As a Designer how to handle rejection

by Matt Rowan

Working closely with a client, and dealing with rejection can be hard, but accept that at least once IT IS inevitably going to happen.

If you are like me, pouring everything into your design and working hard to understand your client’s needs, going the extra mile on a project, only to be turned down and rejected can feel unfair and hurtful. Preparing yourself for this, and knowing how to react therefore is essential.

A recent project we undertook involved a new website design, created for a long term client. The goal of the project was to bring the website up to date and create a more in-depth website and create a new site to appeal to a broader audience. The client was one that we had worked with for over five years and managed their website, social media and SEO services. Through our work, we had helped drive clients to their site, created their identity, branding and design and worked closely with them to understand their needs, clientele and competition.  The client wasn’t large, but we had worked with them from fruition and supported them through their business goals.

A project that was initially planned as a ‘refresh’ turned into a lot larger website and a timescale of 3 weeks turned into six months, to ultimately be rejected, and lost as a client. What happened?! 

A clear brief was set

A clear brief was setWe started the project with a clear brief, understanding from the client the reason for a new website and what direction they were looking to go. Our process clearly defined in our brief and involved: 

  • Initial research and set out a brief of tasks, stages and timeframe
  • a clear understanding of what was involved, 
  • Three design ideas as visual designs, two rounds of feedback, sign off and build of a custom editable WordPress website under their current branding.
  • Client to provide Team photography, about us content, and faq. 
  • copywriting would be sourced for the services
  • stock imagery to be purchased as part of the build.
  • We are working with an SEO expert to optimise the website. 
  • A planned three-week turnaround, with sign off on visual and then leading onto the build. The pretty standard process we usually take with an initial 50% put down to cover any initial expenses.


However, despite the brief, this was not how the process went.

but that's not what happenedHow the process actually went:

  • 50% part payment was put down upfront
  • Copywriters were tasked with the content and the SEO expert was briefed and involved in the design process.
  • Initial visual designs were presented
  • Unclear in the direction they would like to go, rejection of the initial three designs, with little feedback
  • After many discussions, creation of a further design from feedback, happier with the direction, and approved.
  • Many changes to the design, turning it into another design version 
  • Personal problems outside work meant they were unable to provide the agreed photography or content for the website but insisted we continued without either. Time constraints from the client also meant they could not provide feedback on the copywritten material. 
  • Happy with the design, and asked to keep on track. 
  • The full website was created from the without the content, insisted the WordPress website was built. 
  • Stock imagery was sourced, ans purchased
  • Undertook the creation of the website 
  • Finally, photography was provided from the client, and dummy content was added to the working website. 

And then, out of the blue, after working on a project that was meant to be only a few weeks, stretched into six months, the client decided it wasn’t the look and felt they wanted to portray their company. The client was unhappy with the design and decided that they were going somewhere else for another designer.  An unexpected reaction from the client, initially we tried to understand where the project had gone wrong. 


Sometimes its not as simple as they are right and you are wrong, your work might be rejected

“Its just business, not personal.”

This well-known remark, I have never been able to understand. To me, all work is personal, and taking the time to understand a client’s needs, goals, and their intentions is a journey we have been through together.  How we felt:

  • I wanted to understand why, and what could have helped. 
  • It hurt your self-esteem – and it is essential to acknowledge that. 
  • Try to be diplomatic, not reactive in the communication. 
  • Confrontation….? 
  • Ultimately the decision is based upon the opinion 
  • There was an evident lack of communication or direction.
  • An ever-changing brief, from a client that was unclear what directions they wanted to take. Yet still eager to move on with the tasks. 

hard work might not always pay off, rejection does happen

Trusting your instincts

The little to no contact and the change of heart at every turn of this project has me on edge with this, combined with not meeting deadlines, this should have pinpointed there were issues at an earlier point.  What was next?

  • I was disappointed that I was unable to understand the client’s hopes for the project.
  • I felt a feeling of rejection and a sense of taking it to heart and taking it personally. 
  • You have to take a step back. It’s easier if you walk away and come back with a fresh perspective.
  • Refuel. the challenge is to refuel and find the energy to start over again
  • Don’t let it knock your creative flow. Your confidence in your work is essential.
  • Try putting your ego aside for a while. Your design is not you. You have many projects ahead of you. So let this one go.
  • You tried everything, and nothing worked. You feel like a mess. So, go and vent it out. Lift that weight from your heart.

What can we learn from this

don't let rejection knock your creative flowWe tried very hard and did go above and beyond to understand and direct the project based upon their feedback.  The effect can affect both for me but also for the others that were involved that I was left to explain, and ultimately we all needed to breakdown the project, understand and then move past. I chose to write this piece as a cathartic piece and share with others my process and how to maybe deal with it.

  • Maybe this client was unsure what they wanted, and yet we continued anyway.
  • Stepping back to reassess the work presented to the client is not you personally, it is the design and just one solution to a problem. 
  • The design was rejected because it wasn’t what the client was looking for in this situation, and they were looking for another solution that couldn’t be answered, or couldn’t be conveyed from the client. This situation could be that the client has a specific vision for the project, or that there was a miscommunication. 
  • More communication with the client was needed, to understand their hesitation or their direction they were looking to peruse.
  • Our communication and work was undertaken over Skype and phone calls and emails – was this lost in communication?
  • As soon as the project started to go off track, we should have stopped the project and arranged to discuss it.
  • See a positive in the outcome of this and understand where we could improve.
  • Practice forgiveness & letting go
  • We are not our work. Our work has to be separate and not to take it personally. They are not rejecting you.
  • Leave this client doing our best work. A website we are proud of, and something that we would be pleased to share online and in or portfolio.

Some Links that may help with your understanding of the project, learning to accept the decision, and also to let go of the rejection.

Matt is a Graphic Designer and Web Designer based in the UK. Read about him, and his design work at


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