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Feature - Business - Humor

A Field Guide to Clients Good and Bad

by Wanda Cummings
Illustrations by Pamela Newsom

One thing I have learned in the course of my career in this insane business is that clients come in all sizes, shapes and flavors. They can make the job a delight or a nightmare. For my own and colleagues' amusement, I've identified several types.

The Designer Wannabe

This client is almost always impetuous. They exhibit quick movements and their eyes are usually quite small (often black and beady). With little or no training or experience (formal or informal), they still believe that they are fully capable of conveying an idea visually without any effort or thought - and without your help. You, the real designer, are just a mechanic. Heck, if they like it, the rest of the world's gotta love it - right? Solutions for dealing with this type of client are many and varied (and can involve doing time in a federal penitentiary - which is also pretty time-consuming).

The Spinner

This client's behaviour is tantamount to rapid amoebic reproduction. One idea splits into two, and those two split into four . . .. It may take ropes and duct tape to restrain their erratic movements and speech, but decelerating their thought processes requires more effort -- cut a small hole in the duct tape and take this client out for a good stiff drink. Bring a straw.

The "You're-the-designer" Client

This client is somewhat deferential, but always happy to hear from you. They always make interesting comments about the way you approach things and are in constant awe over your creative talent. Explaining to them, however, that there really is nothing terribly creative about how you lick an envelope or sneeze can be very frustrating.

When there are holes in the work where you need their involvement to proceed, they seem mystified - after all, you, the designer, do everything perfectly, so why don't you just keep going?

You want to squeeze their neck.

The "Great-it's-done-I-don't-have-to-deal-with-it-anymore" Client

image:Mr. HoHum

"Yeah, that's great. How much do I owe you?"

You ask for a blank cheque.

The Vacillator

image:The Vacillator

"I like this first one. But, then again, I really like this second one. Hmmmm. But I really like this first one. Then again, I . . .."

Do not put this client in a round room - they could really hurt themselves.

image:Christmas Morning Client

The Christmas Morning Client

"Can I see it now!? Can I see it now!? Are you finished yet!?"

Get call display (caller ID) on your phone.

Ebenezer Scrooge


This bean-counter has no respect for creative talent or for the value your design skills can add to their product or service.

The solution? Tell them you're interested in a different model of payment -- profit sharing on realized revenue increase. Chances are they'll revert to the Christmas Morning Client pretty quickly.

The Dream Come True

image:Perfect client

This client understands that everything is a process, not an event. While their involvement is important, so is letting you do your job. They discuss with you in detail the information they'd like you to convey visually, commit to a timeline or critical path and make intelligent comments or suggestions when you return with proposed visual solutions. Kiss the ground they walk on.
(Editor's Note: And if you don't want them, please send them to me.)

Photo of Wanda

Wanda Cummings runs her own design company, Creative Solutions Design and Marketing, and has been delighting clients in the design industry for Fortune 500 and smaller clients alike since 1980. From highway billboards to Flash animation, Wanda's passion for design, marketing and technology made the internet a clear path to a new obsession since 1996. Also a writer and instructor within the design industry, Wanda derives a great deal of satisfaction from helping companies and students grow and loves to share her crayons. Yes, she has the deluxe box.

Photo of Pam Newsom

Just now having started a second career, Pamela Newsom is venturing out into the world of Internet technology. Fresh out of the Multimedia and Design Production Program at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon; she started the program not even knowing how to turn on a computer. Now, after three grueling years of full-time college, with many extra courses in programming, graphic design, animation, and media arts, she is hoping to start a freelance business of her own. Her portfolio page is at www.shibuimedia.com, and she can be contacted by email at pamela@shibuimedia.com.

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