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Bad Behavior

I have been working in the design business for 23 years. I started working long before computers were commonplace; my first job mainly consisted of specking type for a cable television magazine. I graduated to drawing picture box frames with a rapidograph, and in an effort to save money on type, I handset paragraphs of copy with Letraset. It wasn’t easy, but I got a secret thrill looking at the finished text and imagining it could pass for professional typesetting. In 1985 I started freelancing. In order to make my rent, I also worked as the receptionist for a nutritionist during the day and as a cashier at the Integral Yoga health food store at night and on the weekends. It took years to make a real living via design, and by the time I was able to start my own business, I had designed a furniture catalog, created political posters for Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, and made business cards for my colleagues at Integral Yoga. I loved the variety of jobs, and while scrappy, I felt pride in actually making a living as a designer. 23 years have passed since I first started in this business, and in the last year or so I had begun to believe that I had experienced every possible type of client and every possible kind of client/designer partnership. Maybe it was hubris, maybe it was experience, maybe it was naiveté, but nevertheless, this is how I was feeling. Until last Friday. Last Friday I did something I never, ever, in my wildest imagination, ever thought I would do. Last Friday I yelled at a client.

Some background: We have been working with said client for nearly three years designing an entire portfolio of products. Initially our proposal included designing one master brand identity for the portfolio of 300+ products over the course of 9 months. But after conducting pre-design research, we determined that the brand would be better served by creating three separate line looks, each reflecting the different consumer need states of the company’s products. At the time, we realized that this scope change justified a reconfiguration of the proposal. One might even argue that three different line looks instead of one would mean three times the fees. But in the spirit of our partnership and the tight timing of the assignment, we decided to keep the fee structure as is. This was our first mistake.

Our expectation of the assignment and the activities outlined in our original proposal required working on numerous products at once. In other words, we expected to design the look of each brand and all the flavors and line extensions simultaneously. This was not unlike many other projects we have undertaken in the past, and we felt confident that this was the best and most logical approach. Though the client agreed, getting them to give us copy and all approvals for an entire line at once proved challenging and we often ended up designing one flavor at a time. Allowing this to happen was our second mistake.

We continued in this manner for several months, all the while hoping the process would somehow improve. It didn’t. In fact, it got to a point wherein we realized that if something didn’t change quickly, we would actually end up paying to do this project ourselves. We approached our client and asked that a line item allocated for a brand manual be remanded to the design stages and she reluctantly agreed. She wasn’t convinced that the scope had indeed changed, and though we were happy that she agreed with the reallocation of the fee, this concerned us. But we didn’t want to belabor the discussions about money any longer than was absolutely necessary and so we put the niggling worries behind us. This was our third mistake.

Cut to two years later. The first phase of the redesign has undergone a rigorous quantitative test, and the facilitators told us that the results were some of the best they have ever seen in their thirty years conducting market research. The client chose the design we recommended and we are thrilled with the way the brand is being visually redefined. However, the assignment has moved slower than what was reflected in our proposal and we are less than a third of the way through. As you can imagine, we have depleted the original budget, and are now effectively paying to do the job ourselves. Via our time sheets, we have calculated that we have lost about $250,000 in time alone. I had to do something to remedy this.

Three weeks ago I went to visit our client with the account and production teams to ask for more money to complete the job. Our rationale was that 1) the project scope had changed significantly via the re-segmentation of the corporate portfolio, 2) the job was moving much slower than was allocated in the 2004 proposal and 3) they were so far behind the agreed upon timeline of 9 months. We had a respectful and cordial meeting; our client told us that she would look into the budget and would do what she could. We then went over other project logistics, were told we were doing good job, we hugged goodbye and went home.

This past Friday we met again, this time in my office; presumably to go over a new budget. The account team joined us for a friendly lunch; afterward I was scheduled to meet with her privately to go over the financials.

As soon as we were alone, she pulled out our 2004 proposal. She looked me in the eye and told me that her company had no additional money to spend on the project. She then said that she had spoken to her legal team and they told her that we were obligated to finish the job for the original fee. Before I could get a word in edgewise, she proceeded to tell me that she thought it was curious that I was bringing this up now, when the project wasn’t going that well. I was stunned and asked for details about what was wrong. She went into issues I was unfamiliar with, and I asked if I could bring in the rest of my team, as they could better address the problems she had introduced.

When the team came back into the room, she once again reiterated her displeasure at our recent performance. The group was baffled. They tried to defend their actions and pointed out how and why they did what they did. My production director, (an over-achiever with an impeccable work ethic) addressed our client’s issues one by one. She reminded me of Marisa Tomei in the movie My Cousin Vinny, when she was in court and on the stand. She was logical, clear, and in my estimation, irrefutable. But the client wouldn’t accept what she was saying and as she listened, she became more and more agitated. As the team tried to explain our decision making process, she became outright angry. And then she started screaming at us. As I looked around at my staff, I saw a variety of reactions: shock, fear, bewilderment, and one young woman near tears. Before I knew it, without any pre-meditation, without any consciousness of what I was about to do, I did something I never did before: I yelled back at my client. I did it in a way I am now ashamed of, as I got all “street girl” on her. I told her under no circumstances could she talk to us that way. I told her that I found her tone disrespectful and offensive. It was primal, really, what I said and how I said it. I did not plan to do this and if I had to do it over, I would do it differently.

After I yelled, our client backed down a bit. She still felt that the scope of the job hadn’t changed but she was willing to review our position provided we could outline the changes on paper. I agreed to do this and shortly thereafter, she departed.

Following the meeting, I had a “debrief” with my team. They were elated. They felt that I had stood up for them and they were proud and grateful. I told them I was glad they felt vindicated, but I also said that I wished I hadn’t lost my temper. They didn’t care, they felt protected and understood.

Three days later, I am still feeling a combination of sadness, shame and shock. I am glad that my team felt I defended them. But I am also disappointed in myself. As I mentally review the many alternatives in responding to anger with anger, I know in my heart that there had to be a better way to handle this situation. As I relived the experience, I remembered something I learned in school about negotiation: the best negotiation between two parties is when each believes they have left the table winning something and losing something. I don’t think we accomplished this. But I was also reminded of a passage from the Charles Olsen poem ‘Maximus, To Himself.’ I think it best describes my sentiment:

I know the quarters
of the weather, where it comes from,
where it goes. But the stem of me,
this I took from their welcome,
or their rejection, of me

And my arrogance
was neither diminished
nor increased
by the communication.

It is undone business
I speak of, this morning,
with the sea
stretching out
from my feet.

