Why you’re designing for the wrong audience (and how to fix it)

Do you have a dribble account, share all your work to social networks or constantly ask for critiques of your work from other designers?

Non of those things are bad in and of themselves.

They could however be symptoms of a much bigger problem.
Designing for the wrong audience.

We all want to do work we are proud of. Earning praise from other designers, who might offer a more educated opinion, can be especially affirming.

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However, if you let that become your main goal and give less priority to your clients opinions, your work is going to suffer. The work will not perform for your clients and they will go looking elsewhere for their next project.

Your work has to function the way the clients want, and speak primarily to their audience.

Clients pay your bills; your design peers do not.

Unless you are working for a designer, the opinion of other designers doesn’t really matter.

How to avoid it:

Communication is key

Honing in on the correct target audience starts before you ever touch pen to paper. It begins with a clear and complete creative brief from your client.

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Make sure to ask:

  1. What are your goals for this project?
  2. What demographic should it speak to primarily?
  3. Who is your main competition and what sets you apart from them?
  4. How would you define a successful outcome with this project?


With these details figured out it is a lot easier to evaluate your work as you go to make sure it fits with the clients goals.

Keep yourself in line

The drive to try new techniques, or pull off something innovative is what keeps us growing and improving, so don’t stifle it. Instead, ask yourself; “Am I doing this for me, or because it fits really well with my clients audience?”

Hopefully the answer will be both.

If it’s not, it may be a good opportunity to evaluate.

I know I personally have had a lot of breakthroughs on difficult projects only after realizing that I’m trying to force my own concept somewhere it doesn’t belong. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying for hours to fit a square peg into a round hole, only to realize the round peg had been right beside you the whole time.

Don’t overwork it

Dieter Rams said it best (he usually does.)

“Good Design Is Honest : It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept”

The essence of good design is the ability to communicate the core kernel of truth it represents.

Don’t worry about trying to impress anyone, and your client work will start to impress everyone.

What do you do to make sure you are always designing for the right audience? Leave a comment and let’s talk!

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  1. Good day Ben,

    I completely agree that good design should be honest. But many client wanted their branding looks good so they can attracts consumer to use/buy their products. How, we as designer, could fix that? Should we educate them? Or what else we can do?

  2. I totally agree with you Ben. It is good to ask to other designers for the criticism about our work not only it helps us in realizing what we are doing but also it helps us in knowing that what faults/mistakes we are making in our work. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I agree with a lot what you had to say about the designing for clients. The one thing that really caught my attention was to not to try to impress anyone with your designs. I really like this part because when I’m designing things for my current classes I’m in, I never think about trying to impress anyone and many times I feel my designs are to simple but almost everyone always ends up liking them so I learned to pretty much to keep my designs simple because they will be able to get the point across much easier and people will enjoy them with less having to focus on.

    1. Ricky, don’t discount your designs because they are simple.

      The simplest solution is quite often he best and most effective solution!

      Keep it up, if the clients like your work that’s what matters.

  4. Hey Ben – love the idea on honing in. I totally agree. Go hang out where the clients are.
    You wouldn’t put your fishing pole out in the tackle shop .. you’d put it in the ocean!

    Any way you can get your signature file for this article to indicate some traits of your ideal client? It would help us other web designers refer work to you.


    (btw, type-o “Non of those things …”)

    1. Great analogy Kenn!

      I’ll see what we can do about the Type-o, thanks for the heads up.

  5. Such an awesome quote from Dieter Rams, I ‘ll definitely be using that in the future.
    Thanks Ben!

  6. I am new at freelancing and have been learning a lot through Millo and my own experiences. Thank you Ben for recent article.

    Communication with our clients is the key. I know that but recently I had a great idea for my client who wanted me to “spiff up” their table top display board. I had just finished designing their client, development, and annual report brochures so I thought I could use that info. I was so wrong. I spent many hours without meeting with the one I was to work with on the project because she was unavailable. Then many more hours designing, redesigning, trying to learn her vision for the project, learning how to work with her, learning more about their organization, and in the end getting paid pennies an hour because of my original price quote.

    Next project I will use the helpful questions you mention in your article. And for awhile I will charge by the hour until I get a better idea of what each project should cost.

    1. Laura, sorry to hear about that. Definitely a powerful learning experience though.
      That little bit of extra work up from can be what makes the difference between a wildly successful project, and one you go broke on.

      Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hello Ben,

    Tnx for the inspiring post.

    I am in the process of relaunching my freelance design company and therefor need to review my portfolio.

    – The only thing I am certain of is:
    I want to focus on my clients; I know I am not the only designer out there and I want to make it crystal clear what I can do for them / what I can offer.

    The struggle:
    – I don’t have one style, I always look at the client first and then decide in which style direction it goes, this can be confusing sometimes
    – I have 9 years of experience in Graphic design, I do have some work to show, but it is all not what I would make today. And for the last 2 years I was working within the same identity of 1 company. The design field has changed over the years, and I want to adjust to that.

    In short: I don’t like / not satisfied / insecure about my portfolio (and I think I am not the only graphic designer)

    Do you maybe have tips to get me started?



    1. Hey Fleur, I can completely relate to your post. I used to have my entire portfolio up, like 2k+ designs and some of those dated back 5 years when I first started and man were they awful. But for some reason I had a hard time letting them go anyways. Now I am slowly only adding a few projects that I am proud of and that seems to work nicely 🙂

      1. I agree with Ryan here. I keep my porfolio to a few of my favorite projects I have done.

        Even if you feel like the direction of your work is shifting, don;t be afraid to include some of your favorite old pieces, and maybe do a couple or things up purely for portfolio work.

        Clients don’t care so much about who your work is for, but more so if the work is good and if it’s what they are looking for. So make up a few projects for yourself to complete with your newer style.

  8. This is so refreshing. I was questioning myself seeing other designers ask their peers for opinions – when I do not do this (with the exception of asking my designer husband to look over client work – but just for a readability / understandability point and I don’t always agree with him).
    I have the confidence to know what my client wants, because I talk to them about it. and I have the confidence in my 20 years of being a designer to know that I know what I am doing.

    Believe in what you know – if your client could do it themselves they would – so straight from the off you have the upper hand – if you can believe in yourself, then your clients can believe in you too!

    1. Good point Linda.

      I definitely ask opinions at certain points during my work. However, I take a focus group information gathering approach when doing it, as apposed to looking for praise or criticism once I have wrapped a project up.

  9. I completely agree with Ben. I think the most important about design resides on its purpose and intentionality. Design is often seen as a purely aesthetic representation of an idea, but that’s not why designers are here… Profitable designers really understand the business!

    I have developed a series of on line questionnaires for different projects that have helped my clients to clearly assess their needs and expectations about the design project. Once the responses from key decision makers have been collected, I discuss with my clients to clarify conflicting ideas or simply reassure what is the path the project should take. This is a process that happens before I start scribbling on my sketch book.

    The result: Work that the clients love, time saving, and most important; since the client is involved on the conceptual stage, they don’t even feel the need to be involved in the graphic execution stage. Save headaches and many, many rounds of changes.

    1. Yes exactly!

      I love the idea of online forms for gathering information and really nailing down the clients key purposes for a project.

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