Learn from bad clients
I want to write my experiences and lessons from a recent logo design project I took on, which unfortunately did not go as well as I would have hoped.
I still have a good relationship with this client, and although a final design was selected and full payment was made, I am aware that unfortunately they will continue to revise and modify the logo to their ‘own’ taste.
This blog post hasn’t been written as a personal attack on my client (who I will not name), but as a way to show the ongoing efforts I make to improve my processes and service.
I also hope by telling of my experiences it will also help other designers and creatives who may one day fall into a similar situation.
Starting the project
At the start of every identity design project, as per my project process, I create a list of objectives based on collated information, which forms a brief for the project.
This list of objectives is agreed with the client before any designs are created, as my design decisions and choices will be made based on this list. Upon presentation of the designs I will also explain how each design meets these goals, and recommend which design I believe is most suitable.
With this particular project the client was quite specific with the type of designs they wanted me to explore for them, and these requirements were included within the brief.
The client gave a new requirement
Upon presenting the designs, the client liked what I created for them, however explained that they expected an icon to be included as part of the word-mark, and sent over a specific example of what they wanted this to be. This wasn’t something that was ever discussed previously, and didn’t even relate with the type of designs they wanted me to initially explore for them, as per the objectives created.
Looking back now, I know I should have raised this with them, and re-evaluated the project brief, however the client was so specific in what they wanted that I put a revised design together for them, which was a combination of a concept I had created, with the addition of a new icon.
Once I was happy I had a design I felt was unique, memorable, simple and appropriate, I presented the revised design to them.
Despite the explanation of my design decisions, the client requested further modifications to be made.
As part of my process I allow unlimited modifications to a chosen design. This is because I believe that if a client pays for a design, they should love what they eventually receive.
I also do this as I work towards a list of objectives, and believe that the client can add their own valuable input to create a design that will attract their target audience, and better reflect their business. I believe this also results in a better designed logo.
The price of “unlimited modifications”
Unfortunately, in this case my honesty and attitude was abused.
With each revision made, the client requested further changes. The client even at one point sent over their own revisions, and even though I made the changes to their exact specifications, they didn’t like the change and wanted to see further versions.
Ultimately, after hours of work, I was loosing time and money on this project, therefor I needed to inform the client that this round of revisions would need to be the last, and any further modifications will require a small hourly fee.
The client did not argue this in any way, and understood the reasons, but was not prepared to invest any further into the design.
The client agreed that once this revision was made, they would make the final payment, and would revise the design themselves to their own tastes. I still believe this was a bad decision, but I need to respect the clients request.
Despite the additional work and time I needed to put into the project, I decided I would present the client with 2 options. I shown a revised version based on their requirements, along with the version I will present within my logo design portfolio.
With this second version I wrote a supporting document. This document contained my design decisions; both from technical point of view, as well as a creative point of view. Despite my efforts, the client selected their version, and disregarded my opinions.
Suddenly the client started to demand files to be sent by a specific date, which was never agreed or discussed at any point. I was also informed that emails were not being received.
It was very bizarre as the client actually replied to emails they claimed they didn’t receive… Maybe I am being naive, but I believe that the client genuinely did not ‘see’ the emails, but I am confident they did receive them regardless. I understand what it’s like to be busy, so I know emails can be missed, but to be honest… it was frustrating, and was wasting further time.
Happy end? Not really…
The client eventually made final payment, and was extremely happy with the final design. I do however wait to see how my design is used, and what design decisions the client will make. I hope they will make good design decisions, and don’t ruin the work I did for them, however since their website is quite horrific, I do have great concerns…
I have come to the conclusion that there are ultimately two types of clients. Those that want a designer, and have respect for the knowledge, skill and education, and then there are those who just want someone to create their vision, and couldn’t care less about the designers opinions.
Luckily almost all of my clients respect my opinions, and I also respect theirs too. We have a good working relationship, and this collaboration ultimately results in great design work.
Those that however disrespect a designers opinion are ‘impossible’ to work for, make you doubt your opinion, design skills, and make you feel physically and mentally drained. These are the type of people I want to avoid in the future.
I am making changes to my processes from this day on, both in an attempt to avoid clients like this, but to also avoid being used and abused by clients in this way.
What logo design processes have I changed?
I have made a number of changes to my design processes to avoid the wrong type of client. This is a summary of what I have done:
1. Getting more details before starting the work
Detailed information is required before payment is made using a new enquiry form. I hope by doing this it will flush out ‘time wasters’, and those who are not prepared to put the time in the to the project. Effort in = Effort out. If someone is a genuine client, and is serious about their business, they will spend the time to complete the information.
2. Adjusting my rates to the client
My pricing model has changed. Previously I had a single price to suit all. I have now revised this so that the price will vary based on requirements and expectations. This does also mean my prices have been increased, but I have done this as an attempt to flush out the bad clients, and attract business owners who are serious about their brand identity, and understand the value of good design work.
3. Limiting the design time to protect from abuse
Unlimited changes have been quantified within the initial quotation. Although ‘unlimited’ changes can be made, I have capped the design time within the project price. This time allows for several revision rounds if needed. If the client does want further amendments, there is a small hourly fee.
This ultimately protects me from abuse, and protects me should a legal situation arise. A reasonable client should never need to pay more, and I will never use this as an excuse to get more money out of a client.
4. A managed list of objections, well-documented
When objectives are created, I will make it very clear that this list will become the brief I will work from. I will also request this to be signed and dated by the client. If anything is raised after this point that changes the direction of the project, there will be a fee to re-evaluate the list and for any further designs needed.
This list is after all my way of ensuring precise goals are met, and is to also help the client make the right choice for their business.
I honestly don’t think there are such a thing as bad clients, but instead ‘wrong’ clients.
I don’t think this client was bad, but I do believe they selected the wrong service for their requirements and expectations. I believe this client wanted an art-worker, and not a designer. Someone who could create their vision for them.
I have learned a lot from the experience, and hope by telling this story it will also help other designers to protect themselves from similar problems.
Have you had a similar experience? Do you have any useful advice to share? Add your story to the comments section below.
Ian Paget is a graphic designer from Reading, UK. In his day job he works as creative director for an eCommercy agency. With a love of branding and logo design, in his free time he runs Logo Geek, designing logos & identities for SMEs around the world.
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