Design is a curious business. If we are lucky, we never stop learning our craft.
But this situation has taught me something more: the longer we persevere—as wonderful and as painful as it may be—the bigger the opportunities we are given to learn about ourselves.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Mar.27.2006 BY debbie millman
Diane Witman’s comment is:


Thank you, this is a great experience to share with all of us.

I am certain that this has happened to us at one point or another and if not, it will. It's never a moment to be proud of but sometimes it's necessary. You may feel regretful, ashamed, embarassed, whatever that emotion is but at that time when it happened it was the appropriate response to the situation.

I guess what we all can do is learn from these kinds of situations and remind ourselves never to do it again. Being calm in a tornado is impossible, and these "discussions" can become disasters and the only response is the one that you experienced.

I listen to you on Design Matters on Friday and could never envision you yelling back at someone unless it was justified.

On Mar.27.2006 at 01:55 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Thanks, Diane!

What about the Speak Up readers? Any bad behavior to share?

On Mar.27.2006 at 01:59 PM
jason’s comment is:

Thanks for sharing...it's too bad it turned out like that, but from your discussion, it sounds like you were pushed to your limit by her (from your account she started the screaming) so although one would like to behave better, the rules of discussion had already degraded. Once that occurs, anything can happen. You defended yourself and your team, and she backed down. It's not pretty, but it happens with people all the time and sometimes it has to happen. Although ideally one would like to learn when conflict like this is about to happen and be able to change the tone——but like you said, it's an opportunity to lear about yourself.

I just hope it all goes well and you don't have to call in the really bad guys: LAWYERS!

On Mar.27.2006 at 03:11 PM
David Barringer’s comment is:

As a lawyer and designer and someone who's both argued with company lawyers on one day and sucked up and caved in as a designer the next, let me say this. Designers view themselves as nice creative types and are often too willing to preserve this image of themselves. Business people are not concerned with potential problems, only with getting things done on budget and not getting blamed for anything by their bosses. Lawyers or legally minded folks are the ones who don't care much about being perceived as nice, who don't care about getting things done, but only care about all the things that can go wrong in a relationship and, therefore, try to write up contracts in which every kind of wacky snafu is envisioned and provided for. Your experience seems like a perfect test case in which each of these stereotypes played out to the letter. The business person, when cornered, will bring in the lawyers, shocking the nice creative person. If it comes to lawyers, fine. They can argue both sides and perhaps come to an understanding, although this also usually requires a few pragmatic business folks in the room. In the future, though, this is a great test case for young nice creative types who think they don't need a contract, who think business relationships are personal relationships, and who think good work is rewarded. Disillusionment is ugly and painful, but lawyers in the beginning (contracts) are always better than lawyers in the end (disputes).

On Mar.27.2006 at 04:14 PM
Tan’s comment is:

You've heard this story before, Debbie — but I once yelled at a client, and told her to "Quit fucking around with the project, and let us do our job."

It's a long story, but the client was a wannabe print designer who went behind my back to arrange a print deal with a 3rd rate printer after I had worked my tail off to negotiate a legit deal with a premier printer. It was an affront to our business reputation in town, and showed how little the client valued our integrity and abilities. The whole project was a nightmare, and that instance was just the straw that broke the camel's back. At that point, I was prepared to lose the job and was ready to say worse. The client was shocked, then was defensive — but ultimately backed down and let us finish the job. Needless to say, it was our first and last project together.

Another big altercation I had was with an annual report client and and an unusually bad set of circumstances. We had been working with this internet-tech corporation for 3 years, producing their annual report and a few other marketing collateral pieces.

But in the fourth year, within the same month, the company was acquired by another corporation, and our main IR client, who had been battling cancer, died. The new IR director from the new company immediately pulled the AR from us and gave it to his agency in Atlanta.

But we had already had gotten a sign-off on the design, so I asked for a reasonable kill-fee that was based on project costs up to date. But the problem was that our work contract was too general and was light on specifics — after all, the previous IR director was a trusted, honorable man with a track record with us, so we didn't see a need for a 20 page contract. Sensing that we were vulnerable, the new asshole IR director refused to pay anything, and dared us to sue him. The fucker even told us he was "teaching us a lesson." I replied by calling him everything I could think of.

But at the end, we estimated that the cost of litigation against the prick would've equalled the unrecovered fees — so we decided to let him go, and let Karma take care of it. But he was right about one thing — it did teach me a lesson, and changed the way I wrote contracts from that point forth. Sadly, it ended my trust in handshake business agreements.

I've had a number of other really bad clients, though none worse. I had a client that was a habitual liar — she would smile and approve something during a presentation, only to rip us to shreds in follow-up emails or phone calls. We ended work for that bipolar witch pronto.

And Microsoft...heh, heh. It's a freaking breeding ground for bad client behavior and backstabbing. I walked out of a client presentation once when I saw that we were being ambushed. I just put everything back in the case, told them I thought it was more productive to reschedule, and walked out with my team.

It's hard to turn the other way, sometimes impossible —´┐Żbut it's always the better choice.

On Mar.27.2006 at 05:01 PM
David E.’s comment is:

She thought it was curious that you were bringing up the subject of money "when the project wasn’t going that well"? Uh, no. It was the other way around. It was her that was bringing up the fact that it wasn't going well (for the first time) in a meeting that was supposed to be about money. This was a manipulative, abusive tactic to intimidate you.

People have a right to expect they will be dealt with in a non-manipulative way. When this type of abuse occurs, normal people are unprepared as to how to deal with it. This isn't our fault.

I've had similar experiences with one particular client who I did a lot of work for. I was always the "nice creative type" David Barringer describes, who caved in when he dropped that type of bomb on me. When it finally dawned on me that I was being manipulated, I composed a very nasty email, but stopped short of sending it. After I cooled down, I sent a very polite one stating that I didn't feel I was a good fit for the project — and that, by the way, the invoice is due in a week. I got my money and never heard from him again.

If I had been meeting with him in person instead of emailing, I'm sure I would have reacted the same as you did.

On Mar.27.2006 at 05:43 PM
Chris Bowden’s comment is:

I once worked at a firm where a punch-up broke out between the Creative Director and the client. What started out as a disagreement over design direction esculated into racial slurs and soon, punches being thrown.

On Mar.27.2006 at 06:04 PM
Josh ’s comment is:

I have a working relationship with a friend and his side organization doing all kinds of creative work. I usually don't scream obscenities or anything, but it is beyond frustrating trying to communicate and help him understand the approach I use creating work for him.

I'm very surprised our friendship hasn't cracked under the stress.

Sometimes I wish the perceived passivity that we show in great percentages did give away to frustration. It may not seem like a great idea, but who know what a person would take away from a blow-up.

