I have a situation I am not quite sure how to handle.

We have asked a freelancer to come up with some designs for a piece of e-learning. Now, as part of the quote he did some concepts which were part of the pitch so not charge for, however he missed a couple of key points I mentioned in the Brief (unfortunately it was an informal discussion instead of a brief, so I can forgive him that). I am not keen on the look'n'feel anyway, and some of the concepts in the pitch.

Now, I like some of his other stuff, and the design isn't bad, its just not good enough. So, I am thinking of asking him to produce a couple more - and pay him for them, BUT what If we do not like them again? Is that tough cookies? How do you handle this. I realize design is extremely subjective, but I know what I want and I know what makes a good looking usable website.

In general, what do you do if you do not like a piece of design you are paying for? If it was code - you wouldn't pay for something that didn't work.

I did think about posting on the Graphic Designer Stack, however I could predict their answers :)

Thanks guys!

9 Answers 9


Have you talked to the freelancer? Often verbal requirements leave great gaping holes in expectations. Separate the topics - first discuss what you think is missing and how that gets fixed. Then if the freelancer wants to add cost, you can engage in that discussion with some facts behind you.

In the future, my recommendation is never do verbals. Even if you just do an email confirmation, writing it down does something to our brains that makes us strive for clarity.

Good luck. and remember, the freelancer wants to do a good job so he/she will get more work.

  • I kind of have a problem with this one. While I agree to write down important stuff I have hard time accepting "never do verbals." I mean direct communication, especially face-to-face is the most effective way of communication. If I'm trying to find some consensus I'll most of the time switch to the most direct way of communication and then (if needed) switch back to something less transitory like email or some document to write conclusions down. Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 16:26
  • 1
    I agree verbal communication is extremely important and often better than an email, I think however Perry was referring to never do verbal briefs, and if you do back up that verbal brief with everything in writing. Which is were i went wrong i think. I did a verbal brief, and the freelancer was making notes (which was why I didn't do a written brief) however, because I didn't check what he wrote or he lost his notes, a lot of was I said wasn't adhered to.
    – Keeno
    Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 17:13
  • Keeno has interpreted my comment the way I meant it. Yes, have lots of conversations, but when it comes down to agreeing on what is produced, you need to write it down so you can be sure you both understand the same thing. Commented Mar 12, 2011 at 0:20

Design requirements are actually hard to write. My main suggestions are:

  1. Write down an overall goal
  2. Detail the specific elements you want to see on the design
  3. Include sites that use those elements (examples)
  4. Let him show draft versions of the elements, so that he still has time to fix them without paying him again
  5. Also, tell him to quote you for a few revisions of every design. So if for 100 he will give you a logo, for 150 he may give you 5 revisions of that same logo.

With design, you are often paying for the brainstorming/concepts themselves. Code will either work or not but design can "work" it just might not "work for you."

Directing a design process is very different from managing a software project. One thing that can help steer the designs is by doing a collage of images, looks, feelings, etc. that you want your site to have.

I first learned about this approach from the founder of an extremely successful design company: http://www.duffy.com/ and have used it since. It helps take a lot of the subjective out of the process and gives some direction.

Its not perfect, since each aspect can be subject to interpretation. But it does act as a more "design-centric" common reference point to help hone in one where you're going and where you want to be.

  • Do you have any example of the collage process you are describing? I have tried doing mood boards/collages before, they looked pretty however really I found that in Design they were too fragmented to be truly helpful. I can see how they would be helpful in trying to tie down a style - e.g. steampunk, anime, cartoon - but not so much for the detail needed in top notch design.
    – Keeno
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 22:14

I'd also add:

  • Split the work into a few stages, e.g. first, you work on wide range on sketchy designs just to choose a direction, second, you choose shortlist and you get something which takes more time to prepare and finally, you choose one design and iterate it until you're happy with it.

  • Write down anything which is important for you. You both will have something to refer to when discussing different designs. The form doesn't really matter here - just make those requirements reasonably precise.


Like Perry, I would start with a focused discussion about the former designs, and tell him what I don't like about it. If he is a good designer he will be able to grasp what you mean and write down or even sketch you're requirements while you're at it.

It is key to write them down together.

If he just sits there, saying "Ok, I'll see what I can do", then maybe it is time to look for someone else.


In order to do not forget any detail, we use basecamp (as has been said mail is good as well), but of course meetings are necessary anyway...

The best way to get a clear deal in my opinion is by using mock-ups, there is never everything in it but you get a good idea of where you're going, and it gives the designer the idea of what you're looking for. All the rest of the design should be consistent with what you arranged.

Of course it's just a part of the process, regular and frequent checks on how the design is evolving should help as well, the sooner you identify a new or changed requirement the better it is.


The answer to this question very much depends upon the relationship you have with the freelancer. Is there a contract involved or is it "at will" employment?

  • not 100% sure I get what you mean, we have no retainer or contract as such, we do not have to use him, he's a local freelancer and we thought it would be good to try him and develop a relationship.
    – Keeno
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 22:03
  • Many freelancers will work on a contract basis so that the obligations are specified in the agreement. Sounds like you have an informal non-binding agreement. My sense is that there is no right answer. You seem to be going out of your way to accomodate the freelancer. Sounds like a lot will depend upon the personality styles of both of you, which may or may not mesh. Commented Mar 8, 2011 at 15:55

I would suggest treat this situation as "buying designer's time" instead of "buying an artwork". It's like a song. You pay a singer for his/her time, not for the song itself. If you don't like the song - change the singer.


It may be hard for design work, but can the missing bits or changes be quantify. ie, all corners are to be rounded, or specifying a set of colours to use etc. Once these missing bits quantify, then they can be measured and tested against an expectations.

But design work is almost art rather scientific, but this may not be possible.

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