Whether it’s a predilection for Superga sneakers or an obsession with kerning, designers are united by a certain sensibility. And when a designer interacts with someone outside the tribe, things can get less than pixel-perfect, especially when that outsider happens to be a client or a chief content type. We surveyed a few designer friends and asked them about the infuriating, insensitive, just plain dumb things non-designers say to designers. Here is how not to talk to a designer.
“Can you make this [font/image/illustration] a little [bigger/smaller/prettier]?
“If I go to see the doctor,” Quentin Newark, cofounder of London’s Atelier Works, explained, “I accept that the doctor has trained, has skill, has experience, is concentrating on one aspect of me. I’ve asked them to do that. What I don’t do is what bad graphic design clients do. I don’t lean over the doctor’s shoulder and say, ‘Could we make that pill a bit larger?’”
Designer James Greig has a quick fix for the issue of size. “Make the logo a little smaller than you think it should be. Then when the client (almost inevitably) asks you to make it bigger, you’ll be able to do it without hesitation.”
“We ended up not using the work.”
In his now legendary CreativeMornings talk, “Fuck You, Pay Me,” Mule Design cofounder Mike Monteiro runs through a laundry list of excuses clients provide in order to avoid cutting a check. His biggest piece of advice — get good at negotiating contracts, or find someone who is.
“All clients, I think, start the business relationship with the best of intentions,” Monteiro said. “And things go wrong. Things that you weren’t expecting. The market changes, or the person who hired you leaves, or, y’know, somebody has a bad mood day, but things change. And when those things change, you need to make sure that the relationship between you and the client is set in place in something like a contract.”
“We’re not sure, do it 12 other ways.”
“They’re the ones who say, ‘We’re not sure, do it 12 other ways,’” he explained. “‘That thing we decided last time, we changed our mind about—come to a new meeting, and we’ll tell you the new thing we decided, before we change our mind again.’ ‘That thing that I sent you that was complete, actually left out a lot of stuff and now here’s new information that no one told you about that has to be incorporated that renders the previous solution we came up with obsolete.’ These are things bad clients do—and among things, like driving you insane, they just take more time.”
“Do your magic.”
The mysterious, though decidedly non-magical, Twitter account @vminbloom explains,
Or as Jordan Brannon, President & COO of Coalition Technologies, calls these clients, “the yo-yo.” “By yo-yo clients,” he said, “I mean ones that alternate between being highly interested and engaged in their project and then extremely unavailable. They tend to start out a project by saying things like, “this project is our #1 priority”, or “this site will make or break our business for the next year”, and then midway through won’t respond to calls, emails, or other communication. They tend to be their own worst enemy, undermining project timelines, scopes, and deliverables with their vanishing and reappearing act.”
“I need this by [yesterday/today/ASAP]”
From the endlessly entertaining, though occasionally terrifying, blog Clients from Hell, comes this gem of a client interaction.
“Let me ask my [kids / husband / wife / dentist].”
Bonnie Siegler writes in her excellent book, Dear Client: This Book Will Teach You How to Get What You Want From Creative People, “Because decisions around design, copy, video, and the like are subjective, people with little expertise tend to feel more confident sharing an opinion. And because each person will naturally have unique preferences, any decision made by committee will necessitate compromise and therefore lack singular vision. Vision is not a group activity…”
Or, as the old adage puts it, “A camel is a horse designed by committee.”