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There’s No Such Thing As A Bad Client

Hardly a day goes by without hearing a client horror story from one designer or another. Whether I hear about it in person, by email, over the phone or on Twitter, one thing seems clear: designers seem to like complaining about their clients almost as much as they enjoy taking their money.

Everyone has a client horror story. Plenty of websites and blog articles feature creative professionals venting their spleen. You can find some of these linked at the bottom of this article. I encourage you to read through them; some are really quite outrageous, but I hope your thoughts are tempered by what I’m about to say.

What Makes A “Bad Client”? Link


Each person has their own definition of a bad client, depending on their outlook, personality and tolerance. A few universal traits sum it up for me.

Doesn’t Pay Link

The worst of them all. Any other “bad” characteristic is usually manageable compared to this one. Clients who don’t pay or delay payment never realize the trouble and pressure they heap on you, especially if you are a small company or freelancer, for whom cash flow is king. A world of trouble awaits all parties if you have to get legal about it. In this situation, not only do you lose out on income that you have rightly earned, but you could lose out on jobs because your time is consumed by chasing debtors.

Wants Something for Nothing Link

A lot of designers and developers start out in the industry by offering free work to friends and contacts as a way to get their foot in the door. I know I did. There comes a time in your career when this has to stop, and doing it can be difficult. But there are always a few clients who see this situation as the norm.

I no longer do free work unless it’s for charity or something else I believe in strongly. But this hasn’t stopped a few clients from expecting free samples before commissioning further work. It’s all a bit “carrot and stick,” but in my experience more often that not the carrot never appears, and you end up feeling like you got whacked with the stick.

You have a portfolio for a reason. If a client can’t decide whether to hire you based on that, then forget it.

Moves the Goal Posts Link

This situation can creep up on you, and before you know it, you’ve done a lot more for the client than you were paid for. The client will accept your very reasonable quote, but then begin bolting on extras as the job progresses, sometimes in such small doses that you are unsure whether it falls in the agreed plan. This usually happens when the client is unsure from the outset exactly what they want from you. We’ve all heard the line, “I don’t know what I want until I see it.”

Makes Strange Demands Link

This is probably the most common complaint against clients. The king of all demands is, of course, “Can we make the logo bigger?” The Clients From Hell21 website displays endless examples of strange requests.

Plenty more complaints could be added to this list, but they would be smaller annoyances that everyone gets in their daily job, such as: poor communication, being badgered by clients, clients who know it all, disorganized or emotional clients and, of course, gossips. You may well be scratching your head at this point. I’ve clearly pointed out a few ways in which clients can be bad, after proclaiming that they don’t exist in the title. The trick is deciding whether to let them be your clients at all.

No Such Thing Link


I remember when I was a kid, I used to believe monsters were lurking in every dark corner of my bedroom. Every shadow and silhouette seemed menacing and scary, despite the fact that the rest of my family would tell me that there is no such thing as monsters.

Eventually, you grow up and realize that the shadow cast by your Transformer is completely benign and has no ill will against you. But believing or seeing is not enough; you need experience. You grow up and learn; you grow out of bad habits; sometimes you grow new ones.

Bad clients are the monsters under the bed when your creative career is young. They are very real and can give you plenty of fear and stress. But there are ways to grow up and get rid of them, until they become stories that you tell younger designers to scare them.

It comes down to experience and necessity.

Experience And Necessity Link

Experience can’t be taught. It’s one of those things that is gained only by doing. You have to get burned to learn when something is hot. You should regard every bad client you encounter, whether at the beginning, middle or end of your career, as a learning experience—a stepping stone to help you avoid similar situations.

Experience: Taking the Rough With the Smooth Link

At the time, it sucks. No one likes working for bad clients. But you have to step back and look at the bigger picture. Sure, you may lose out immediately if a client doesn’t pay you, but in the long run this experience will probably save you vastly more money because it will make you change your working practices so that it doesn’t happen again.

Experience counts for nothing if you don’t use it to keep from making mistakes again and again. Some will argue that you can’t guard against bad clients, that you either get them or you don’t, that it’s a lottery. I would say that with enough experience you can spot a bad client from a mile away. Experience won’t solve all of your problems. Sometimes you will need to exercise simple skills such as patience, communication, adaptability and understanding.

A lot of client conflicts arise from a lack of knowledge. Sometimes the client just doesn’t understand what we do as creative professionals, and this accounts for many of their crazy requests. Our job as designers is to help them with their particular goals. They always have a target in sight; they just don’t know how to hit it. Communication is all-important. You have to understand what the client wants, and the client has to know what you need to do to make it happen.

Every client is different, and each has to be handled a different way. You’ll have to be attentive to some; others will require a standoff-ish approach. The important thing is finding a way to draw clear lines of communication, so that both parties know exactly what they’re getting out of the business transaction. Hopefully, the client will educate you as much as you do them.