Obviously all of us can identify with Debbie's remorse for her behavior, but blowing off some steam in lower percentages helps a point get across. Many other times it results in continued undesirable behavior, yet this remorse seems to align itself with the constant perception that designers must play the passive role like children behaving perfectly while the parents are around.

I hope that I don't speak to naively in saying that we need them, but they also need us.

The upper hand is hardly ours, but we need to grow a little backbone, if we ever want our profession to stand tall and with respect.

On Mar.27.2006 at 06:33 PM
rj’s comment is:

Debbie, thanks for sharing.

Situations like this, while not always on such a large scale as yours, seem to happen quite often. Many of the clients we service and their projects tend to take much longer than the original scope or proposal outlined. 99.9% of the time it is due to client delays; getting approvals (the higher-ups, legal, etc.), deliverables and other client side hang ups during the course of a project.

In addition, many of these clients tend to forget the original outline or scope of the project (or maybe they don't forget, but like to push to see what more then get from us), tacking on and/or requesting additional items along the way. Due to our passive nature (as designers or creative people in general) and our desire to please the client, we typically honor these requests without a revised proposal or an additional contract addressing these issues. We do this in good nature, out of the kindness of our hearts and also in attempts and efforts to 1) go the extra mile for our clients, building trust and 2) to produce a better end product.

To end that, it rarely pays off and can even back fire completely, as your fully aware. There are a few circumstances but far and few between. In other words, "PLEASE DON'T FEED THE ANIMALS" - meaning - the minute you don't put your foot down, the client might continue to take these things for granted and might come to expect these "favors" from you. They will continue to think your feeding them for free (or similar) and will come to expect this of you and your company. . .Unless something is said to prevent this in the beginning stages or called to great attention in the initial proposal/contract. Outlining the necessity for a revised bid if the client exceeds the current expectations and then sticking to it, referencing the contract as needed.

Having said that, all of that, we continue to work this way. Despite our awareness of these tragic and sticky situations, we continue to strive to please our clients. Seemingly, at any cost or potential cost(s). Why?

I believe you said yourself that not communicating these feelings and situations earlier in the game were you biggest mistakes. Right?

So why is this? Is it our nature? Is it our desire (job) to do what is best for the client, in turn going the extra mile to satisfy them? Or is it that we are trying to prove something?

Personally, I am left thinking that we are so obbsessed, even anal retentive, about our jobs and design for the betterment of our industry (and yes, maybe even the world! - aka - design for designs sake), that we are willing (initially) to venture into these terrotories of no return . . . despite the potential disaster which may result! I think it's a chance we take in the beginning stages of a project, unaware of where the project may end up and or what the final outcome might be.

Final thoughts; I respect you and thank you for standing up for your team and putting your foot down when you did. It isn't easy at any stage and only becomes harder as the project evolves. Despite the ethics involved and your feelings after the fact, I believe you are right in voicing your opinions and feelings. I wouldn't loose any sleep over it (easier said then done though, eh!)

I hope we can all learn something from your situation and thus, thank you for sharing.

On Mar.27.2006 at 07:08 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

I used to have a magazine publisher boss who would point an old Civil War pistol in my face when he yelled at me over something he didn't like in the magazine. His face all red and bloated. Cocaine eyes and veins bugging out. Luckily I knew he didn't own any old Civil War bullets so I didn't get too fazed by the ordeal.

Eventually he fired me, about two months before he was sacked for mentally going off the deep end, so to speak. I wish I could send him a "thank you" card and a dozen roses on every anniversary of my dismissal. It's freed me from being a wage slave and for that I'm grateful.

I hope we all can learn from this situation too: Always check the asshole's gun for bullets before a big argument.

On Mar.28.2006 at 01:22 AM
Ravenone’s comment is:

I haven't gotten an 'artsy job' yet. But I've had my share of being pushed around at work, and in life. I've learned the art of writing scathing, and yet sickeningly polite letters. Occasionally I can match this verbally, though not as often as I'd like.

It seems to me, that the more 'nice' and 'sweet' I am, the more people see me as nothing more than a little girl and a good work horse to push till I was too exhausted to go on. I'm not sure if it's shock, or what, but when I finally do put my foot down, people seem to cave, often in a way that seems to be quite rewarding for me.

I don't know what I'd do if I was in Debbie's position, but I don't doubt that someday in my life I'll come across one simmilar.

On Mar.28.2006 at 02:17 AM
Jordan’s comment is:

Wonderful article Debbie, I would defend your right to yell until I was blue in the face. I've long been a believer that "the client is always right" mantra is a load of unproductive, regressive nonsense.

I have a bad behaviour confession:

A few weeks ago an old client of mine approached me to update his portfolio on a site I created for him. When I created the original site, I also created an identity for him, and he told me he'd made some change to this over the last couple of years, to make it more 'lively'.

Naturally, I was fearful of what he'd done, but nothing could have prepared me for the true awfulness of the 'update'. He'd basically deleted the old logo, and replaced it with his company name set in 'Amazon' (a free font, look it up and be amazed) with his address set in 'Neuropol' (another freebie) beneath.

I flat out refused to change it, explained (not too tactfully) why it was awful and said that if he didn't trust my judgement he could find another designer. I also offered to design him a new letterhead and business card with the 'old' identity for free -- can't say fairer than that.

Remarkably, he's asked me to complete the work!

On Mar.28.2006 at 04:09 AM
Armin’s comment is:

And flipping the coin, has anyone been yelled at by a vendor? A printer, a programmer, photographer or illustrator for being a bad client? I haven't, 'cause I'm a doll... Just askin'.

On Mar.28.2006 at 08:51 AM
Unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s comment is:


Wish i was reporting to you.

You seems to be very supportive and a great team leader.

I did not come across such situations yet.

May be it's my fear of losing my job or my yoga.

But i always go the bathroom mirror and scream!! that way i get little relaxed and ready to go for another argument.

Thank you very much indeed for sharing your experience.

On Mar.28.2006 at 08:56 AM
Matilda’s comment is:

Dear Debbie,

Thanks for the story (and I think you're a fabulous storyteller, both here and on your radio show). I have one story of bad behavior on my part and it so shamed me for months afterward, every time I thought about it, gave me a crippling blow to my confidence. I could not stop brooding about it for days, and even now it pains me to think about it.

I designed a small brochure for a doctor who wanted a informational piece on a certain condition. I did a piece that showed happy people (having prevented this condition from the information on the brochure), he wanted something that showed people who were suffering from this condition, in walkers, etc. I obliged quickly, he liked the result, but I didn't hear from him for months. He then trashed the whole thing saying that "the committee" didn't like it, that the text was disorganized (which he provided) and that it wasn't "lively" or as good as the work that I showed in my portfolio. For some reason, I lost my temper and wrote back that I thought he needed to be more committed to the project (ie: more clear about what he wanted to communicate) to get a better result. He promptly fired me and I collected a kill fee. In hindsight, he was a terrible client who expected a writer/editor along with a designer who could read his mind, but then again, I maybe didn't do as much as I could have to educate him on the process.

