On the contrary, you don’t need a designer. You are the designer. You need someone who knows how to use computer software. Save yourself money by finding that person instead.

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February 10, 2011


This is so true and in fact doesn’t just relate to clients, it can be the project manager too – as has happened to me a few times. It can be quite disheartening. Worse when you get shown an existing site/logo/whatever and told to do that, but not copy it.

Love the use of the Ikea style graphics, they fit perfectly.

Ugh, I hate requests like this. They are also usually followed up with things like. “It’ll be really easy,” or “it’s super urgent, I need it right away.”, or “I don’t have much of a budget but it’ll lead to more work down the road.”

And surely we’ve all worked with the Ad Agency or Design Consultancy Account Handler who’s secretly a frustrated Graphic Designer:

“I suggested this idea in the meeting to the Client and he liked it, so just do that.”


Spot on David, I always think these sorts of requests are just an attempt at blagging a cheaper quote by making the designer believe there will be less work involved, which I doubt will be the case.

Like Sam above said, it’s never less work, in fact it’s almost always MORE work. Not only do they say, “I already know what I want.” but then they think they can telepathically send the exact image into your brain. Because they get completely vague with what they want and then go back and forth and back and forth until extreme frustration (on both sides) erupts. Never worth the trouble.
Thanks for the laugh David!

Yeah, I got one that went something like this: “…for this new site, I want photo galleries, a blog, podcast ability, OH and a new logo, and we have to launch in three weeks. It’ll be simple, my nephew that is in to ‘GRAPHIC ARTS’ set up the new site on ‘CRAPHOST’, all you have to do is make the new site fit the template he arranged.”

Sadly, I feel like this is all I see. I DO need to get some better work out there, as to bring in some “real” clients as opposed to these “DYI designers” in disguise as clients.

I’ve done a few of these projects. What’s neat is seeing a client start to trust my experience and gradually stop trying to design it all himself. Often we have to take them where they are for awhile, be patient, and develop a relationship with them before they hand over the true design jobs as well.

This happen’s way to much! What I usually do is create what the customer thinks looks fantastic & then try to ‘Wow’ him myself with what I can create. Some times works great… other times they’re too hard-headed!

Also, I just finished your book Logo Design Love. As a young designer it taught me a lot! More than 5 years of college ha. I recommend it to all!

The most freeing thing you can do is ‘say no’. Don’t take the job. Tell the client this is not a good fit for either of you. Sometimes, the client will be grateful and come back to you with better work or rethink what they are asking you for, or learn to trust you as an expert. If not, stop working with them or don’t start. You’ll end up spinning your wheels, thus taking too much time away from work for better clients or time you would’ve had to seek new business.

I’ve had a similar request. I produced design options and then got one of my options back rearranged asking if I could replicate it. It was a shame because there were better designs in the original options. In my previous job my project manager would occasionally draw out what he thought the client wanted rather than trusting my opinion. Glad those days are gone.

Declining when you get this up front, sure… but how do you handle it when you get this mid-project? Ie, you’ve submitted to the client several good choices, and they try to “design” a new option combining the ideas and a few new ideas? I’ve faced this and really struggled.

So good! I feel your pain! I’ve experienced this so many times. What’s helped is raising my rates and being brutally clear up front. The other side of the coin are those clients that have zero idea of what they want. I had a client who ignored requests for input on target audience, colors, websites they liked. He insisted that the site had to be done right away and the FB fan page to match. I told him that without more input, I’d have to guess and totally redesign later and it would cost more. He said he didn’t care, it has to get done. So, I put something together based on minimal input and it looked great. They loved it. A week later, he said he wanted all these changes and I said I’d need more money. He freaked out and said he never said I could have “full creative control.” Needless to say, he bowed out and I kept the deposit.

Funny this should come up now, I was recently asked by a friend in marketing if we could meet as they needed a designer ‘to work up some ideas’ they had. I politely said I was too busy and that I didn’t believe in the client, it wouldn’t be creative so it wont be good for publicity and it wouldn’t be good money. But if they were stuck I would help them out, otherwise I could put them in touch with some other designers who could help.

They understood and were fine with it.

Sometimes you just have to be honest.

In reply to Aubrey, I try to avoid getting into the situation where a client gets you to jump through hoops by asking for constant changes. It helps by having a good relationship with the client to start with of course, but in general I ask this.

Why do you want to make these changes, what is the problem?.

In general this works.

Sometimes they still ask to see what they requested and I do it. But I also try to answer the problem which is why the tried to shoehorn two routes together in the first place. I normally write a short presentation to show how it answers the problem.

If that doesn’t persuade them, then there isn’t much you can do…but it rarely, if ever, ever comes to that. It’s not good to get a reputation as being difficult. A client I worked with said they would never work with this (very well known) branding agency as they were so difficult to work with (we got the next job which turned out to be a big award winner). Being arrogant doesn’t get you repeat business, but then again it’s not good to be seen as a visualiser of other peoples ideas as it’s unrewarding and you don’t get the same respect.

