You Work for Clients, Remember?

Oct 08

If you do freelance, contract or side work, you do not work for yourself. You are not working to build a portfolio. Your personal preferences are not the plumb line. Your job is to provide the client with the best possible solution to meet their needs (and yes, their wants). They pay you because it is mostly inconvenient for you to wake up and do what someone else wants you to do.

Sometimes clients want seemingly silly things that you disagree with. So ask questions. Press in. Find out why. A lot of clients are a lot less stupid than you think they are. Maybe those social media buttons in your comps look so killer all monochromed out, but the client actually has analytics proving the click-thru rate is higher if they’re in color. Again, your personal aesthetic preferences lose.

If you just want to do work that you like and agree with, we have a word for that—artist. There’s nothing wrong with being an artist unless you suck at it. But design is about more than making pretty pictures (and pretty Photoshop comps), and client work is about more than you.

Pick good clients. Do work you’re proud of. Setup solid guardrails and expectations. Push back with informed professional opinions. Communicate exceptionally well and often. But make the client happy—that’s why they call it “client work.”


  1. I am a professional freelance designer and I approve this message.

    This why a well written portfolio with case studies on how you solved a client’s challenges is just as important than a pretty screengrab. Too many portfolios are just a collection of images and don’t tell you squat about what the designer actually did and what challenges were addressed.

    Clients want to see that critical thinking more than just pretty images.

  2. Well said Joshua…

  3. I’m still waiting on your book.

  4. agreed sir. I was just thinking about this the other day. Some designers will express that they feel they’re above the client’s decisions, after all, they’re the one with the education. But at the end of the day, if you want to get paid, sometimes you just have to do the client’s bidding. And if the project was sour, don’t work with them in the future.

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