I still feel a bit haunted by it, though. I try never to lose my temper with anyone, clients, bosses, colleagues, and there's generally no reason to, but that incident still has the power to make me feel a little sad.

On Mar.28.2006 at 11:18 AM
felixxx’s comment is:

A few weeks ago I called in Debbie's show and went for the throat of Bill Grant, now president of the AIGA, who a few years back produced the AIGA Ethics Guide. Remember it? On Deb's Design Matters a few weeks ago he refered to himself as more of a "design editor" than designer, which I found curious/ spurilous. A perfect Ken Lay, he knew nothing of the charges.

Having worked with Bill's team (grant design collaborative, atlanta) I found his art director charming and pleasant to work on a Steelcase job. (jumping ahead) That year Communication Arts published an image from that same Steelcase publication on its cover of it's Illustration annual. Come to find out the cover wasnt a cover from one of my heros-Brian Cronin, thought it looked terribly similar. So terrible that the ispot (the blog most illustrators que into), led by john cuneo, soon raged into in a huge all out attack on Dick Krepel, the Cronin-forger and scapegoat. I, like most, was enraged at the ethical lapses from both the ilustrator and publisher (CA), but in hinesight I think we need to reconsider this evolution. Bill Grant's designer, come to find out (from Cronin's rep, Renee Rhyner) called Brian FIRST, got a high quote, THEN went to Krepel to pull off the dirty work of mimmicking his trademark style. A trade dress that took Brian 20 years to perfect (and boy did he). But did Krepel deserve ALL the blame? Or should it be CA's editor? No one yelled at the inceptor- Bill Grant's "collaborative".

(jump to latest chapter)

The last issue of CA was a feature and cover by the original Irish gangster- Brian Cronin. We (in the studio) all exhalted: Briliant! Mind you, Communication Arts never admited fault for their part in the lapse, but in doing this, they're vindicated. Repentance is a powerful thing.

Should the AIGA ethics guide be revised? Oh the irony.

On Mar.28.2006 at 12:23 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>has anyone been yelled at by a vendor?

Early in my career, I once had to help out on a job for my art director — assisting in art directing a photographer on a small studio shoot for an AT&T job. During the shoot, there was a questionable element that I wanted changed, but the photographer yelled back saying that it had already been approved by my boss.

Well lo and behold, when the film came back — my art director pointed exactly to that element, and questioned the photographer about it. He lied, and said that I had reviewed the shot, and given my clear approval. He sold me out like a cheap rug to protect his skin.

The photographer was well-known in town, and was good friends with the owners of the agency where I worked — which is probably why he thought he could walk all over the designers.

But I swore to never, ever send a single piece of work to that asshole from that day forth. Years later, after I had been promoted and eventually ran my own studio, he came groveling for work, pretending that nothing had ever happened. I made it a point to deny him and his rep/wife entry to our studio, even just to drop his book off. He even asked a mutual friend to try to make peace, but it was way too late.

Life's too short to work with evil people.

On Mar.28.2006 at 01:03 PM
felixxx’s comment is:

probably a republican. i know that guy. evil.

On Mar.28.2006 at 01:05 PM
Petter’s comment is:

Debbie, thanks for the honest and entertaining story. The only client that I've really yelled at has over time become a great friend. We still have screaming fights but it it's not that deep and we usually go for some beers afterwards. Going primal can be both a cleansing and bonding exercise. Who knows, maybe you've made a client for life after your Friday outburst.

On Mar.28.2006 at 01:10 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

David Barringer has it right that we "creative types" often approach the business relationship from a friendly perspective. We take our clients' causes to heart, make them part of ourselves, and then find ourselves going the extra mile(s) as Debbie did, to provide the best solution. It is rare that we actually return to discussions of money after we've invested ourselves in that process. We tend to think "a job worth doing is worth doing right" and just throw in the extra time.

Unfortunately it is also true that most clients are more business minded. They're buying a service, and we give them our hearts.

And in so doing, we tend to make friends with our clients. Please note that at one point Debbie said "we hugged goodbye." Friends, right?

And I too have had these friendly relationships go awry ... and some of the friendliest ones also became the most acrimonious. Eventually, I just stopped getting friendly with clients, no matter how nice they seemed. I was running a business, and that was all.

I have to say that I'm fairly sure my best design-client relationships were ones where I did not become friends; where I maintained my distance, wrote formal notes, billed regularly, and always covered my ass in terms of a detailed paper trail of every decision and every discussion about money and services.

But ... my life has changed, my work has changed and despite oaths taken under pain of death I find myself once again working under friendly circumstances (sometimes very friendly, sometimes with actual friends—as many of my clients are now designers), without contracts, and just doing the best I can no matter how long it takes or what hoops i jump through. And so far, it has worked out. Maybe because now I'm working for "creative types." We're both being nice.

But more importantly it's no longer worth it to me to do it any other way. My work isn't "just a job," and if I'm not personally invested, I'm not interested. But I'm painfully aware how vulnerable I make myself every time I put my heart out there on the table. Without a contract.

But at the end, we estimated that the cost of litigation against the prick would've equalled the unrecovered fees.

Having said all of the above, I have to say that I've been in this position as well, and I regret not suing. I've sued a couple of people, and it was always a pain in the ass, and sometimes not financially worthwhile, but *damn* it feels good. It's the right thing to do. Of course, if you haven't got a contract, you're screwed.

A long time ago I owned the url badclients.com. After being ripped off by a client (who yelled at me, and I yelled back + profanities) and subsequently discovering FIVE other vendors from photographers to signmakers who had been burned by the same client, I wanted to set up a site for creatives to list bad experiences ... a kind of Worst Business Bureau. A labyrinth of legal issues made it not worth my while, but I still think it would be a nice idea.

On Mar.28.2006 at 01:36 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>I regret not suing

Me too. It haunts me to this day that I backed away from such flagrant abuse.

If I had the dollars back then, I would've chased the SOB for the principle of it, no matter how much it cost.

I also knew that we probably weren't the only vendor that the company screwed. Collectively, we could've probably amassed a small class action suit, but we'll never know...

>I wanted to set up a site for creatives to list bad experiences

In the states, you can easily file an online complaint to the office of the State Attorney General. It's not a formal legal complaint, but if the Attorney General receives enough complaints about the same company, they can choose to seek legal inquiry and action against that company on behalf of the businesses and the state. The filed complaint also gets cc'd to the company at blame.