There is no better condition to learn in than extreme pressure—at least for me. Has a client ever made such a strange request that you had to sit down and think, “How would I even achieve that?” But it spurs you on. You’re forced to learn different ways to work because the client doesn’t think like you. They don’t have your knowledge or sense of “how things are done.”

The next time you get a seemingly bizarre request, just go with it. It’s part of the excitement that every designer should seek out. Don’t worry if it isn’t “normal practice,” or even bad practice. Experiment a little, even if only to humor the client and prove that your way is ultimately the right way.

Necessity: A Glutton for Punishment Link

Now we come to necessity. The truth is that any client, no matter how fussy, impolite or demanding, is a good client if they pay a fair wage for the work done. It’s as simple as that. Everyone has bills to pay. We all do jobs that are less than creatively satisfying just to get the cheque at the end. We deal with people who we might not like in exchange for a little extra cash, and we’ll put up with a little more crap than usual because we like to eat.

But everyone makes choices, and our choices define us. Clients have the power to sack us anytime they want; and for freelance designers, that’s a two-way street. It may mean a drop in income; perhaps the bills won’t get paid on time this month. No matter the consequences, the choice is open to every designer out there.

Conclusions Link

The only “bad clients” are the ones you take on in spite of your better judgment. At a certain point in a designer’s career, they are able to tell whether a particular client will be trouble. At that point, clients aren’t so much bad as they are self-inflicted pain for the designer.

We all know that the career of a designer is a steep learning curve. Bad clients have to be a part of that curve. At the time it’s frustrating, maybe even financially dangerous, but each one is a stepping stone to learning how to do things better.

When the day comes that you have earned the luxury of being able to pick and choose who you work for, bad clients won’t really exist. Perhaps that day is a mirage and I’m full of it; but for now, as I work towards that goal, my only “bad clients” are the ones who refuse to pay 50% up front. Everything else they throw at me is a challenge that better equips me for the next one.

I’d like to know your thoughts on this. How do you react to bad clients? Can you look back on bad experiences and learn from them? Can you spot bad clients? Have you reached good-client nirvana?

Bad Client Stories Link

Why Bad Clients Aren’t Always Bad Link

You may be interested in the following related posts:


Footnotes Link

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Ken Reynolds is a graphic designer and illustrator living and working in Suffolk, UK. He runs his own design blog, arrogantly named after himself, where he writes articles on design, blogging and freelancing. You can stalk him via twitter.

  1. 1

    Unbelievably tenuous title purely for the sake of link bait. Also, just because you gain experience from a bad client – doesn’t mean that they weren’t a god-awful client.

    • 2

      kevin powers

      May 25, 2010 6:06 am

      I second that John. Alarmist title and a perspective put forth cast from a very narrow, subjective lens. If you try hard enough, you can, of course, see the opportunity or brighter side in *anything*. That doesn’t mean some clients, at a very basic level, aren’t “bad” (e.g., unscrupulous, deceptive, exploitative, etc). To ignore that basic idea (about clients & people in general, for that matter) is just naive.

      • 3

        I’m afraid I have to agree with you guys. The article is pretty disingenuous. Just because you gain experience doesn’t mean it was a good experience. Some clients are bad, plain and simple, so yes there IS such a thing.

        • 4

          Mohawk Kellye

          May 25, 2010 7:33 am

          My father grew up in a terribly ghetto and dangerous neighborhood in Memphis, TN with his deadbeat father, with whom all his brothers ran away from and joined the military. My dad was the youngest and last to leave the household, but managed to pay his way through undergrad and law school on his own and is now very successful. That doesn’t mean that his neighborhood was a good place or his father was a great person just because he was able to take the bad experiences and use it to better his future. What the hell? This article is just silly, while I see the relevance in it. There ARE some bad people/clients out there and it’s pretty ignorant to pass all of it off on the designer’s “lack of communication”.

      • 5

        Totally true, and the article didn’t end up making the point I thought it would, namely that you can prevent bad experiences with clients by being more professional yourself and setting expectations early.

        There’s a huge difference between a “bad” client and an “inexperienced” client, although there’s some overlap. An inexperienced client can be taught how to work with a designer and how to better state needs and expectations so the designer can understand how to fulfull them. A bad client is one who not only doesn’t understand the work you’re doing, but also doesn’t trust you to bring new solutions to the table and only wants you to be their sentient pencil. Then they stiff you on the bill because they don’t think what you do is of any value.

        It’s true you can avoid a lot of bad clients by meeting with them and having the experience to sense their attitude about design, but when you’re at an early stage in your career you not only can’t tell in advance, you’re occasionally forced to take on bad clients if you want to pay rent on time.

        Half the articles with sensational titles Smashing publishes could be summed up as “Sometimes bad things happen and it’s actually your fault. Act like a professional.”

        • 6

          @Nicole – A very well written summary, I completely agree with you :)

        • 7

          Completely agree as well. I’ve had over 20 successful years in this biz and YES BAD clients do exist and sometimes it’s not your fault or bad decision making. Sometimes (as in life) there is no real way to determine whether someone is a good or bad egg – you only find out down the line.

