If you’ve been in the business long enough you’ve experienced a terrible client or two. Learning how to deal with these people effectively really helps you grow as a designer and a business person.
Below are a few winners our readers have dealt with over the years. All names have been withheld to protect the innocent (and guilty).
Where I’m Going I Don’t Need Envelopes
I was standing at the front counter of the print shop I worked at right out of college, discussing proofs with a client. When we were finished I piled up all the proofs so the client could take them back to his office and offered him an envelope for the stack of random papers. He refused and happily pointed out his Mercedes double parked in the parking lot and said “It’s OK, I drive a Mercedes and that’s like a big envelope”.
It’s Just a Flesh Wound!
The owner of a print shop asked me to design a brochure for a fishing lodge – it was a small town and we did a lot of design work too. All was going great, every one was happy with the look of the brochure and we were nearly finished. Then out of the blue the owner called me into his office to discuss the design and pointed to the left arm of a fisherman on the cover of the brochure. He was happily holding up a massive fish with his right hand and his left was just hanging there, as it should be. The owner insisted that the arm looked strange and wanted me to Photoshop it out of the picture. Literally, Photoshop out a guys left arm. His logic was that the arm was behind the guys back so it’s not weird. I saved a copy of that brochure for over a decade and brought it out every time I needed a good laugh.
Size Really Does Matter
Back before the days of responsive websites I had one client who insisted that her website was too large to fit on her computer’s screen. This was after 5-6 different rounds of proofs, so I’d have hoped it would have come up earlier, but no. I spoke with her on the phone about the issue and eventually figured out that she had her laptop screen set to 800 pixels x 600 pixels – absolutely minuscule, even by the day’s standards. She insisted that her screen needed to be that size for her corporate software to work and worried that other people viewing her website with a 800 x 600 screen would have the same trouble as her. I insisted that no one else in the world would have a screen that small and things were OK. She relented and I walked her though the steps to change her screen settings.
Few weeks later the same client called me up and insisted that her website was too big to fit on her screen and wanted it shrunk again. She had no recollection of our previous phone conversation, and I went through the steps of helping her change her screen resolution, again.
WE Have This Great Idea For A Logo
Worst logo design client ever. After accepting the design job I was asked to come to the client’s office for a meeting to discuss logo ideas, etc. When I arrived every single employee was waiting in the boardroom, each with their own sketched idea for a new logo. They ranged from awful to hysterical – most used MS Word clipart, or hand drawn stick figures of farm animals. I tried to sort though the horror and build a few decent logo mock-ups. I knew I was in trouble when the first round of proofs came back with comments from everyone, and a new round of sketches. I’m pretty sure even the janitor was in on the submissions. I never did end up designing a logo for this client – I just gave up around the 10th round of proofs and walked away. I think they kept their original logo after all this too.
Fool Me Once, Shame On… Shame On You
I had a client contact me for a website, and being a friend of one of my favourite clients, I happily accepted the job. I had a bad feeling about this one and should have said no, but I was only in the business for a few years and was hungry for work. She showed me a website template that she really liked, it was a website totally built in Flash and didn’t have a lot of the features she needed for her website. I explained why Flash was bad, and that the template didn’t have all of the features she needed and said I could copy the basic design but rebuild the site using HTML and add the features she needed. When all was said and done she sent numerous emails saying how happy she was with the website so when I submitted the invoice I expected quick payment. Six months went by and nothing – no responses to any of my phone calls or emails. I finally contacted her and very bluntly said I expected to be paid immediately. She said that I just used a template to build the site, so the invoice I sent (which was the exact same price she agreed to on the estimate) was way too high and she refused to pay it. She wanted her husband, a “Sun Microsystems expert”, to examine the website code to see if I really did build a new website or just used the template. I sent her code samples and design samples to prove the site was totally different.
She wanted to go to court to settle the matter. Eventually I just took $500 off the final price and asked her to pay. She did.
As a side note, she called me up a few years later and apologized for her actions – said that she learned a lot when building a website with someone else and said she was wrong. Then, my second big mistake, she asked me to host the website I built for her again because the domain had expired years ago and they were now trying to sell the business. So I got the site up and running. And she stiffed me for the web hosting. Lesson learned.
What About You?
Do you have a horrible client story you want to share? Send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and the best ones will appear in the next edition of Terrible Clients! Please don’t post them in the comments or they won’t be a surprise.