Client Nightmares

In the world of freelance, there is a special breed of client known as the “nightmare client,” some of the unsuspecting freelancers who encounter these clients have stepped forward — these are their stories. (OK, so I watched a couple Law & Order episodes on Netflix last night, so what?) ;)

The Nightmare Continues…

Liz Andrade is a Designer/Developer

A few years back, I was on a project doing print work for a wedding photographer from the east coast. Things started out fine. I worked along side my art director through the establishment of his brand and worked on his business card layouts. We sent out digital proofs of the design and he signed off on them pretty quickly, mentioning that he was in need to get that right away! I coordinated with my print rep to get him quotes for printing and handed off the bill for completing the order.

About a week later I followed up with my printer to find out why the job hadn’t been scheduled for press yet and was told the clients payment had not been received. So, I contacted the photographer and he LOUDLY informed me that he’d “PUT a check in the mail 3 weeks ago!!!” (even though the job had only been completed about 8 days ago.) He said “I can’t believe I am still waiting! I should have my cards in hand by now!!! This is ridiculous!” I tried to give him the benefit of doubt, and believed that perhaps is check had been lost in the mail. I suggested he cancel the check and said “We could arrange a credit card payment now over the phone and I could get this on press for you tomorrow.” He accepted and gave me his credit card information.We ran the card, we cut the printer a check and by the end of the week the client had his brand new business cards in hand and all was right with the world again…. or so we thought.

2 weeks later we get a notice from American Express informing us that the credit card information that the client had given us (the card that he had used to pay off the cost of his branding development, business card design + printing, plus a deposit on marketing materials and website design.) was a card he’s swiped from his mother — and she was disputing the charges!

This resulted in many heated phone calls and emails between my art director, the client, American Express and our bookkeeper —  It was a wreck, but eventually some resolve was met and I was just glad to see that client gone.

Until a couple months down the road when my boss strolls up to my desk and tells me they’d accepted him back as a client and was putting me on for project managing his work – UHHG!!!

The Writing on the Walls

Judy a Designer, Mural Designer and Photographer:

Right after I graduated from college, I was in the process of designing & painting a series of murals for a local Pediatric Center. Shortly thereafter, the owners of the practice decided to have several of the exam rooms updated with new paint, and wallpaper. They hired a local interior designer to take care of that end of the job. I had a few days break away from painting while she was there working on updating the exam rooms. When I came back, the nurses in the office pulled me into one of the exam rooms the interior designer had worked on. They said I just HAD to see it. Turns out Ms. Interior Decorator used these weird stencils on the walls…in every room she had painted! This room was by far the worst. Ugly dark circle splotches on the walls with creepy smiley faces in them. The nurses said they didn’t want to take any small children in there because they felt it was creepy! I wound up having to paint over any wall space she had stenciled on, because it all looked so hideous.

Paying the Bills

Niki Brown is a Designer/Developer

Not that much of a nightmare…but I have had clients completely dictate a design to me, or verbatim tell me to copy something. I changed the design within limits (as to not get sued!) and executed the project. Hey….sometimes you just have to do stuff to pay the bills!

Hit & Run

Anonymous Designer/Developer

I took a freelance job for a satellite reseller business about 3 years ago. Their site, at the time, looked to be built in the mid to late 90’s, using FrontPage. Needless to say, a total revamp with in store. Because I was young and vulnerable, I gave them a really low quote. Also because I was young and vulnerable, I gladly took their counter to the already really low quote.

Long story made short, after a month of back and forth revisions on the design, we struck an agreement and development began. Near the end of development (online store included) the owner of the business stops answering phone calls. Followed, of course, by ending e-mail communication and then eventually even discontinuing his cell phone service.

So, a couple weeks of floating around and thinking that my design was so awful that I sent this business owner into hiding, I read in the paper that the satellite store that I was building a website for shut down completely and the owner was on trial for kidnapping.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the final sign off on the project and am still waiting for that design and consolation payment.


The Backseat Designer

Marie Poulin is a Designer/Developer

I agreed to do a “cheap” logo design for a friend of a friend who was starting up a company with a friend. I figured it would be a fun portfolio piece. I made the mistake of sending too many options, and they ended up picking a very obscure option that didn’t resonate with me at all.

I continued to send round after round of revision (I told them initially they would get 2 revisions), until they sent ME a very detailed, well-labeled drawing of exactly what they wanted, complete with type selection and horizontal rules. They liked how the “lines could extend across a webpage”… they didn’t see how what they had drawn did not speak at all about what their business was about. They were hung up on how they could use specific elements, without understanding their relevance.

I struggled with how to respond. So I executed a version that I felt was as close as I could get to their drawing, and I offered several more refined versions of alternatives, and tried to explain as professionally as possible that I could indeed polish the one they wanted, but that it would not be the one I would recommend, and gave a list of reasons why. When they got back to me they said something along the lines of: “We will not be proceeding at this time. Thank you for the time you have put into this.” Luckily I had half of the $ up front, but it was still peanuts compared to how much time I had put into it.

I have since vowed never to do cheap logo jobs for people. It is always the clients with the smallest budgets that do not understand the value of hiring a professional.


  1. Great blog. I have definitely been in those shoes before too. It’s always good to have those experiences to learn lessons and avoid it happening again. ;-)

  2. “It is always the clients with the smallest budgets that do not understand the value of hiring a professional.”

    I won’t go into the story, but this sentence sums up a rather awful design experience of mine so well, that I think you know exactly the kind of client I had. Lol. Live and learn, I guess. :)

    Really nice, site, btw, I will follow up and read more in the future! Cheers!

  3. Ahhh, thank you for this. I am in the midst of my own nightmare client right now and this is helping me cope.

  4. @Liz thanks but, they may have just pushed me too far. They honestly just called and asked me to change the font to comic sans and make every color brighter. If it didn’t just happen to me, I wouldn’t believe it. It was like some perverse joke. I blacked out and woke up to find myself screaming something about refusing to design a 15 year old girls diary. Something tells me I may have blown this one.

  5. Awesome read. I go through this all the time. My latest problem today is a client that wants to add music to the web site. I told her no because it’s unprofessional and being I’m the expert in the field listed several reasons.

    And yet again the client pushes. Music on a web site is not cool. A lot of people surf from work and can’t have music on nor do they want to hear some song blasted into their face.

  6. @marie- In situations like that you just do what they ask for and move on to the next good project. You can always rework a clients rendition into something portfolio-worthy!

  7. to Jonathan Patterson…no you can’t

    I worked for ‘clients’ and design houses for 3 years, and the only stuff in my portfolio was the stuff I did for myself in my free time

    I have left the industry since…not my cup of tea taking orders from people with inferior and unoriginal ideas

  8. I’m sure this could have gone on forever. Out-of-pocket vs. Out-of-budget expenses have been a nightmare that returns at sitcom frequencies. It is not only limited to friends and family. For some reason, clients with the MOST money are the MOST reluctant to release it. I hate the “I’m worth every penny conversation”, especially after 50+ phone calls/emails and client-based revisions. I toss and turn just thinking about it! Good post. You have a new follower.

  9. Thank you! This lovely page is pulling me back from the brink of a nervous breakdown … or murder!!!!

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