          However I do admire the author trying to push the idea that YES you can learn from these experiences.

          So a bit of give and take.

          Nothing and I mean nothing in business (or life for that matter) is black and white.

        • 8

          Greg Johnson

          May 27, 2010 7:30 am

          Well put Nicole.

        • 9

          “There is no such thing as a bad client” – I agree! But the article doesn’t point to that at all…

          I agree with the “no bad client” theory because,the only bad thing in the client-professional relationship (except the cases when the client is actually bad intentioned and unscrupulous) is the professional who doesn’t have the ability to communicate with the client. It’s not the client’s fault for bad communication – a professional should know what to ask from day 1, and, yes, this comes only with experience.

          The “bad client experience” usually happens when:
          1. The professional might be good at what he does, but isn’t a seller – and that is when the professional should consider getting a job instead of freelancing. No matter how good you are, it’s really pointless if you can’t sell your stuff.
          2. The work of the “professional” isn’t professional at all and the client understands that and he wants to correct it to reach his objectives.

  2. 10

    The problem is that everyone is a designer…

  3. 11

    Heinrich Muller

    May 25, 2010 7:09 am

    Wrong, there is such a thing as a bad client.

  4. 12

    For the first time I completely disagree with a post of this great site.

    To say that there are no “bad clients” is like saying there are no “bad people” …and I’m “THE BAD” for believe in people.

    There are good people and people with bad intentions. I can say I had bad clients … BAD PEOPLE, you understand?

    …who’s bad?

  5. 13

    Abdul Akbar

    May 25, 2010 5:39 am

    Another good post,

    Keep it up :)

  6. 14

    Preston D Lee

    May 25, 2010 5:49 am

    A well-written and much needed article. I am starting to get tired of all the complaining going on in the design community about how terrible clients are. I have found that usually, if you have a bad client, it’s your own fault. If you want good clients, be a good communicator, good business owner, etc.

    Thanks for sharing the article from as well.

    Best Regards.

  7. 15

    I agree that there is no such thing as a bad client. Clients labeled “bad clients” are often the result of a poorly written contract, or a failure from the designer or developer to set expectations. I had my share of “difficult” clients to work with and realized with time that the problem came from me. I usually ended reworking my contract and rewriting the list of questions I send to potential clients before starting on any work. Once the expectations are set and everything is on paper and signed by the client, any change of scope is as simple as pointing to a specific paragraph in the contract.

  8. 16


    May 25, 2010 6:16 am

    There are some bad clients..
    But good clients are more than bad…
    Cheer up :)
    Keep up the good work SM :)

  9. 17

    Nicole Foster

    May 25, 2010 6:22 am

    I’m somewhat on the fence about this. They are absolutely bad clients who don’t pay and steal your work, those are bad clients, but we often label bad clients as those who don’t understand the design world. It’s not necessarily their fault, so we should take the time to educate them instead of shunning them. However, if they’re not receptive to learning, then you can simply leave the client before starting anything.

  10. 18

    Matt Saunders

    May 25, 2010 6:44 am

    Of course there are bad clients, but nowhere near as many as the design community would have you believe. Bad clients are the ones who have no respect for what you do, lumber you with a tonne of work and a short deadline. A bad client is NOT somebody who asks to have their logo increased in size.

    The experience comes in spotting these types of clients and having the balls to be firm with them when you need to be. I actually think a lot of the moaners in the design community put themselves into this position by being lenient so in a sense I do agree with this article. However, from my personal experience a client can turn bad down line for seemingly unknown reasons.

    I think as *business people* we should simply keep our wits about us when taking on new projects.

    • 19


      May 25, 2010 8:07 am

      lololol bad clients… we are working with all size clients – but the smaller clients can beat you up more than the large clients. They expect all manner of things that ‘cost’ time or money. Which they rarely have either of.

      We recently offered 25 dollar flyers – we customized 3 designs based on 50 background styles. So of course half the clients expected ‘custom’ flyer designs based on custom layouts, concepts etc.

      This resulted in two weeks of ‘moving’ goal posts and ‘we don’t know’ what we want but that isn’t it. We terminated the offer and rewrote it to smooth out this misconception clients were thinking they were going to get.

  11. 20

    What a naive article. There are such things called “integrity” and “self-worth” – some jobs are not worth doing NO MATTER HOW MUCH THE SO CALLED CLIENT PAYS.

    In 22 years of freelancing I have met some great and some really evil clients – who simply are not worth the money and the hassle to work for (no matter how broke you are).

    I find it pretty naive to think that it’s all just a matter of “communication” to tame bad clients. Some clients simply want to to fuck you or try to get a free ride no matter how “good you communicate” or how well written your “contract” is.

