“A few well-chosen words about Astrology Design?  Madam, I am only too happy to oblige: our aim is to serve.  The customer is usually wrong; but statistics indicate that it doesn’t pay to tell him so.”

– Aleister Crowley, Magick Without Tears (edited by me)

The best clients in the world are the ones who acknowledge their need for a design professional and trust your expertise to turn out appropriate, attractive design that suits their needs.

But every once in a while, you’ll run into a client (or potential client, preferably) who can’t tell a butthole from a rosebush and has no idea they suffer from bad taste. These people fall into two general camps: the insecure client who is easily swayed by the opinions of those around him (except, shockingly, you), and the overconfident client who knows exactly what she wants and how it should be executed. Designers suffer under both regimes and avoiding difficult clients may not be financially possible all the time. So here are some things to remember when dealing with clients you suspect of having bad taste or skewed expectations:

1. Successful people know when to trust other experts. I leave my hair to a stylist and my pipes to a plumber and clients should feel comfortable leaving their design needs in my hands. If your client is overriding decisions you know to be correct, you might be dealing with someone who is insecure about the project on a conceptual level, or overconfident in their ability to make design decisions.

2. If your client is insecure, explaining your decisions in detail might help to instil trust. Maintain enthusiasm and appear eager to help, even if things are dragging. Asking questions about the underlying concepts and hashing out the purpose of the project will also help you get to the core ideas and guide your work in the right direction.

3. If your client is overconfident, making reasoned arguments with plenty of visual examples may help you win your case. The bull-headed client is often successful in other areas of business and is used to telling others what to do, but may be receptive if you communicate in a bold, rational manner.

4. If possible, bail immediately when you get weird vibes. Trust your intuition: if you sense that your client has unreasonable ideas about the outcome of the project or your role, you might be better off politely declining before things get started. Red flags include:

  • Clients who appear to be uncertain about the direction or intent of the project. They should be able to explain with passion about what they hope to achieve with their product, business or organization.
  • Clients without expertise in your field insisting you do things a certain way. You won’t do your best work if you’re forced to use unfamiliar or outdated tools/methods.
  • Clients who state that they know “exactly what they want” and expect you just to execute it. This is a surefire way to turn out deliverables you are not proud of. (Does not apply if your client is also a designer with relevant skills.)
  • Clients who ask you to do free “trial” work before hiring you. Your portfolio, references and a personal interview should be sufficient.
  • Clients who expect you to do work on a volunteer basis for a for-profit company or organization. If the client makes money the designer should too.

5. Sometimes poverty dictates that you suck it up. Maybe you end up with a product you’re embarrassed of. Exclude it from your portfolio and turn your rejected ideas into something for another project. Remember: even the most talented, recognized actors have shitty movies in their filmographies.

6. Whatever happens, don’t be a dick about it. You probably think you know more about a lot of things than you actually do, so don’t assume your client is being difficult just for fun. They probably think they are right and it’s better for everyone if you let them think that… at least until you’ve cashed their cheques.

*One final caveat: if ALL your clients seem to be unreasonable, demanding and aesthetically inept, chances are the problem might be you…