Best to stick to your guns in a positive and pro-active way because you really believe that you are doing the right thing for the client. You do better work when you believe in what you do (I tell clients this a lot).

At the end of the day, a client should choose you because they like you, what you do, and why you do it. If they hire you just because you are a ‘designer’, that’s when the problems start.

Aubrey, I too take Lee’s approach. I try to better understand what the ‘real’ problem the client is having with what I presented them. Typically the clients solution is them trying to solve that problem rather than letting you solve it, but it doesn’t necessarily do it well. Most of the time I will show them their solution and show them one more that I believe really solves their concern. If that doesn’t work after this presentation , it is wise at that point to say ” Well I’d be more than happy to do one more round of revisions for you”. Hopefully you can avoid the endless rounds of changes, be seen as a collaborator and a good designer.

When I get a request like this, it makes me feel like my career choice is pretty worthless. What’s the point in coming to me if you know exactly what you want? You do know they have free programs online for this sort of thing right? Just let me be creative already!

This is so funny.

I had a client come up to me the other day and said
“I like you work and want you to work for me. I know exactly what I want. You have to just design it for me, there is not much work involved”.

I said ‘No. Thanks’.

O my goodness!
thank you so much, Mr David, I’ve just realized that ’till now every project looked like that :<
time for changes! ;)

Sometimes it’s worth bearing in mind that the client may also be under pressure to get someting done in a certain way. I had a similar request recently and subsequently found out that the brand management department in the company had very strict guidelines for all promotional projects. You could view it as stifling or challenging, depending on your outlook.

I’ve been on both ends, and neither is very good: the client who thinks he knows best or the designer who doesn’t listen to, or understand, the client. Collaborative work is almost always the best, but it’s easier said than done. It certainly pays to be positive and open-minded, nonetheless.

Richard, you are correct. It is important for designers to get off the “high horse” at times and be positive.

But there is a big difference between the need to comply with brand guidelines and what David is talking about. Designers needn’t pander to the demands of clients that have zero understanding about the creative process and clearly don’t place any value on good design.

Coming back to your point about being open minded, it can definitely be worth the effort to try and win over these people to the concept of design and why it holds value. If they’re still resistant, a good designer should just wash his hands and walk away.

oh wow. yes i have had a few of these. most notably an account manager who once chose a yellow pantone swatch that was ONE iteration different to the one I had chosen. The difference could barely be detected. She was that kind of manager. Needless to say, I was gone by months end.

Mark, I agree with you (and David) – my comment was a rather awkward way of saying that some ‘clients from hell’ may not always be what they appear.

Totally agree about washing your hands and walking away, too. Some people simply will not listen regardless how noble your intentions, and I’ve found that such clients are never satisfied.

Sounds like a creative director to me. “Did you really mean to use that typeface?” a true story!

And another thing… creative directors who don’t have a graphic design background but know good design when they see it. Do you know this person?

I don’t mind the blatant designer-clients such as this, David, as you know what you’re in for from the outset. It’s the sneaky ones that really annoy, you know the type: “Go ahead and do what you think best”, which is followed by “Can we make X changes as I’m a bit arty you know/my wife runs a crafts business and knows about this stuff/my child just got a B at GCSE art and thinks this could be improved*”
*delete as applicable.

I’ve found giving the client what they want, along with a suggested alternative of my own creation, often works. However, it does require a certain degree of patience, and I’ve found it not unlike helping my children with their homework!

Love the Ikea comparison!

Worst. Sort.Of.Client.Ever.

I just do what they say to the letter to use as a springboard to explain to them why it’s all wrong and highlight to them the difference between their ‘design experience’ and ‘mine’.

Sometimes they just need to see ‘their design’ before they will believe that they aren’t in fact a designer.

Assuming that you’d survive the first request. And it’s time to put the said logo on stationery and ad templates, then the next request will be… “Could you make the logo bigger?” :)

Agree with Jeff.

There are plenty of situations where the client can add a lot of value to the design process and the end result is better for having given it some consideration pre-brief. It still leaves plenty of room to blow them away and go beyond their expectations. If a client wants you to start from scratch and invest more time in ideas then we’re quite right to charge more, if not, charge less or politely recommend somebody who will be grateful for the work.

So true! Good description of a common designer problem.

An other situasion is that a client ‘s telling you how much time it will take to design a website (much to less), and stick to that.

“No, thanks.”