    SM should rather post some articles on how to deal with such troublesome situations and evil clients. Business sometimes is war and naive happy-talk can only get you so far in same battles …

    • 21

      I guess you didn’t read to the end. The last paragraph before conclusions makes your point, though not so aggressively. We can choose not to work with a client.

    • 22

      I totally agree on this. Some jobs are really not worth to be taken, and all the happy-talk helps just to “cope with it”. I believe it would be the designer`s community duty to teach those “bad clients” that they can`t get their job done via slavery. But this doesn`t happen, somebody always takes on the job, and then complain…

      the bad-client-o-meter is closely related to the diference between the value the client grants you and the value you put on yourself & your work.

      The articles doesn`t makes much sense to me. What exactly is it? A manifest pro working for anyone, anyhow, anytime, anyway, no matter what? I`m especially bugged by this sentence: “We deal with people who we might not like in exchange for a little extra cash, and we’ll put up with a little more crap than usual because we like to eat.”

      Are designers so low on the food (err… work)-chain? I`d rather go and gather some garbage in exchange for a day`s meal than do that, it is way much rewarding and way less demanding.

      So, anyway, i believe bad clients do exist, it`s just a matter of common sense not to make them your own, and it might take some downfalls to be able to spot them properly. But that doesn`t mean you should cope with them, it`s the “FREE” in freelancing that should give you the power to choose. And good clients exists, are quite many, quite awesome & worth going the extra mile for them & you`ll get to eat too…

  12. 23

    philip hastings

    May 25, 2010 6:46 am

    My first thought after reading this article – there must not be any Wal-Marts in the UK.

  13. 24

    Just because you learn something or make money doesn’t mean the client was a good one. It just means you did something for a jerk and got paid to do it.

  14. 25

    An article on educating the so called “bad clients,” would’ve been a lot more helpful. To say that bad clients don’t exist is denial at it’s finest..

  15. 26

    Stephen Hill

    May 25, 2010 7:09 am

    I think a good topic for a blog post would be why friends and family make good / bad clients.

  16. 27

    great post!

    i left a great job once because of the ‘pissing and moaning’ of clients directly from the partners of the firm. one partner actually got caught complaining about a client as she walked through the door. i was so embarrassed to be part of the team i had to leave. it makes you wonder what they say when you’re not around also.

  17. 28

    Mohawk Kellye

    May 25, 2010 7:22 am

    I don’t believe that there’s no such thing… I understand many may not realize the burden they may cause or they aren’t sure what they’re supposed expect while working with freelancers, but there really are some people out there who try to pull one over on you. There are some people I’ve explained very clearly how matters should/need to be handled and what to expect but continue delaying payment, asking for more work that they have not paid for (on top of the previous work they have not paid for), changed their mind incessantly, and asks for unreasonable crap.

    I’m not going to give every person the benefit of the doubt, assuming that “they didn’t know”. Some people are well aware, and as a “young” freelancer, you let these people do everything they ask of you. As a seasoned freelancer, you learn to give them the business (tell them their place, essentially), handle their crap to get it out of your hair, and never do work for them again.

  18. 29

    Good post. There are bad clients, but once you get good at spotting and avoiding them, they don’t have to be your clients.

  19. 30

    Carl Rosekilly

    May 25, 2010 7:36 am

    Nonsense article!

    For me intuition is a great thing and fortunately I don’t deal with many of them but some are ridiculous, the first stumbling block for me, is if the client can’t provide a comprehensive brief… if they can’t do this right at the beginning they won’t be receiving my skills!

  20. 31

    Paul Galbraith

    May 25, 2010 7:39 am

    Enjoyed the article Ken, especially some of the comments posted in response to it. I do believe many of the problems that can arise, may have been avoided with better communication. That being said, of course there are difficult people, but the trick is identifying them before they become clients. I don’t think we should pretend there are never any issues with clients, but I don’t think it looks very professional to be moaning about “bad clients” publicly.

  21. 32

    Srecko Bradic

    May 25, 2010 8:01 am

    This is excellent definition of the clients from Serbia! Every word here is perfect! Many of us know troubles as noted in this great article and good that somebody get time and make article about!

  22. 33

    Jillian Nichols

    May 25, 2010 8:29 am

    I agree that we as designers/developers get caught up in our snarky know-it-all ways and its easy for us to put down and make fun of those who just don’t have a clue about our area of expertise. Yeah, we go a little too far with it sometimes. However, there absolutely are bad clients our there, because there are bad people in general out there – people who lie, steal, point fingers and try to get away with whatever unethical selfish things that they can. I was badly burned by someone who was not just an awful client but an awful person in general. Yeah – I learned from it – I learned to choose clients wisely, because bad ones certainly do exist.

  23. 34

    Bad clients are like bad people.
    If you think bad people exist, so does bad client.

    Such self-idealistic article. GET REAL!!

  24. 36

    Bao-Khang Luu

    May 25, 2010 8:49 am

    I’m not enthused with how you’re playing with semantics, but you are utterly correct about experience and self-inflicted pain. It took me years to learn that lesson and lots and lots and lots of pain.

