We are all aware of the sayings “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” “Different strokes for different folks” and “There is no accounting for taste.” Unfortunately, although these sayings are universal, the associated insights don’t seem to be. This is nowhere more apparent when designing something for someone else. What looks “professional” to one person, can easily be boring, ugly, or even unprofessional to a different person.
As a web designer you learn that almost all descriptive terms are useless in completing the nuts-and-bolts task of creating a design the pleases the client. You need them to show you what they like, and you need to show them how you interpret that, and there the actual dialog begins.
Over and above pleasing the client, the designer’s task is to make the client realize that their taste is not universal, and their target audience may not respond positively to what they think looks good, or cool, or whatever. More important than pleasing themselves (or their partners, employees, spouse, friends or mother) is creating a design that communicates the desired message to the target audience.
What can be even more of a challenge is the tendency for inexperienced website buyers to be fixated on look-and-feel, or the visual design, to the neglect and expense of useability. The desire to speed through, or skip the boring task of information design and content creation to get to the visual mockups is extremely common and uniformly disastrous. Then, when the website flops, of course it is the visual design that is the problem and needs to be fixed.
As a web designer, the best thing you can do to save the client from themselves in such cases is to try to explain with examples, and if that doesn’t work, stick to your process regardless of the pressure to do otherwise.