost certainly going to be overlooked because there’s nothing to grab peoples attention. Keep in mind they’re mostly small businesses with not a lot of money for advertising budgets but that doesn’t mean they have to have ads that don’t do what they’re supposed to do.

Pretty much the same thing with those design contests. I’ve been in some (non-logo mostly for print) contests where I’ve seen some potentially wonderful designs being passed up for something that isn’t all that great and might not accomplish the goal of the contest holder. I’ve seen some contests being refunded because the contest holder thinks they’re not getting high quality designs when that wasn’t the case at all. In general, they seem to either don’t know what they really want or don’t recognize good design when they see it. Which again means the project might not do as well for them as they hoped.

If people want to have something designed that they can be proud of and does what it’s supposed to do, Why don’t they put some effort into working with designers? Why don’t they care?

Our Advice!

What can one say about this problem? Is it a problem? Can anything be done?

Hello, “Cathy”!

Actually, this is a new one for the DD column but a common question among designers. The answer is easy: People like safe, don’t want to take chances and are afraid to try being the one to innovate anything, preferring that someone else takes the risk and then they can copy the successful things. I’ve worked for several very large coprorations that ask employees for innovative ideas and then claim they’re too risky and wait for a competitor to try bringing the same ideas to market before copying the innovation and hoping to win a big share of the market.

Design contests have certain challenges. While most designers detest the practice, there are plenty who participate in these contest/crowdsourcing sites. The client takes the chance that a designer will supply them with their ultimate vision for their logo or website with a small description of what they want to see as a final piece. If they don’t get it, then they will want changes and even with crowdsourcing sites, that usually means paying an extended fee for those changes and that’s where a user decides it’s too much money for their project. Hmmm… too bad!

“Don’t beat your head over bad design which surrounds us. There are bad movies, songs, TV shows and there always will be… and they will always fail, as will bad designs. Think of it as Darwinism — Survival of the fittest designs!”

Crowdsourcing is for small businesses who either can’t afford more than $50-$200 for a design and/or have no idea how to find or work with a professional designer or design firm. Another problem, as reported in this article, is often the designers who work cheaply, such as the ones on Fiverr, cheat on designs and use copyrighted materials or copy logos they find as dingbats (there’s actually one designer who used the Superman logo, believe it or not!).

As for the ads in a newspaper, you can bet some secretary with MS Word or some type of image editing software has done the design and it’s considered good enough… and FREE! There is still a misunderstanding that design is a tool for selling and the careful mix of elements can either excite the viewer through emotional response to color and flow or turn them off by being hard to read, using colors that cause blurring and flashing (like blue type on an orange background).

I would suggest you talk to your managing editor about offering design for ads for a small charge but no one will want to spend the extra money. If advertisers are unhappy with their ad results, you’ll never convince them that it was the design of their ads and they might be right. It very well could be the same problem print magazines with slick, well-designed ads have faced on their way out of business or into digital format.

When you do a great design and it’s accepted without being watered down, put that in your portfolio. When it’s bad because the client wants it his/her way, take the money and remember we are in a service industry. Don’t beat your head over bad design which surrounds us. There are bad movies, songs, TV shows and there always will be… and they will always fail, as will bad designs. Think of it as Darwinism — Survival of the fittest designs!

Mediocre is the new excellent! Keep doing excellent work and you will find clients who appreciate your talent. They are out there, so look around and be prepared to job jump a couple of times until you find the magic place that celebrates creativity.

I ask you, the reader of this column, am I right? Is there any hope a client will understand that design matters and is an art form or has financial considerations created a sub-industry of cheap, unprofessional design? If so, does it pose a danger to the reputation of designers who take pride in their work? Let us know how you feel in the comments section.

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