    There are definitely bad clients out there, but at the end of the day it’s the designer’s decision whether or not to take the work. Afterward, responsibility rests on the designer to be mature enough to develop a healthy business relationship and guide the design process. Keeping expectations and communications between both parties clear is essential, and that’s where design proposals, production schedules, and contracts help keep the designer/client arrangements well-tuned.

  25. 37

    I think that there are a lot of definitions of bad clients. There are some clients who are simply bad people–rude, lying, cheating. These are also bad clients, and you should not hesitate to get rid of them, regardless of the paycheck you have to give up.

    Then there are clients who are, for various reasons, difficult to work with. These clients can, for the most part, be managed and turned into workable clients. Not necessarily easy or pleasurable clients, but workable–worth spending your time to get their money.

    Solid management is they key in all instances. Your job, before you get to be a designer, is to be a manager and cast a cold, unemotional eye on all the situations. Know the risks inherent in the project, and work proactively to mitigate them. This is a lot of work, and requires a lot of your valuable attention, but the more of this you do up-front, the less you’ll sit around hating your client and the work later.

  26. 38

    There are clients who show their nice, easy to work with face and once the money exchanges hands they become nightmarish to work with. I fire those bad clients. nuff said.

  27. 39

    A very good read. Unfortunately it all comes down to a lot of experience working with clients and starting to read between the lines and weigh them in before things go too far. At that point following your instincts and taking the necessary steps to protect yourself will become second nature. Fortunately though we’ve been lucky enough not to encounter difficult clients for quite some time now :)

    Cheers !

  28. 40

    Jason Aiken

    May 25, 2010 9:20 am

    There will always be difficult situations & misunderstandings etc… The key is attitude: treat people with respect, be prepared and professional, be accountable. Negativity breeds more negativity and you can be positive without being weak. When a difficult situation arises don’t get bitchy – be reasonable, responsive and know your limits.

    Easier said than done sometimes ;)


    • 41

      What’s with the 99Designs logo? That site does nothing but exploit artists. Want to wok for free? Go to 99Designs & enter a contest!

  29. 42

    Aaron Moody

    May 25, 2010 11:50 am

    There are certainly bad clients, but it’s always good to look at things with a positive spin.
    Some clients are simply out to get their site (or what ever they are wanting from you) for free, or as cheap as the possibly can…I mean, we only push pixels and type stuff on the keyboard after all? No real skill involved, so why should they pay for our time, energy, creativity, expertise…..


  30. 43

    This article was just a play on words/semantics.

    There most certainly are bad clients…you just learn to avoid them…

  31. 44

    I took on a client (my last in a 15 year string of self-employment) that ruined me. Everything was great until about 4 months into the project when the guy started going nuts (he had brain damage from an accident). Ultimately he threatened to sue me and I had to go into bankruptcy and kill my business to avoid further destruction. I’m now a full-time employee as a result. There IS such a thing as a bad client. And this is not the kind of experience one can really grow from.

  32. 45

    Nick the Geek

    May 25, 2010 2:16 pm

    I want to start by saying that I do believe there are bad clients, but what I took away from this article is, “The only “bad clients” are the ones you take on in spite of your better judgment. At a certain point in a designer’s career, they are able to tell whether a particular client will be trouble. At that point, clients aren’t so much bad as they are self-inflicted pain for the designer.”

    I don’t think it is fair to say those are the ONLY bad clients, but I have certainly passed up on clients when I just plain got a gut feeling from the way some answers, or lack of answers, were in the bid process.

    Anyone asks for me to complete a full design mock-up before they accept a bid and I’m pretty well walking. I am willing to submit a generic color layout to demonstrate that I’m understanding requests, but you aren’t getting me to spend more than half an hour (with my templates it is more like 5-10 minutes) on design work before you accept my bid.

    Anyone unable to answer at least a few questions in my questionnaire or give any kind of concept on what they are looking for is not getting a quote from me. Honestly, the questions aren’t hard, but if you have no idea, or worse tell me “anything you make is sure to look great” scares me.

    Of course this doesn’t mean I won’t try to educate and reformulate my questions to help them guide the design process, but if my efforts before submitting a quote don’t help then I know after I submit a quote it won’t help either.

    This helps to avoid probably 90% of the truly difficult clients.

    That said, this means that 10% of those really rough clients will make it past my screening, but since I believe that most clients don’t fall into this category, I have a very small number of truly scary experiences, and most of those are well within my tolerable limits. I have 4 very young kids so it takes a lot to really push my buttons.

  33. 46

    The world is full of total a-holes, we only need to look at the news every day to have this realisation.

    When those a-holes become clients, they often become bad clients.

    To think that there is no such thing as a bad client is absurdly ignorant, preachy, and wanky. Sometimes people are just a-holes and clients can be too.