I’m a small business owner (3 actually) that has very little experience with graphic design. I have gone through several designers over the years and I have to tell you this is a very frustrating situation for all concerned.
That being said, I think this discussion is a real eye opener for me. I understand how I have alienated designers in the past. I have been that guy that didn’t like the design and then started creating my own with a crappy graphics application to show the designer what I wanted. … I know, I should be hung from the highest tree.
My businesses are pretty small and I don’t work in the world of large corporations with real budgets to in order to get the kind of service that many of you probably offer. It may be a money issue, but, I would have to say that it is your responsibility as designers to sell me on the concept that you have created. I do not have the background and experience that you have to make a qualified decision and if you just throw some designs at me I will pick the one that appeals to my uninformed brain or make you design the one stuck in my head. This applies to your managers as well I would believe. … We need to collaborate together, lay some ground rules and god’s sake, communicate better!

This really does frustrate me as a new/aspiring graphic designer. When I want my creativity and ability to grow, most of my incoming customers/clients are people who (think that they) know exactly what they want and just want someone with the technical ability to slap it onto paper in an attractive format.

I look forward to those rare, but coveted clients who really want a DESIGNER, not a carbon-based illustrator programme. Especially since, because I haven’t taken a formal course in design, I really use my work as my testing grounds. I make sure not to take too big a risk with my clients though, I don’t want to butcher their hopes and dreams with shoddy execution on the excuse of “I was trying something new.”

Anyway, I digress.

I know what you’re telling and I know how it feels. Thank God I’ve managed to find someone who can put my frustration into imagery, hah.

P.S., as an example a client of mine asked me to design a logo, I presented the concepts, he took one, added one something he assembled in Microsoft Word and asked that I exactly replicate what he gave me. *sigh*.

Hmm… I think I may be guilty of this in a current project. Just like to get some feedback on how to better handle this, as a client.

I’m quite a bit more experienced than the designer at the agency we hired, which is a small and cheap 3-man agency.

With all the other stuff I need to get done, I haven’t time to do our corporate website. Additionally, due to the nature of our business, the website isn’t where our main leads or conversions come from.

Now, I know that you can’t have cheap, fast, and good. ;) So we’ve opted for cheap, fast and… passable if you grit your teeth.

The work I’ve been given is extremely unpolished, but I do believe that the designer did the best he could, and he put a lot of heart into it. That’s a big factor that got me to choose them, in the end.

What I’ve tried to do when working with the designer is to fix the most glaring typographical errors (font colour too similar to background, not legible), and design ouches (loud shouty buttons all over the page with no prioritising of treatment for the important vs the unimportant buttons), and just… close an eye to everything else.

Bear in mind that I’ve also provided a full branding guide, and detailed wireframes. I’ve tried as much as possible (other than the stuff above), to keep my fingers out of the pie.

Our project is tracking along well, and I’ve most definitely avoided eleventy-billion-revisions. I believe there were… 3 sets. And now we’re building. For the typographical stuff that still sticks in my eye, I figure I can tweak the Joomla template myself, later on, when I can find the time to.

Of course, since everyone always thinks they’re perfect, I’m sure I’ve done horrible things in the course of this project, that made me curse clients when I was filling the designer role. ;)

What I’m looking for here is input on anything else I should try to bear in mind, as a client, since I’m not used to being the client. :)

I’ve included a link to a resume page, so you can see (and dismiss, if you like) my past work, and get some context around where I’m coming from.

Please feel free to criticise. :) It’s why I wrote this very long comment. Thanks!

I just noticed I never replied, Jasminn. Sorry about that.

Probably way too late, but “cheap and fast?” It seems like you know what led to the work you had to put in. That’s the only one of the “cheap, fast, good” options I’d avoid.

Haha. No, it’s good! :)

It actually turned out pretty well in the end – or at least, the designer doesn’t seem to hate me. ;)

I didn’t mind putting in the extra work – I pretty much knew I’d end up doing it, and we got something passable out of it.

Although… how the cost was presented internally within my larger organisation was quite funny. XD

To other departments, ‘Look! we got this for just $X amt! so cheap!’ Well… yes… because that was what we paid the fast and cheap (but with heart) guys, without including my bill as well. XD

I’m glad it turned out well. Maybe there actually isn’t a fast and cheap option, as someone usually ends of paying more than they expected (time or money or what have you).

Really, are we just minions? A designers creative thought is such a big part of the reason they got to know the software in the first place. As a designer I am really in a position to teach people who think that they are designers that they really are not.

I have been with an employer for a while now and he’s lucky I am a kind person. However, I am very much in a position that when he tells me to reduce a hallway so that a bedroom is bigger I could simply say “sure no worries” and when the doors rock up on site and don’t fit he can figure out the hard way that he is a NOT a designer. And there is more to it “than just knowing the software.” At the end of the day I am working under his builder’s license so he would be responsible.

I sometimes ask myself what was the point in getting my degree if I have to put up with this. On the other hand I see it as a job and it’s okay for now until I get established as a designer in my own right. But I can’t deny some days I feel like a smurf who has been captured by gargamel. It is so soul draining.

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