What to do when your client isn't willing to provide you the design?

I got my first client a while ago. I figured it would be a good chance to put the things I’ve learned so far into practice, so I’m willing to take the project even though I’m still a beginner.

The problem is that I’ve never gotten into web design and he doesn’t already have a design for the website. I looked for and talked to a designer, and he’s willing to help me for a fee, but my client isn’t willing to pay this fee. He wants me to both design and develop the website, but as I’ve said I’m not a web designer, and as far as I know web design and web development are two different skill sets.

I hope someone can help me. I’m really confused on how to proceed since I don’t wish to deliver a mediocre-looking website due to the fact that I’m not a designer. I really really don’t wish to ditch the project since I believe it’s a great opportunity to acquire some experience and have something I can put on my portfolio once I create one.

If anyone could advise me on how to proceed, I’d be very grateful. Should I try to convince him to pay for the design so I can hire the designer if he wants something that looks good? Should I just make the design myself even though I know it won’t be great (though I’ll have to design in code straight away since I don’t know how to work with graphics software)?

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What was the original agreement? What does the contract state?

@PortableStick There’s no contract… At least so far there isn’t one, I’m not sure if I’ll make him sign one at all.

What would you do if faced with something similar? I mean you’re asked to design but you’re not a designer, and the client isn’t willing to pay you to hire a designer either, and certainly not willing to hire a designer himself, even though you’re doing everything else for free.

Don’t stress out about it too much. It’s not worth it, and it won’t contribute to your portfolio as much as you think it will. Do the best you can, and if that’s not good enough, who cares? It’s not like you’re going to get fired. They’ll probably be grateful for whatever you can do (at least, they had better be, since it’s free). In the future, make sure that your duties are explicit to your client. A lot of people don’t know the difference between a web developer and a web designer, so you should make sure they know what you’re capable and willing to do. Write up a contract, or at least a document that outlines the work you’ll be doing, and make sure your client reads it.

You don’t know how to work with graphics software? Start by drawing something out. A wireframe doesn’t have to be digital. Use watercolor, food dye, or clay, if that’s your thing.


@PortableStick I would firstly like to know why you think it won’t contribute to my portfolio as much as I think it will. What would then?

I’m not going to get fired, but I hate delivering low quality work because the other person misunderstood me and refused to listen to my advice when I know more than them in this field.

Let’s say I make it clear what I’m willing to do, and they refuse to also have to hire a designer (just like what happened to me), then what do I do? Do I just tell them that I can’t proceed?

In my experience I’ve learned that sometimes you have to say no, and it’s good to learn to say no sometimes.
I refused lots of projects because I haven’t had the skill set they needed.

Also, if it is free, and you just want to do it because you want to put it in your portfolio, then you should work on some project for yourself. This way you won’t be stressed about not delivering a good project and you also get to put something in your portfolio. :slight_smile:


Or if you still want to do it, you have to options:

  1. You convince them that in order for a good quality work, they need a designer, because you ain’t one.

  2. You find some free templates online and show them. Probably they like one of it and you can implement it.


Free work on small sites isn’t much. Unless you’re demonstrating a grasp of some newer or more specialized tech like React or D3, it’s not going to add much to a portfolio full of other personal projects you’ll build for freeCodeCamp. At best, it looks like another hobby project. It could look worse. It probably won’t be the deciding factor for you getting a job either way. You’d be better off just working on the curriculum, to be honest.

I know this feeling, but don’t be blinded by your pride. You know more about this field than the other person, so don’t expect them to know how to ask the right questions. Communication is a two-way street.

There is no answer you don’t already know. You have two options: 1) Design the site or, 2) Don’t design the site. If they were interested in paying for a designer, they would have done so. You’re probably a better designer than you think, but why torture yourself doing something you don’t like? You’re under no obligation either way.


Maybe your client doesn’t really need design, maybe he wants functionality or just the fact of having the site. You can make him the site with very basic design (using templates or whatever) if you think it still will be a good experience. Or just tell him it’s very sad, but you cannot do the job without design.


I would also go with free template option, there are many great free website templates, so you can start from there and than customize them based on the needs of the client. Unless it’s a very complicated and unique website it should be enough. Just be sure to make it clear that you are using template and if they need a more specifically tailored design, they will have to pay for designer’s services as well.


@Catico But if I take already done HTML and CSS pages, then where’s the experience in that? I would basically be doing nothing except for changing them a bit. Or did you mean perhaps PSD mockups or something similar? I would be really grateful if you explain what you really mean and would appreciate it if you could link some resources for free templates.

I would just be upfront with him. “Look, I don’t have web design training, and if I design the site for you it’s not going to look so good. If you’re okay with that, fine, I’ll do it and learn something, but don’t complain about the results. If not, you really need to either design it yourself or hire someone that can do that for you.”

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@Flopet17 Well the reason I still want to do it is because I initially said yes, I was just starting out, then I discovered there’s actually a difference between web design and web development. That was months ago. Then, when I found out I can’t do both, I said no, didn’t continue with web development for a few reasons, then got back to it about a month ago, and then I said yes. Can’t really say no now, it would be embarrassing. (I would like to point out he wasn’t in a hurry for the website, that’s why he didn’t look for someone else)

Can you please suggest where I can find such templates?

No he actually told me he wants something that looks attractive, so it sounded to me he does care about the design, yet he still doesn’t want to pay for it.

I think there would be a still a lot of work to do since you would have to customize the template to make it work for your client - add some stuff / remove other, but of course if you wish to code the whole website from scratch based on psd you can do that as well. If you google around a little bit you can find many great websites. I personally haven’t used any so far, but I came across for example this website for coded templates or this one for psd templates. But it would be probably better if you search for templates yourself based on what type of client you have and what kind of business he’s in.


@Catico Thank you for the links. I would prefer coding everything from scratch, I don’t believe there’s much to learn from customizing something that’s already made. As far as I know, that’s how designers and developers work in teams, designers provide developers with PSD files or whatever they work with and the developers code up the designs.

The website is for his hotel. Aren’t free templates usually for practice purposes though? I assume it still wouldn’t look as good as a custom designed website, and I certainly don’t want to risk being sued or anything. The thing is that he also wants it to be unique, in that he wants it to match his hotel’s theme, including the colors and such. He’s making my life really hard. Do you think those templates would still look good if I swap the colors for the ones he wants?

Maybe you should consider firing your client.


@ArielLeslie Lol. I kinda want to do this since I thought it would give me some experience, but apparently it’s not as good as the projects in the curriculum here and other personal projects I make, according to some other replies.

I’m being sincere. It sounds like this project might not be what you need right now if you’re concerned that neither you nor the client are going to pleased with the result. It may be for the best to tell your client that you appreciate the opportunity and hope they’re successful but you think they need to contract with a developer who can also offer design services and you need to focus on work that is appropriate to your skill set.

To lighten the mood: How Web Design Goes Straight To Hell


The experience is, in my opinion, that you can completely satisfy a client with relatively little work. There are a lot of people out there who are satisfied if you get a website (that looks mediocre but OK) up and running for them in a reasonably short amount of time. They don’t expect you to build the next Facebook or something.
The plus side is that the client might recommend you to others. That’s why I would take the job if I were you, provided you are reasonably certain you can do it based on a free template, or if it is so simple that you don’t even need a template.
One thing that I would do is google <client's line of business> <client's city>. That will show you the websites of his/her competitors and might provide you with a lot of inspiration.

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