  34. 47

    Pointless article. Guess you had to write something. Hope you got paid.

    • 48

      Hmm… there are very few bad clients but a heck lot of, let’s say, “difficult” ones. But the thing is – is it their fault or yours? Either they are too arrogant to understand your explanation to the problem or you just lack the knowledge or approach while explaining them the issue which occurred.

  35. 49

    This is similar to the adage, the customer is always right. However this article seems to counter that argument:

  36. 50

    Nice post

  37. 51

    Experienced them all (I guess), who knows there might still be clients out there from a totally different dimension that don’t fall on the categories. But overall, I guess its up to the freelancer, nobody gets cheated if we don’t allow others the opportunity to cheat. Experience is always the best teacher. :)

  38. 52

    Well, there is much truth in what you said. Client is just a client – if he would know how to do a design by himself, he would have. The bigger problem is “bad designers”. Some folk seem to forget that there is more in design than just aesthetics and so-called “art”, throwing usability or technological approach down the shaft. It’s especially visible in print design (a topic mentioned here not so long ago). Apart from newbie mistakes like using RGB palette or not implementing margins, there are more serious ones like using 40.000 anchor points per page. But, to be honest, it’s not their fault – print design is just taught wrong or not taught at all and webdesign is so popular that anyone can start doing it without any practice… thus, we have a lot of self-appointed “professionals” not knowing what they are actually doing in one of those genres.

  39. 53

    This article was actually so inspiring that I have decided to expand it with some ideas from me:

    I have simply offered solution for those who cannot afford to loose a single client.

  40. 54

    Sorry, but that is utter rubbish. Saying there is no such thing as a bad client is like saying there is no such thing as a bad designer. I subscribe to the Smashing Magazine RSS and have never responded to a post, but this smacks of just trying to find an angle and writing for the sake of filling pages.

    Your notion that one is supposed to excuse poor behaviour simply because it may teach you something is absurd.

    If your happy to find some hippy excuse for poor behavior from anybody (clients included) that is surely your prerogative. But lets not dress it up, there are some completely idiotic clients around and they make our lives living hell, they can cause a lot of stress and have been known to liquidate companies and ruin small businesses.

    This article is complete and utter tosh.

  41. 55

    Haven’t read a post word for word in a while. Awesome! Loved it.

  42. 56

    This article was a waste of time.
    I love these crap articles put out by web people who have not been in the industry long enough to understand shit clients.
    link bait
    Go advertise on his site so he can make money.

    I wonder how much time he has spent working for free..

    thumbs down smashing!

  43. 57

    True story, we have made a list of time when the “Client is always right (at least in their minds)”

    read it here,

  44. 58

    I’ve been thinking about this article, and I concluded that it is the worst I’ve read in smashing magazine. It is unrealistic, and frankly, no offense, I think the writer wants to look good to clients who read this article.

  45. 60

    Cedric Dugas

    May 26, 2010 11:18 am

    A well written article,

    Unfortunately, I really disagree with it, you can certainly manage them more easily with time,
    but a bad client IS a bad client, and some are really unmanageable,

    Smashing being read a lot by junior web worker, it could lead them to wrong assumptions.

    And yeah, your title is really a link bait.

  46. 61

    Susan Kramer-Pope

    May 26, 2010 1:00 pm

    Rather than seeing clients as good or bad, I offer the idea of re-framing the challenging experience as the question, ” What is this experience showing me that I need to learn about myself?” I deliberately use the phrase “showing me” because it helps me see the challenging client, family member, colleague or boss as a character in the passion play of MY life. What’s the message their way of being and my reactions are pointing to that will further my personal growth away from feeling victimized and more self-empowered? It sometimes takes much time and soul searching to get to the gift that each adversarial character and scene possesses. The real message is not as obvious as I initially think and often deeper than meets the eye. I know when I have found the real message. The challenge transforms suddenly revealing something I hadn’t seen or owned about myself. Suddenly I feel the challenge as a gift and I am released from the emotional negative residue of the challenging interaction(s). There is an immediate sense of resolution…as if I have released something heavy. I am no longer carrying the baggage. There then arises the impulse to want to thank them for playing that role in my play of personal development. They play some nasty characters that look and feel really real, but have played their roles really well for my edification.

    This process allows me to feel complete and move on, lighter and not bogged down by the past. By doing this I don’t continue to re-create similar situations that will color my future the same color as my past, or darker. So from this framework, I would have to agree that there are no bad clients, just opportunities to learn more about myself beyond my ‘personality’.

    That being said, going through all this takes time and is emotionally challenging to say the least, but in the end well worth the sense of emotional and spiritual growth I have gained.

  47. 62

    Its certainly true that sometimes a client that is troublesome can be coached to the point that a project is successful for all involved. it’s not easy, and this is where SM should be giving specific guidance for its readers. To me, this article says nothing at all, and is probably bad for budding designers to read as it masks the subtlety and nuance of designer-client interaction.

