How to teach design concepts to clients

While you probably don’t want to share all your design secrets, it can be beneficial to teach a few design concepts to clients.

It can strengthen the designer-client relationship, and help clients maintain the intent (and integrity) of a design post-launch. It also helps establish trust. There’s nothing that shows you know something (and your level of expertise) like teaching it to someone else.

There’s a thin lean, however, between design teaching and design preaching. Here we’ll look at how to teach design concepts to clients in a way that will strengthen your relationship, establish your expertise in the field and help clients better understand the theories that go into website design and development.

Stick to high-level ideas

How to Teach Design to Clients: Stick to High-Level Ideas

Lesson one when trying to teach anyone who isn’t a designer about design: Too much theory and information will make them glaze over. Design principles are much more interesting to creative professionals than anyone else.

Stick to high-level ideas, so you don’t get tuned out from the start.

High-level concepts to consider:

  • Why contrast can make or break the design
  • Common user patterns and the importance of creating an interface users know how to interact with
  • The value of an app versus responsive mobile design
  • Establishing goals for each page
  • Pros and cons of using trendy elements in a new design

The best way to teach any of these concepts is through conversation. All the above topics will likely be addressed in discussions with the client about their needs and in the subsequent design brief. You don’t have to “hold class” to explain these ideas; make them a part of your pitch and early conversations with each client.

Simple principles are easy to remember

Simple design concepts are easier to explain and easier for clients to remember. Don’t start with the Gestalt theory or the ratio for the golden rectangle.

Instead, start with simple concepts that clients are more likely to retain:

  • Stick to a simple typography palette with no more than three fonts (the same thing goes for colors)
  • No photo (or video) is better than a bad photo
  • Everything needs to be easy to read and understand
  • Content first, design second

Need some more help? Design Shack has a list of “7 Rules for Creating a Simple Design.” Almost every one translates to something that’s easy to explain to a client.

Explain the why

How to Teach Design to Clients: Explain the Why

Design should solve a problem.

Sometimes clients have the impression that designer only do things to make them look good. That’s not the case with good design.

The first step in the design process should be figuring out what the problem is. What should the design do? Who are you trying to communicate with and what should they do on the website?

You want to teach clients how to identify the problem with their current website or what goals they want to accomplish. Too often the new website conversation starts with “we need something new.” The next question should be “why?”

Until the client understands what the problem they want to solve is, it will be impossible for the designer to get the visual outline right. And this one can be tough to teach.

You will likely do it through a series of questions so that you can help the client think about what they want in a website design. Guide that conversation so that you and the client come to thinking about the problem – and solution – in the same way.

Then, as you make design decisions in the process of building the website, you can explain design elements in relationship to how they meet goals for the project. Each element in the design will solve a problem.

3 Things pros see

This is something clients will love: Teach them to see a few design elements in the same way you do. Help them spot poor design versus great design.

Clients will love being able to spot the difference – especially if it is on a competitor’s website – between something that looks professional or not.

Three things to show clients (that will be easy for them to see) are:

  1. Alignment: Identify whether type and other elements are grouped in columns and rows
  2. Color palette: Are there a couple of colors used throughout the design to create a mood and consistency?
  3. Whitespace: A crowded design won’t have the same polished look as one with adequate whitespace.

Show clients a few versions of designs that have these problems and then contrast them with ones that solve this issues. Most people can see the difference right away and understand the benefit of the better designed version. Make it into a game if you have to. (Design flash cards can be a fun client icebreaker, and will tell you a lot about their style.)

Teach, don’t preach

How to Teach Design to Clients: Teach Don't Preach

Website design is supposed to be collaborative. While it is great to teach clients some design concept, you don’t want to preach at them.

You should also be open to learning from clients as well. They can offer industry-specific insight that can help you create a better design and teach you things you might not know. Some audiences – especially those that skew older, for example, might not follow the same user patterns as a younger target audience. They might also use desktops more than phones to access a website, which seems to buck almost everything analytics generally tells us.

If you come across as helpful, the message is more likely to be received well. Be aware of your tone, body language and engage in a teaching conversation — not a lecture — with clients.


The trick to teaching design concepts to clients is to do it in the course of natural conversation. Every time a client asks a question about the design or how to make something look or function well, you should be able to back it up with a factual answer.

Showing your expertise is the best way to teach something to a client. They will see that you know your stuff, trust your advice (hopefully) and even think about those principles and concepts throughout the life of the project and in future design projects as well.

Creative Commons photos by Unsplash.