I've done it before, and it's amazingly effective.

On Mar.28.2006 at 02:43 PM
marc english’s comment is:

great piece. i feel for you and the team. i've always been too slow on the uptake to come out with the verbal jousting accomplished on the killing floor. its always "i shoulda said...."

you've a multi-part story, and its interesting that your main concern is about the yelling, not the bending over backward to help a client (or is it bending forward to be screwed easier?). i've too many stories of putting myself in the position many of you have described: eager to practice one of the things i know best in the name of a client and then finding that virtue has nothing to do with dollar signs or deadlines. in spite of trying to be sypathetic to the former and adherent to the latter.

but the yelling thing? ah, mamma lioness protecting her cubs! wish i was there. at that point it was about neither commerce nor culture, it was about clubbin' someone. and you and yours were being clubbed. remember: zen masters learn/teach benevolence, but they are also the ones that teach martial arts in the same spirit. and the poem was right on the money. as were you.

reagarding suing: whoever has the most money wins, a rather simple equation. but you probably all know that. justice and law are two separate things.

On Mar.28.2006 at 05:12 PM
David E.’s comment is:

reagarding suing: whoever has the most money wins

Not in small claims court. Of course there's a limit to how much you can sue for, but something's better than nothing. Chances are, if you're suing because a client didn't pay you, you'll win.

Plus, whoever you're suing is going to have to take a day out of his busy schedule to appear. You will too, but it could be worth it.

On Mar.28.2006 at 06:18 PM
Amanda Woodward’s comment is:

Debbie, thank you for sharing your experience. I can understand the regret and embarrassment you feel, but on the other hand you stood up for yourself and your team. I respect and agree with the choices you made!

Handshake business agreements. Our studio does the formal contracts that cover every gritty detail, for new clients and often ongoing ones as well. Kill fees, deposits, ownership, yadda. We have been in a situation where we have worked with a client for a number of years, built a relationship and then got burnt in the end. It stinks.

On the other hand...I find that Marian's comments speak to me as well. Yes, the business relationships with the formal contracts offer that level of safety in having everything on the table. But...what about trust? Gut instinct? Building a relationship and connection with another human being that is just that bit more?

The work that we do these days is more than just a business transaction for me. It is not 'just a job' or just about the compensation for me anymore. It is about meeting people, building lasting friendships on occasion, and being offered the opportunity to grow creatively.

I know this is not the rational, smart business person talking...but this is the process that feels right for me. Sometimes I look the client in the eye, shake hands and then get to work without a deposit.

Don't get me wrong, my gut has been wrong more times than I'd like to admit. Also, business is good these days and I am able to pay my mortgage and put food on the table. But it is a pretty shitty world we live in if we can't take a small leap of faith now and again. You can't deny that it feels good when that mutual trust exists and it all works out great. We all have those stories, too.

Do I dare compare it to romance, or will everyone laugh me back to lurking? When you let your guard down in a romantic relationship you feel more than when you keep the wall up. Yes, sometimes you get hurt...bad. But other times you feel like a million bucks.

On Mar.29.2006 at 04:29 AM
Frank’s comment is:

For three years I lived on the "client side" and committed most of the heinous crimes mentioned here against creatives. Most of the things I did were committed out of pride, ignorance or youthfulness. Yet, I can honestly say it was because I cared so much, maybe too much, about the design my company was getting. Thanks to all the creatives who didn't yell at me, and for those who did behind my back...it was well deserved. I've often wanted to write a book for creatives that would help them understand the pressures and perspectives of the client. Ah maybe one day...

On Mar.29.2006 at 07:26 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> Do I dare compare it to romance, or will everyone laugh me back to lurking?

Amanda, no laughing. Business relationships are as awkward, exciting and even as heart-breaking as romantic relationships. And based on very similar levels of activity that all must be balanced with care. Plus, sometimes you spend more time on the phone with a client than your loved one, so you better have a good relationship that will support that kind of situation.

On Mar.29.2006 at 08:36 AM
bryony’s comment is:

There is always the other side of the spectrum. When you are met with silence. While I have yet to be participant in a screaming match with a client, I have been involved in “stare-me-downs” and I can say they are rather uncomfortable and challenging.

It becomes very hard to get to the root of the problem and the solution as you try to coax the information from a person with arms crossed, lips tightly shut who is simply staring you down as the puff of smoke above their heads gets denser and denser. Not all of the clients being equal there is no sure recipe for extraction other than reading them the best that you can and listening to them once they open up.

sometimes you spend more time on the phone with a client than your loved one

ahem, is that why you don’t answer the phone anymore?

On Mar.29.2006 at 09:53 AM
leslie’s comment is:

What is so frustrating is that you can do good work for years for a client and have a great relationship with them and then on one project Murphy's Law rears its ugly head and all the past successes are forgotten. Thats when the finger pointing can start if you don't nip it in the bud.

But, often there is stuff going on internally with the client that you as the designer are not privy to. For example, they might be having financial problems and not want to pay you (or any other creditors) but they have to come up with an excuse so they set up the situation to provoke a blow up and then they can feel better about leaving you in the lurch. It is like a love realtionship in that regard.

On Mar.29.2006 at 10:49 AM
Emily Oberman’s comment is:

Hey! We did a call for entries for crazy work stories in our column in the last issue of STEP. Some of these would have been great (they are great right here). We got some good ones, (though they were more funny than outraged) which you can read next month.

Thanks Debbie for sharing your story to begin with and everyone else too. It is all very interesting and somehow comforting. We have done our fair share of yelling and disavowing. We've been known to be a little litigious sometimes - and we've won, though they were often were bittersweet victories (you know: money spent, bridges burned, but moral victory).

On Mar.29.2006 at 11:33 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Do I dare compare it to romance, or will everyone laugh me back to lurking? When you let your guard down in a romantic relationship you feel more than when you keep the wall up. Yes, sometimes you get hurt...bad. But other times you feel like a million bucks


On Mar.29.2006 at 03:33 PM
Michael S.’s comment is:

Debbie (and everyone else)

We were approached by a small client who wanted us to brand them for a smaller than usual fee. We saw a bigger opportunity ahead of us and walked them through why a reduced fee was a bad idea. However, we both felt that our company understood their business so, we changed our process to afford the reduced price.

We presented concepts and "train wreck." Not only did they want to fire us but, they wanted half the deposit back. We talked some more with "the calm partner" and designed some more logos. Again, train wreck and a request for a returned fee.

Instead, I sent the following letter:

K. and D.,

I wanted to follow up on K's afternoon call. The obvious question that I needed to ask and answer is "how did we get here?"

