4 types of difficult design client & how to deal with them
Clients can make a designer’s life easy or very, very tough. UX Designer Jamie Archer calls out 4 nightmare client types and tells us how UI/UX designers should handle them
My first tip for how to deal with a difficult client? Fire them or don’t get hired by them in the first place! I’ve only ever fired one client but I’ve had plenty of difficult clients. The more you work with people the more you can judge how they will be.
There are plenty ways you can start to get to grips with tough clients. One great way is to learn from the professionals – if you are currently working in a larger team who have dedicated account managers, learn as much as you can about how they win deals and manage clients. You’ll be able to take that experience and use it to handle clients more effectively.
Another way is to just get out there and start dealing with design clients! Every client is a chance to learn how to set expectations effectively, how to call out scope creep and when to be a little bit more flexible in order to win long term business.
One thing is guaranteed: once you start dealing with clients you’re going to stumble across these 4 nightmare client stereotypes. Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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The control freak, know-it-all perfectionist design client
This type of client has a lot of ideas, they want you to implement them all, they want you to do it yesterday and it has to be right first time. In the meantime they also expect you to respond to every email and epiphany they have immediately, or else.
They are not happy when their suggestions are rebuffed. They think that analysing every detail and making everything perfect will produce a better product as opposed to just shipping something you can test and iterate. They tend to ignore expert advice when it disagrees with their internal logic.
How to deal with the control freak client
Best thing to do with these types is avoid them, unless you’re the type of person that likes to be tightly managed or prefers intense scrutiny over someone who trusts you to get on with it. If you are already working for a client (or manager) like this, then setting and managing expectations from the beginning is the best thing.
Give them a strict schedule for deadlines but also for communication times and feedback – and stick to it! Communicate issues early and keep them in the loop e.g. if you’re working on a report do it transparently in a Google Doc so they can see progress and make comments. Give them ownership over certain elements of the project, but draw a line at where that ownership ends.
The emotional client
UX is the business of working out what the intent of user is, then evoking emotions that drive them forward or make them feel fulfilled or delighted while using the product. Many clients forget that although design and aesthetics are subjective, a lot of UX work requires decisions to be made based on colour theory, analytical data, or validated with user testing, and so on.
This type of client ignores all of that and most of their sentences begin with the words ‘I feel that…’ or ‘I think that…’ or ‘I’m not sure about…’
Help your clients give better design feedback with these tips
How to deal with the emotional client
To deal with this type of client you need to always refer back to the need to test and validate ideas or look at the analytics data. Steer them towards making a rational decision not an intuitive one. Their intuition or feeling may be right but it’s better to test the premise than to assume one way or another.
The bean counter client
This type of client takes a look at your estimate and the guffaws before emailing you back about how expensive you are. She’ll ask for justification for every penny spent and will try and squeeze every last drop of value. Forget renegotiating a contract if they request changes and expect payment at the latest possible date.
How to deal with the bean counter client
All clients want to get value for money. Don’t justify your figure or lower it – just be willing to walk away. You can always tell this type of client because their conversation always starts with: “How much would it cost to do X build Y and create Z”. Emphasize how your method is proven, how your expertise will ultimately lead to greater returns for them if you set clear objectives and project goals.
Use a timekeeping app like Harvest to automatically record time spent and issue perfect billing. As a backup use RescueTime when you forget to switch on the Harvest timer to go back and look at your productive time in detail in case your client needs a breakdown of work. Have a clear contract clause that covers what happens in the event of an overrun – I always put a contingency clause in or pad out the estimate.
I learned in project management to take how long you think a project will take and double it to ensure you make a profit. This is especially true if you working on something you’ve never done before. Only offer fixed pricing on repeatable and predictable pieces of work that you know take a fixed amount of time.
The Columbo client
This is my favourite difficult client because they are kind of a charming, comedic chancer. Like the eponymous Detective Columbo from the TV show their favourite line is “Just one more thing….” Then they launch into an at length discussion of all the stuff they’re not sure about or new features they want, with a frowning somewhat quizzical expression. They are similar to the Bean Counter in that they want to squeeze more out of your contract but they’re sly about how they ask for it. They take you by surprise and they are master nitpickers and negotiators, making you feel like you haven’t given them everything you could.
How to deal with the Colombo client
Beware you may need to set clear limits on things like change requests and feedback rounds if you’re a designer/programmer, and also set budgets for testing. Making sure your contract or work order is clear is par for the course on any project, but new freelancers often don’t even have contract! This is fundamental. The Columbo client will push so always have a clear list of things you can say you’ve agreed to achieve on the project and ensure you’re paid for extra time spent, work done or project work completed.
Author bio: Jamie Archer is a freelance UX Designer currently based in Bucharest. He specializes in creating interfaces that actively improve businesses processes. The craziest thing he’s ever done? Probably that time he cycled to Singapore. From London.