It can be a catch-22 to work with uncreative customers.  They are the clients who need our help the most, yet they are often the hardest clients for us to help.  If you find the one in 20 clients who really is ready and willing to trust your recommendations and not second guess everything you suggest, then they can be great.  Usually, whatever you make looks amazing to them.

However, the majority of clients with no imagination or creative sense, which let’s face it, is a substantial amount of clients in general, usually have some vague idea of what they want — yet defining it can be impossible.  Here are some steps to make working with these difficult clients easier.

1. Lead them into a vision for their website.

I remember visiting a battleship at a naval yard when I was 11 years old and seeing the phrase “Lead Dammit Lead” painted onto the shields around each of the mounted machine guns.  It was a stern reminder to the gunners to fire ahead of their targets, rather than directly at them, to make up for the time it would take the bullets to cross the distance and hit the fast moving planes.

The same maxim can be applied to web design and development.  Don’t be a mindless robot that only accepts input to give them their next task.  You are a professional, and you are being paid “the big bucks” for your expertise and creative direction.  Lead your client in the way they should go.

Start the conversation by asking your new client what they want done, of course.  But when they take the whole of 10 seconds to present their entire plan for their website, don’t turn around and spend the next 10 hours creating their website, only to be shot down when the client first sees it because you weren’t on the same page to begin with.  Instead, lead the conversation and give the client a clear vision for their website.

2. Use lots of working examples when brainstorming.

When you first start working with your client in defining a project, give them a handful of sample sites to look at.  It doesn’t have to be your work (although if it is, all the better); it just needs to be relevant to them.  It can be a similar businesses with a site structure and page layout that would fit well for your client, or maybe you want to point out a specific function or color scheme.

Don’t expect them to understand the terms you use and especially don’t expect them to be able to visualize what you describe.  You have to SHOW them, and not only show them, but explain what you are showing them.   Instead of asking the client what they think of a certain website, you need to ask what they think about a particular element of a website.  What do you think of the background color or the navigation color?  Do you like this three column layout?  What about the size of the header, is that too big?

3. Always give them something visual to work with.

As I just stated, you have to SHOW your client what you are talking about, not just at the very beginning when you are setting the project scope, but throughout the project.  First, give your client wire frames to decide on the final layout scheme, and be sure to explain what a wire-frame is for, that it doesn’t have graphics, colors, or functionality.  If you use something like, you can collaborate live with your clients and make changes on the fly as they describe it to you.

From the wire-frame make a design mock-up.  Don’t ever give a client too many choices, since it only confuses the situation and can slow the process down with indecision.  Two mock-ups should suffice, and you can make revisions from whichever one they choose.

When you are ready to add dynamic elements, again you need to show examples and make sure this is what the client would be happy with.  I once had a designer send the client to the tutorial they were going to use to create something.  That’s in bad form and will make you look unprofessional.  Send them to a finished project and specifically tell them what you want them to look at.  They often confuse the forest for the one tree you want them to see.

4. Ask probing questions & BE SPECIFIC.

When leading your client, suck all the vagueness out of the conversation.  Get details on EVERYTHING; make no assumptions.  Remember, if they have no idea, then you give them the idea, but be specific and don’t just say “trust me,” or “I will make it work.”  If you hammer out the details upfront and ensure that you are both on the same page, it may feel like you are wasting too much time on details, but it is an investment that will save you hours of frustrating revisions in the end.


So in the end, it comes down to you being a creative professional giving your client a clear vision for their website.  Usually, this will get them very excited and help keep them engaged and responsive, which will also save you time.  Just remember, lead your client with real examples, don’t just describe it in words, provide them with plenty of visuals throughout the project, and don’t allow vagueness or generalities anywhere near your project.  Just like a little rust under the paint of your car will spread and not only ruin the paint job but undermine the body integrity of your whole car, assumptions can undermine the integrity of your whole project.  Be specific!

What suggestions do you have to make it easier to work with uncreative clients in a web development project?