We established trust and credibility at our first meeting but the first hurdle was cost. At our second meeting, you both came back to me with your budget. That budget had a line item of $xxxxx for brand/logo. I expressed my reservations and explained that the reduced fee would necessitate that we shortcut Sater Creative's established processes. These include developing a creative brief that would unearth certain information. Due to its absence, it is now proving to be a barrier. Naming was another important issue that I encouraged you to think broadly and research to come up with a more unique name.

At our Feb. 3 meeting you informed me that you had settled on your name, "Something, Something Management Group". My notes on your logo highlighted several points: eclectic mix of people, inclusive, methodology and that "people ties it together."

Your phone call after our Feb. 16 pitch reinforced that you were "dissatisfied" and the solutions were "wrong." You allowed us an other opportunity to develop a solution, and we appreciate that faith. You asked for something "conservative and fresh."

We've all established that I understand your company but, K.'s call revealed several points that would have been highlighted in a proper creative brief. They are:

• "Look at our competition."

Though you know your company has a "new approach," you never sent me a list of your competition. Knowing the companies that would be battling for the same funding would give us the environment. I also now know that you don't want to stand out, you want to blend in. A search of the top 50 management, strategy and specialty consulting firms leads me to believe you need a logo that either shows "SSMG" or "SS" in a conservative, serif font paired with your name (see: Boston Consulting Group or CRA International) or just your name (see: Deloitte Consulting or Mercer). At most, an icon with your name (see: Bain & Company, Bearing Point, Towers Perrin).

• "We are black" and people will discount us just for being black.

The color of your skin was not part of the conversation however, your concerns are valid. Your logo should be stoic and conservative. Also, you should fit right in with the competition.

• "Michael, you are over-thinking it."

I'm supposed to think. That's where my brief comes in. But I now understand that you may not want conservative and fresh. You may want conservative, old/established and knowledgeable - without looking young or rebellious.

I appreciate your disapointment and wish we could turn back the clock and start over. I'm hopeful that this will just be a bump in the road and the growing pains of our new relationship. If you ask, I'll spend a few hours, no charge, to create a logo that takes the three aforementioned points into account. I'll require a list of 10 companies that you believe are perceived how "Something, Something" needs to be perceived.

If you still wish to end the relationship, I understand. If so, please refer to section 6.7 of the contract. The total bill of the time we spent on the project was xxx hours. At our hourly rate of $xx an hour, the cost comes to $xxxx.xx but I'd consider cutting that price down.

I'm out of the office until tomorrow but welcome a conversation. Lets try to talk this through.

We were subsequently fired by the client via email. We did our best to salvage a working relationship. All things considered, we thought we did very well.

Our contracts are always "the long version."

On Mar.29.2006 at 07:01 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Wow, Michael, that's incredible. And Em, I would have loved to submit our sad tale to STEP if it had happened earlier. I was actually considering submitting a story of how a client happened to get a fax of our design for an ad for the Basquiat retrospective (in 1991? 92?) that was tiled with the headline "another fucking whitney ad" but figured the profanity would have prevented it from even being considered, but that is another story entirely!

Yes, I think that contracts are necessary...but we do have a contract with the client this story is about. What we are dealing with right now is how the contract is being interpreted...*sigh*

And finally, Amanda and Marian...I agree entirely...relationships with clients are a lot like romantic relationships...when things are good, you have butterflies all over, when things are bad, well, that is when all you want to do is wallow in Morrissey CD's. Over and over and over...

On Mar.29.2006 at 07:24 PM
Robynne ’s comment is:

This has been a fun read. Here’s a sad story involving not only my crazy client, but also an inept vendor:

Years ago I had major problems with a local printer. The little non-profit print project we gave them turned into a long nightmare. The printer was in such a hurry to push our job through that things like smudging (moving the paper before it had finished drying) occurred. After my client refused the job for the 3rd time, he began a yelling match with the owner of the print shop. I’ll be the first to admit that my client flipped his lid and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Words were said that couldn’t be taken back so I had no choice but to pull the job. Next thing I know the print shop owner is yelling at me. Imagine an extremely overweight man puffing up and yelling “YOU'RE NO PICASSO!” as I walked out the door. I don’t remember what my reaction was at the time, but when I retell the story I play Jonathan Richman’s song in my head.

A few weeks later I read that the company went out of business but that didn’t prevent them from trying to sue us. A few months after that, I read that the owner of the business had a heart attack and died.

True story.

On Mar.29.2006 at 09:14 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

What about the Speak Up readers? Any bad behavior to share?

Most recently, I laid things on the line to a client/contractor, who wanted me to work on spec. After I delivered a 2 minute lecture over the phone about my feelings on the matter, I was surprised to hear them say, "Thanks for sharing that, and being honest." To say the least, it felt good getting these matters off my chest, but I've never used harsh language nor lost my cool during a phone or face-to-face meeting. And while I have the energy to yell at a client—going as Debbie says "street", or in my case "Sicilian" on them—I've never done it.

Debbie, have you spoken with the client since then, and how do they feel?

Lastly, that bad client site reminds me of another online expose I read about, where somebody posted all of the rejection letters they ever received from hopeful employers. The letters supposedly had everything in the stationery, from the names to the titles to the email and phone. Quite an incriminating site, but I've never taken the time to locate it since reading about it years ago. The idea of a badclients site is akin to Nixon's blacklist, or Bush's hitlist. Sounds like a fun idea in theory, but something that could really bite you in the bum sooner or later.

On Mar.29.2006 at 09:31 PM
Tan’s comment is:

What about instances of flagrant sexism? Or racism? I'm not just talking about a "honey" or "darlin" during conversation, but really inappropriate client behavior...

On Mar.30.2006 at 10:38 AM
neha’s comment is:

Debbie, thanks for sharing...

I've been doing design for 6 years and the last two I've been trying to run a studio with my sister in Bombay. India is a completely different ball game but in our short experience we have also had to fire a client. One client kept rejecting the logo concepts we showed him and he came referred through a friend so we did what we could to make him happy. After the third rejection we drew a line and at that point he said he liked one and another one from a previous exercise he wanted to use for another company. When we said he could use it for a charge, he refused to understand. He said we didn't know how to do business and long story short we decided it was better to loose money on that project and fire him rather than deal with a bad client.

What I realized was that I am not very good at the business bit of things but until we can afford an account manager or a man in Bombay mafia, I try to separate my feelings. Some people are just not nice and that’s life! Every time something goes wrong and I feel horrible about exchanging hostile emails with client I remind myself its just business...

On Mar.30.2006 at 11:21 AM
Zoelle’s comment is:

I’ve never had a yelling match with a client, but I have had very intense conversations. These posts do remind me of the most scathing email that I had the luck of being included on. It came from the owner of a family run business.

