Clients (Aren’t Always) From Hell: Designer Accountability

Recently for one of my courses, I had to sift through some research about client relations to formulate an informative presentation for my class. It was surprisingly interesting and many professionals (throughout Graphic Design and other fields) have written lists of useful tips and guidelines that can help both green and seasoned designers through some of the stickier aspects of client relations.

For the presentation, my partner and I tried to synthesize the vast world of client relations into four distinct avenues: attitude, communication, common sense, and ending things professionally. We looked through dozens of sources to try to find the realest way to react in the industry.

It’s easy to enter certain jobs with a negative attitude. It’s also incredibly easy to say that you should remain positive, but putting talk into action can prove a little more taxing. If you approach a project with a “Clients From Hell” attitude, that’s most likely what you will get. Try to approach every job with an open mind, even if it’s small or tedious, because you never know how valuable a person might be. That may sound a little self-serving, but positive connections can make or break your business. Satisfied clients are more likely to continue a partnership with you or recommend you to others which will help your business’s reputation and growth.

Communication is the biggest topic I found while reading through numerous sources on client relations. Designers everywhere stress the utmost importance of communicating with your clients and keeping them in the loop. RGD member Kevin Hoch has this to say about remaining transparent with your client even at the very beginning of a project:

“Managing your client’s expectations during the planning phase of the project is key to building trust in your ability to deliver. Laying out any contingencies that might affect your timeline or budget at the beginning of the project allows the client to understand your knowledge of the process and adds assurance that you understand and are prepared to deal with issues that may arise. Before we started the project, our client was fully versed on how issues such as changes to construction schedules or waiting on city permits would affect timelines.”

Christian Castel RDG also suggests that you constantly keep the client in the loop during the design process, even if it’s just a quick email, as it prevents mistakes and builds confidence. But email isn’t the sole way you should communicate. Lindsey Van Thoen from Freelancer’s Union mentions in this article that calling a client or meeting in person is a much better way to receive feedback and direction. Your client may not know how to fully articulate their requests via email so they end up greenlighting something they’re not thrilled with. This can lead to problems later on that are easily avoided by proper communication.

Common sense is a little bit of both attitude and communication. Using common sense when dealing with a difficult or frustrating client can help save that job and keep your sanity. Mike Michalowicz—CEO of Provendus Group—suggests that if you are dealing with a particularly taxing client, to mentally add the phrase “from my limited experience” to “the end of statements others say that offend you.” I also found Rajiv Sighamony’s article on dealing with problematic clients another interesting and entertaining read.

And, if worst comes to worst, there is a final option: firing your client. This option should only be used as a last resort if you really can’t work with the client. But ending any relationship is never easy. The most important thing to remember is ending things in a professional way that lets everyone walk away with their dignity. James Chartrand from Men with Pens wrote a stellar list called 11 Tips on How to End a Client Relationship that I think perfectly sums up how to end things on a good note.

Really the most important thing to remember is to remain professional throughout all your endeavours. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this is a business venture, but a lot of heartache and frustration will be saved if you can keep a level head and try to work with your client rather than against them.

Have you every had any good experiences with clients? Bad experiences? Tips, tricks, or clever ways to deal with clients and keep your sanity? Tell me in the comments!




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