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Clients from Hell?

Clients from Hell, Meet Designers from Wonderland

November 24, 2009 at 1:03 am by Blair

Last week I discovered Clients from Hell, a website that collects and publishes anonymous stories from designers about their worst client experiences. I was hooked from the first story. I now read every new entry as soon as I can get to it. While the stories are hilarious and stir up memories of my own Client from Hell experiences from my agency days (ďI had them put a coffee cup in the logo because our product is built on JavaĒ) sometimes I find myself laughing as much at the aggrieved designer. 

Let me see, the client had a bizarre vision of what he thought he needed, unreasonable expectations of your role, he wasnít going to pay you anything near what you felt the work was worth, he didnít pay you a deposit in advance and you still took the work? Client from Hell, meet Designer from Wonderland.

Clients from Hell donít just become Clients from Hell a few weeks or months into the engagement. Their behavior is on display from the first interaction. These stories should serve as more reinforcement of the point that business development is The Polite Battle for Control. If you canít correct poor behavior in the buy-sell cycle, youíll never correct it once hired. Too many of the CFH stories are rooted in the designer doing exactly what the nutty client asked, regardless of the merit of the request or the obvious lacking of sanity or sophistication in the client. 

Itís great fun to read these stories and laugh yourself silly. But once youíve wiped the tears from your eyes, read them again and ask yourself if the designer may have played any role in enabling the hellish experience. Buried in many of the stories are some great lessons in what designers can do better to reign in or screen out these clients. 

Read the stories, or follow Clients From Hell on Twitter.

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Michael said:

Really true sentiments here...

The art of saying NO is part of the game.

My take on this topic:

Chris Butler said:


I've been enjoying 'Clients from Hell,' too. Much of what I read there reminds me more of my freelancing days than any current Newfangled clients, but that said, some hellish stuff crops up every now and again. Thankfully, it's very rare for the very reason you mention- identifying behavior indicative of a good client match early on.

Just this morning, I was on a call with a prospect who at one point in the conversation said about the prospect of rebuilding her company's website, "I don't look at this as a final build, but an ongoing dynamic process." I was thrilled. I am constantly reminding clients that just as the web at large is a work in progress, so are their websites. They are never done, and the value of a relationship with us is in the long term, not whatever is part of the pre-go-live phase 1. To me, this statement is indicative of a potential 'client from wonderland.'

- Chris

Erik Shultz said:

You make an excellent point. Many customer that are difficult with be difficult forever.

In the business of printing, saying no has always been an important part of the everyday service. You have to know when to save your fight for another day.

Great blog!

Blair Enns said:

Amen, Michael. Great post - love the IDWF logo, btw.

Chris, every once in awhile a not just good but GREAT client graces our practice and reminds us of how good things can be. I remember a couple of clients early in my agency career that that were even better than I deserved.

Duane Loose said:

Perhaps we need a 'Client from Heaven' site devoted to stories containing the keys and insights to creating great designer/client relationships.

Oh wait...we already have one thanks to Blair and WWP.



Dan Woychick said:

As when my young dog used to misbehave when left at home alone, after initially getting upset at him, I usually had to confront the fact that I gave him opportunity to shred the blinds, eat the garbage, etc. -- so shame on me.

James said:

Brilliant site. Thank you for sharing it. Reminds me of my ad days too. I couldn't stop laughing and can't wait for more stories.

Blair Enns said:

Thanks for the comments. Duane, you get Commenter of The Day award. :)

Dan, I now have this image of clients eating from the trash bin. Thanks for that. :)

Eisbaer said:

It isn't just clients in the designing or advertising professions. I'm a lawyer, and believe you me we have some REAL clients from hell. Especially now that the economy's in the shitter.

Ali Rowan said:

You make a great point here, and one that I feel is greatly overlooked. We have a tendency to blame clients based on the notion that they're uneducated in the field of design and thus they're just waiting for opportunities to sabotage us. Of course this is untrue (at least the vast majority of the time, I should hope). Part of our job is to establish a constructive working relationship and to give our clients the tools they need to communicate with us effectively, even if that means investing a little extra time on a project to give some Design 101. Thanks for the reminder!

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