Why Some Clients are Nothing but Trouble

by Nigel Gordijk

Ever had one of those nightmare clients that is always making ridiculous requests and is never happy with anything you do? Here's why they're like that, and how to cope...

Clients. They have no idea what we creatives have to put up with. Probably the only people who do are their co-workers; subordinates who are too diplomatic or polite to set them straight.

But not me. Here's where I spill the beans, dish the dirt, but not name names (I can't afford the legal fees). They've been changed to protect my client list - all of whom are innocent, naturally.

Here are my top five client crimes, along with my methods for solving them:

1: Can't we include this photo from this book?

...usually accompanied by "No-one will ever know".

It goes without saying - but I'll say it anyway - that to scan a photograph or illustration from any publication without the permission of the image's owner is a breach of copyright and therefore illegal.

The reason that clients ask for something like this usually comes down to a restrictive budget. You could try finding comparable royalty-free images from photo libraries such as The cost of legitimately using these would certainly be cheaper than settling a lawsuit.

As a final argument, ask the client how they'd feel if someone asked you to copy their work.

2: I sent you an email ten minutes ago - why haven't you responded?

Perhaps because I'm still downloading the 20Mb image attached to it.

Hey, I know the client is only trying to help by sending you the files you need as soon as possible but unless you have a broadband connection or ISDN they won't be doing you any favours.

When you start a project, make it explicitly clear how you want resources made available to you. Larger files over 2Mb should be sent on recordable media such as Zip disks or CD-Roms rather than crippling your email system by attaching it to a message.

Also, it's good email etiquette to use the message's Subject field to mention that there is an attachment and how big it is.

3: But it's only a five minute job.

Because - as everyone knows - designing a Web page only takes marginally longer than boiling an egg.

When you tell some clients that a particular task will take two days, they take it as a cue to begin negotiating and ask for it in one. I usually counter this by arguing that to do the job well I need the time to meet the client's requirements.

If I explain to them what the job entails - whether it's research, thinking up a concept, or retouching an image - they tend to concede that I've given a fair estimate of the timeframe needed.

4: I know someone who can do it for a quarter of the cost.

So why are you talking to me?

Chances are that a potential client contacted you because they've seen some of your previous work and they liked it. If their only criterion for choosing a supplier is cost, then by all means they should be using the lowest bidder. But if they want quality work - well, that comes at a premium.

Never get into a bidding war to win a project. No matter how low you go, there will always be someone who can come in cheaper. If a client says they want you to do the job but they don't want to pay the asking price, don't cut your costs - cut your services.

Tell the client that you understand that their budget is a deciding factor, but your price estimate is based on the time it will take you as well as the cost of your expertise. The only way to lower the estimate would be to cut back on some of the services you offered. Perhaps when more funds become available you can include the additional options.

5: Make the logo bigger.

Ah, the classics!

The best response to this is part of the exchange I once overheard between a client and the art director of an advertising agency. It went something like this:

Client: I'd like to see our logo bigger.

Art Director: Can you see the logo?

Client: Of course.

Art Director: Then it's big enough.

Please note that yes, this was a real conversation, but no, I wasn't that art director. I'd never have the guts!

My advice is to never tell a client that they're wrong - it will only make them dig their heels in and get defensive. I have more success when I come up with an alternative solution and explain to a client "I understand what you're trying to achieve, but how about this solution to meet your needs?" This shows that you aren't being an awkward prima donna by refusing to change your design; rather, you're showing a sensitive understanding of the client's problem.

(By the way, I recently had a client ask me to make the logo smaller. I have the emailed request printed out and framed above my desk.)

Do you want to know the real problem with clients?

They don't understand what we do. More accurately, they don't understand how we do it. How do creatives analyse an abstract business problem and turn it into something tangible and visual?

Thankfully, I have a solution. Explain to them how you approach a project. Clients who contact me after visiting my site have read my brief methodology and therefore have a fair idea that commercial creativity isn't alchemy - it's a methodical process that should be followed step by step to ensure a successful and measurable result.

Of course each client and project is different, but the bare bones of a methodology can form the sound basis for any project.


Nigel Gordijk
Graphic Designer
Clear, intelligent Web site designs
Mobile: 07944 170 293
Fax: 07092 291 181
54 Dyke Road
Brighton BN1 3JB
United Kingdom

(c) Nigel Gordijk