  48. 63

    Yes, Virginia, there are bad clients.

    I appreciate the view point in your commentary, but I am disappointed you offer no real solutions or actionable steps to deal with the situation. Perhaps a follow up article?

    Most commonly clients start off great but over the duration of a project—especially on long-term projects—the relationship deteriorates. Relying on an initial impression in such a situation is a less than practical method of screening.

    While from the opposite end of the spectrum, this is just another article complaining about bad clients.

  49. 64

    Greg Johnson

    May 27, 2010 7:27 am

    Let’s go back in time a few minutes…

    I’m reading this article and asking myself “How did this make it on Smashing Mag?”.

    I don’t know the author. I, nor any of my colleagues, have heard of the author. For all I know he could be wildly successful. That said, of all my colleagues, none would lend credence to such a pretentious memorandum.

    This post is completely self serving.

  50. 65

    Obviously disagreeing with this article as I deal with clients on a daily basis. There are most definitely “toxic” clients. No matter how much you educate them, no matter WHAT you do, no matter how polite you are, no matter how much you do for them, they will still always be negative and mean/bad clients.

    Resolution 1: Drop the client altogether and part ways especially if the money isn’t worth the hassle.

    Resolution 2: Remove the client as a “priority client” and push them back unless they are on a large retainer of which requires you to jump when you need to jump

    Resolution 3: If you can’t reduce the priority/stress level from the client believe it or not sometimes just talking to the client (person to person NOT email) about the lack of respect / treatment can help. Do not be mean, speak to the client politely. Express to the client you are doing everything in your power to assess and improve their requests/business, and that you’re making them your priority. The client may infact respect you -more- after doing so, and you may even build better relationships by being better at communicating.

    Just my two cents-


    • 66

      Well said.

      There will always be bad clients and I think the point may be it all is how you deal with it. Sometimes you can give everything you have to offer and nothing works due to the clients lack of receptiveness and sometimes the client believes they know more about the web that you “the professional” does.

      As long as you gain experience, respect your clients and your clients respect you, then you are not doing half bad.

  51. 67

    I disagree. There are bad clients. They steal your work. They refuse to pay. You end up in court fighting for compensation. etc…

    A difference of design opinion or mis-managed expectations are faults of the designer and do not make a bad client. But, bad clients do exist and freelancers especially are vulnerable to them.

  52. 68

    Isn’t saying there is no such thing as a bad client, kinda like saying there is no such thing as a bad designer? Maybe there are bad clients and bad designers?

    But I see your point. A lot of problems can be our own fault. I know that first hand from not using proper contracts or communicating enough with the client.

  53. 69


    May 29, 2010 7:47 pm

    Thanks for this. I wish this myth of “client from hell” would be put to rest. I just hired a designer, gave him detailed specs, answered every single question in detail, provided the first deposit after settling on price – which kept getting upped and upped by him. The result? I was strung along for months on end with excuses and delays… and at the end he told me he didn’t couldn’t do it!

    After threatening legal action he returned my deposit but the time that I had lost and the fact that the project was now way late is a lesson I’m still stinging from. Maybe you should do an article about how to find a designer who doesn’t have his head up his rectum.

    • 70

      ClientFromHeaven, this is a start in the right direction.

      We need a moderator to help resolve conflicts between clients and web developer-designers. All the web developer-designers I have worked with have wanted me to pay up, and be dumb and happy. As long as I show them the money and don’t ask questions I am considered a good client. The minute I ask about deadlines, broken links, poor titles, minimal SEO, faulty design, bad code, etc., I’m a troublemaker.

      I, too, have spent countless hours describing to web developer-designers what I wanted, only to have them renege on their commitments, after having collecting their fees.

      From reading many of the replies posted on this article, I see I would not hire half the people who commented. I can understand web developer-designers who loathe clients who don’t pay and I can understand not wanting to deal with clients with unreasonable expectations. But, other than these kind of clients, a client is at the mercy of the so-called professional.

      When I go to a doctor I expect him to ask me all questions necessary to diagnose my problem. When I seek out a web-developer-designer, I expect him-her to ask me all questions necessary to determine the scope of my project. If I don’t know how to explain them in technical terms, I expect the expert to make everything clear. After all, when I’m in a doctor’s office, I don’t have to know the medical term to describe my sore ankle.

      I think web-developer-designers need to form trade guild in which all members must be licensed and accountable. They need to evaluate their fees and base them on what the market will bear for the services provided. If they do not finish their projects as outlined in the agreement (in a timely manner), they need to forfeit a percentage of the fees, or else appeal to the client for extra time due to extenuating circumstances. If the developer-designer is cooperative and the client is not from hell, a mutual agreement should be reached.

      My observation is too many web developer-designers hide behind emails and refuse to deal over the phone. This only leads to further miscommunication and irreconcilable differences.

      If the client is a jerk, is disreputable, or in other ways shady, the developer-designer is screwed. In all other circumstances, the developer-designer needs to make sure he-she does not fall into one of these categories.