It started out, “Read this minutes before you go home so you can cry on your own time — not mine!”

On Mar.30.2006 at 03:41 PM
JenB’s comment is:


I read your article and the subsequent responses here. There is lots of support for you and what happened — as “we have all been there” and understand how challenging it is to deal with lopsided agreements and not so veiled threats or animosity. In the face of great emotion it’s tough to back down.

However, I gather from your article that you would have preferred to have handled it better.

I have been thinking about your article a great deal lately and I think that as nice as it is to get feedback that you are totally justified and the client is totally wrong — I am unsure if that really helps bridge gaps and is the ultimate goal as a human...I VERY HUMBLY offer these observations — I, by no means, claim to know with any certainty anything of your situation.

1. You have listed 4 mistakes made during the course of your relationship with the client. I gather this is your admittance that things went sideways, in part, because you didn’t stand up for your business at crucial moments. It’s important to realize what you what you did to bring the situation to the apex in the conference room.

2. Correctly, you decided to confront the client and try to make things right. The client — in a perfect world— seeing your perspective should have been open to making things right.

3. But the client didn’t see it like that. She saw things from her perspective. Perhaps — “this is coming out of left field” and or “the way things have gone hasn’t been exactly as I would have liked” Perhaps she has someone over her telling her that she absolutely cannot increase the budget — so she’s between a rock and a hard place. And she chose to come out swinging.

4. Faced with her adversarial tendencies you brought out the troops to defend your agency. And it sounds like they were very eloquent and calm in their retorts. But retorts they were. This client was set to defend herself all by herself against your whole team. She had her perspective and your team told her basically that she was wrong. This is a tough pill to swallow for some folks — and obviously for her — so she took it to the next level - got more hostile and more cruel to defend herself. The conversation drove each group to their corners. An optimal situation would have been her recognizing the unfairness of what she was getting vs. what she was paying and you guys needed to recognize that she was in a tight spot with the request for more money.

5. So what happened when you snapped? It seems as though you have a strong maternal instinct in you. You got triggered. You saw this woman attacking your team and you came to their defense. And I think that absolutely rocks from an employee stand point. Not backing down is great — but can you get away from feeling reactive to the client and gaining control of the situation? Because basically the client was out of control and she dragged everyone down with her.

6. There’s nothing a person can do about how a client responds. In the face of their animosity and meanness and as hard as it is to not respond in kind — the ultimate challenge is to back off not for the client’s sake but for our own.

Having said all this — I am almost embarrassed. You seem to have much more wisdom than me and I admire your success and I bet you probably have already figured out what happened and how you can avoid it in the future. The reason I took to this story is that I constantly wonder how I can help myself and others to rise above potentially hostile situations.

Good luck to us all in our client relations!

On Mar.30.2006 at 04:25 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

JenB, thanks for your suggestions. I have had a lot of great ideas about alternatives to the way that I behaved, both on line and off. One of the best was from my friend Andrew who said this: As soon as she mentioned speaking to her legal counsel, you should have stopped the meeting and suggested that you both reconvene with her senior management and yours. This would've accomplished two things--you wouldn't have to had to duke it out individually; and most importantly, you would have had another point of view from more senior members of the client team.

I liked that idea.

On Mar.30.2006 at 05:55 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

has anyone been yelled at by a vendor? A printer. . .

A truncated version of the whole mess: Three or four years ago I did some work for a local PR firm. They had been getting a lot of calls from a printer who insisted that they could do good work much cheaper than anyone else. My client decided to check them out with a newsletter they had me design. I brought them a CD with InDesign 2 files. Two weeks later they discovered that they didn’t have the software because they bought version 1 and nobody had ever given them an InDesign file so why bother with version 2?. (This was six months after version 2 had come out.) Within a couple of hours I gave them a PDF. A week or so later they showed me a proof. There were no bleeds. I pointed this out, marked it on the proofs, and they said they’d fix it.

When I got there for the press check (a week and a half later), it turned out that the job (which was exactly as spec’d) was too wide for their film setter. (Not too wide for their press. Why would they buy prepress equipment that didn’t match their presses? Maybe that’s part of why they were so cheap.) The production manager proudly told me that he had solved my problem by “just” moving my type over a quarter of an inch then shifting the position of the film. I worked out a better change that we could do in a few minutes with existing film and immediately make new plates because the job was way behind schedule. I wasn’t happy with the result but my client needed the damned newsletter. I also noted (in a calm, quiet, and matter-of-fact manner) that he should know that telling a graphic designer that you “just” moved his type a quarter of an inch is about like telling a production manager that you were “just” going to move his left testicle an inch. He screamed “I’ve only been in this business for fifteen years!”

So I went next door and it went back on the press. My friend who was with me (I was delaying a vacation for the press check) asked me if I had worked things out and I said that it was as good as it was going to be off the film they had. He asked me if I wouldn’t rather have them delay the press run until they got it right and I said it was so far behind schedule that I couldn’t. The sales rep overheard me and started telling me that they had done everything on time. I said (in a very calm voice) that I was mad enough about the way things were going so I thought it best that we did not discuss the way the schedule had gone. He said (loudly but not quite shouting) “If you can’t control yourself then I’m going to have to ask you to leave!”

The story gets worse from there.

I have to say that I've been in this position as well, and I regret not suing.

My first-ever graphic design for money job ended up in court. This was a long time ago. (I had done a bunch of advertising but no graphic design that wasn’t part of my advertising work.) A guy who owned a company that put out several specialty magazines called me. He had seen a brochure I designed for a local bicycle frame builder in exchange for a custom-built road frame and asked the bike shop who did it. He liked my work and wanted me to design a rate card for one of his magazines.

I did a marker comp (See? I told you it was a long time ago) and went to the meeting. He wasn’t there but his staff took the comp to show to him. When I didn’t hear from anyone for several days I called and was told that my work was unacceptable and his in-house people were doing the job. I told him that I’d put in $400 worth of time on the $500 job. He sent me a check for $200 with the “endorsing means payment in full” stuff on the back. I filed in small claims court. His corporate treasurer had to waste half a day in court. They lost.

I managed to get my comp back from his staff. (I’m sure they weren’t supposed to give it to me.) I also got a copy of their new rate card. It had the same illustration the same size in the same place with the same head in the same typeface. He had clearly told them to just copy the comp.

He appealed the verdict. Since they were a corporation they had to show up in superior court with a lawyer. I represented myself. This time the corporate president and vice president wasted half a day. (Now we’re at a day and a half of corporate officers’ time and several hours of attorney’s fees to get out of paying me two hundred bucks. Even in mid ’70s dollars, that was a waste.) At one point I could hear the lawyer telling them “I can’t say that” and them telling him he’d do as he was told or be fired. So the lawyer explained to the judge that I had agreed to do a job for a set price and I had not completed it so they really didn’t owe me anything. (I had previously pointed out that I didn’t complete the job because they wouldn’t let me.)

The judge looked like he was thinking hard about the question at hand. He looked at the lawyer and said quietly “This all falls under the Universal Business Code, doesn’t it?” After an affirmative reply he said “And the Universal Business Code says you should deal in a fair manner. . .” He paused before he yelled “Do you think this is fair?” then ruled for me.

I found out later that their normal business practice was to hire young designers and get them to take half price when the job was done. I was just about the only one that didn’t take the money and slink away. I’m not only glad I sued; I still have the original check that I had refused to endorse. It hung on my wall for many years in the same frame as my business license.

In case anyone wonders, I still ride that bike I got for doing the brochure the guy saw. It’s a lot older than the vast majority of the people reading this.

On Mar.31.2006 at 01:48 PM
Tiffany’s comment is:

Beautifully written story!

Of course it would have been highly professional and graceful if you could have sat back calmly and told your client to respect your team and keep a peaceful working envrionment.

But sometimes you have to yell just to get over the noise

Don't waste any more of your time feeling ashamed by this action. If anyone should be embarrassed here it is your client, for taking advantage of a good working relationship, and loosing her cool toward you and your team.

I can understand why you are so pained by this, but I think in the end you have earned your client's, team's, and even my respect for not backing down.


On Mar.31.2006 at 03:34 PM
Brad’s comment is:

A firm I used to work for won a five year contract to do various marketing materials for a local county's public school system.

We should have known the the whole situation was bad news when we found out the person we had to work with was one of the committee members that voted against using our firm. As you can imagine we couldn't do anything right. When we presented work to the client, she would tear it apart and say everything short of "you guys suck!"

After working on a poster for a month that initially needed to be done in a week, the client stopped by the office one day and brought with her an old poster designed by the firm that previously held the contract and asked us to use that poster but update the text. We couldn't believe what we were witnessing. Just to end the insanity, we did what she asked and sent the client on her way.

On Mar.31.2006 at 10:09 PM
Brian Alter’s comment is:

The best way I've found for dealing with annoying clients is to make up insulting nicknames to use with coworkers. Just be careful of how you use it, e.g., email exchanges that somehow get forwarded to a client. Doh!

On Apr.01.2006 at 11:00 PM
Mike Lenhart’s comment is:

This story is all too common in our profession, I feel. I have had this type of situation with a client or two, usually because I was too soft from the outset or simply overlooked a critical component of the contract because I knew the issue wouldn't occur with this client. What I've learned is, just as design is not taken as a serious and justified part or expense in a business project at times, I sometimes subconsciously act the same way when preparing and negotiating a contract or conducting client relations. Design and all aspects of such is serious business and I (as well as my client) need to remember that. If I need to educate a client on that fact, so be it. I believe it will serve us both better in the long run as well as gain some respect on both sides of the table.

On Apr.02.2006 at 12:29 PM
Andy Malhan’s comment is:

Long story, but I had a client throw a shoe at me once. Really. I walked into his office, and in front of about 5 of his subordinates, he took his shoe off, and threw it at me, striking the knapsack that I had held in front of my body.

It completely flipped me out and I exploded - screamed at him and walked back out the door.

We still work together, on and off. More off now, than on, but yeah, he threw a shoe at me.

On Apr.02.2006 at 02:19 PM
Dennis Staples’s comment is:

I have been in the business for a while and the

main thing I have learned and when ever I talk to students is,take business courses,maybe even a

legal course.Most design schools skip over the business aspects of design.The pain and frustrations of dealing with clients would be a lot less painful.A few comments before someone said a contract is helpful, believe it!I paid for a project to be printed once and I vowed never ever to be taken again.I get a third first with a signature or nothing's happening.

Anger is a tool that should be used when you are getting gouged.The truth is the light and it keeps you bank account positive.

On Apr.02.2006 at 04:34 PM
John Hancock’s comment is:


As design professionals we all make mistakes, sometimes we even admit them to our clients. You might lose a client now and then standing up for your team, but if you stand up for a snotty client, you might lose your whole team.

If a client has known you as calm, logical and professional at all other times, it might not be a bad thing - it shows you're human and won't take all the crud, all the time.

On Apr.07.2006 at 12:30 AM
makethelogobigger’s comment is:

As I saw the title, I shook my head thinking, no, never yell at a client. It's just too easy to do and it's right up there with the client is always right.

But then I read the article.

You know, if I invested years of my life and my team's that resulted in a net loss of 250K, yet STILL yielded positive test results for a client, I'd be pissed and I probably would yell back to them (if they actually yelled at me) if they pulled a 180 on my team in public, thus in effect questioning the loyalty of the relationship. My big mouth might even have resigned the biz on the spot, regardless of the contract. (I also have to question a client's mental state if after several years of non-eventful meetings she yells and turns on you in public like that?)

I will still always side with the designer, but let me take the Devil's Advocate position: why go several months before addressing price and scope creep? Still, having said that, we designers have at one time or another decided to waive fees or take significantly less on a given project because we might get something else of value out of the deal. (High-profile work, awards, PR value, etc.)

But, was not bringing up price early on the best business decision, that's the thing.

Maybe designers are too nice? I prefer to think we’re too trusting. But if that's the case, then business will never understand the fluid nature of the creative process. When scope creep happens on a project, the client does not have right to ask for more than they paid for if it's their doing.

The client acting the way she did seems to me like she was looking for any excuse to not pay more. The price will NEVER be cheap enough for a client though. Never. Mom & pop pizza place. Fortune 500 brands. Doesn't matter. I found both to be the same. It’s the classic choice: faster, cheaper and better, they’ll always take ALL three. It's human nature, right?

Something for the client to consider: if the new revised quote wouldn’t have been acceptable had it been presented two years ago, then it wouldn’t matter how much over the project ran, it was destined to be a lose-lose deal no matter what the designer did. But if it would have been acceptable, then why isn't it now?

And the rational: "Well, the work's not up to standards." Yah, ok. Even though testing shows otherwise? Nice try. Must have learned that response in Brand Manager 101 training.

You know though, I could probably try that the next time my mechanic at the dealership has to spend an extra six hours above the estimate — I'll just tell him I shouldn't have to pay because that's not what we agreed, even though he found other stuff wrong, like worn out brakes.

When it comes down to it, this is just one more example of a client trying to screw a vendor.

On Apr.14.2006 at 10:54 AM