  54. 71

    There are bad clients, but you live and learn.
    I now have all my clients sign a legal form before starting their job. I break the work down into increments, they pay as I go along. If they don’t pay no work, I don’t care what their deadline is, pay and you will receive.

    I’ve also learnt over the years when meeting a client for the first time or talking over the phone. There are some you can just spot and so I’m not interested in working with them.
    The other thing I have learnt is if your rate is to cheap you only attract the difficult clients, don’t be afraid to set what you are worth. You will in the end attract clients that don’t mind paying a little more because they know that they only get what they pay for.

  55. 72

    This article makes a lot of good points. We run a small computer service / repair business and we also do web sites. In fact we’re down the hall from the other leading web company in town. Im sure he has lots of horror stories about clients, but he also somehow manages to charge 4x what we do for sites. If a client wants a small change, they are looking at hundreds to a thousand dollars. And we’re talking small businesses in our area.

    We tried to build our web sites with tools built in so that the client can make minor changes to his pages without contacting us. It’s made for a better client experience, and we had 4 clients come over to us from this other company in the past month. We could charge twice what we do and still charge less than him, but our charges are reasonable, and our clients are super happy.

  56. 73

    Hey everybody: Those who may have been disappointed by this article might find a discussion worth listening to in one of the Interactive Podcasts from this years SxSW conference: Eight Ways to Deal with Bastards.

  57. 74

    I will not work with bad client again.

    And if he wants to make your design worse than how you want it, give it to him but put good version into portfolio.

  58. 75


    June 4, 2010 12:36 am

    Yes, of course there are such things as bad clients, as someone said earlier just because we gain experience from the situation it does not mean they weren’t ‘bad’. And as for moaning about it, you would too if people constantly under valued the work you do because they do not understand it. This article is maybe suggesting that as well as the skills we already have we must also become excellent cold readers of people, seeing how much of an idiot a particular client will become a short time in to the future. Because as most people will have experienced, it doesn’t always show straight away and by then all the work you’ve done means it too late.

  59. 76

    Its all about the project….not the client… This is something that I learned early on in my freelancing career. I took on the project above my knowledge level and figured Id just “learn as I go”. Needless to say it did not turn out well for both me and the client. I wasted his time and not to mention an unfinished project. Looking back I understood what justified the client’s fury…

    bottom line a well done project equal a happy client which makes for a “good” client.

    • 77

      No, not really Ross. That was purely your mistake for biting on something you can`t chew. :P

  60. 78

    If there are bad clients there should be bad designers somewhere. In most cases they find each other.

  61. 79

    Nice topic selected, to be a good designer, clear things before start working, ask them more questions to make them educate. Wait for some time with the drafted one and ask yourself for questions. Atlast its the clients desire.

  62. 80

    Surprisee Friend , i love with ur blog. LOL Please come to my blog

  63. 81

    The title is misleading, good for hits though.

    There are of course, bad clients. To imply otherwise would imply that you have the ability to control your client’s personality and actions. That is impossible, it would be delusional to think otherwise.

    There are many bad clients – the best way to avoid them is to either avoid them in the first place, or to stop working for them.

    By the way I’m speaking from the point of view of a software engineer, but same concepts apply to any form of freelancing and small business.

    Either the client will take responsibility for himself, or he won’t. You can’t control that, you’re not god.

  64. 82

    Getting a client who pays you 50% upfront, and then trying to enslave you for the next many months by dangling the possibility that you “will be paid more” is not a good situation. I have just told a potential client, who is willing to pay me upfront, that I don’t want to get his business. Yes, if you need every dollar you can get, then there is no such a thing as a bad client. Beggars can’t choose. But, if you have other clients who are reasonable and who are paying you, it is better to serve those clients by paying more attention to them. I can think of two insidious aspects of serving bad clients. First, if a client tries to chisel you and you let him or her do it, you lose you self respect. Secondly, when you are stressed out by a bad client, your performance with the good clients will be negatively affected. When these two things come together, you may become so stressed out that you lose the good clients. Some money is not worth making.

  65. 83

    You have to understand that if the customer was as ‘smart’ as you at your specialty he wouldn’t be a customer.

    So by definition part of the job has to be to figure out what the customer really wants and to let him know what he can get. That means the customer has to figure out if he can trust you.

    I think the ‘bad customer’ syndrome occurs when the customer doesn’t trust the consultant. I notice over time either bad customers get worse, or at some point both you and the customer ‘get’ what the other wants and can deliver.

  66. 84

    Of course there is such a thing as a bad client, just as there is such a thing as a bad employer, a bad employee, a bad apple, a bad driver, a bad man. Sometimes the beast (oops, ‘not so good client’) doesn’t reveal itself until the end of the project, but regardless, to place the ‘blame’ on the professional/contractor, is pretty disingenuous as well as plain out wrong.


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