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“Change everything!” Except the design, and function, and coding…

Clients from Hell - 7 January 2021 - 3:00pm

I’ve been a web designer since 1994.  One of my first clients was a local lawnmower dealership who already had a website.

At first, the website allowed you to “purchase” items, which you then paid for when you collected them from their shop.  After several years of begging, they reluctantly allowed me to integrate PayPal payment buttons so it actually worked like a real e-commerce website.

Then one day, out of the blue, the directors called me and told me they wanted it redesigned.  Hallelujah!  When I first met them in the late ’90s the site already looked 10 years out of date, by now it was positively prehistoric.  Now I could finally showcase to them how good I am at what I do.

I went in to my meeting with a full plan, designs and reasons for those designs.  I had asset examples, details about every choice I was making.

They loved it.

I left that meeting and immediately got to work.  The next three weeks were a blur of .asp, HTML and CSS, with regular updates to the client and encouragement in return.  I built a custom site from scratch, and even transferred all 500+ products to the new system as part of the deal.

We agreed a date for the transfer of the new site to the live server.  I had everything ready to go, and as they wanted to “press the button” themselves to make it live, I had a splash screen with my company logo on it saying “watch this space”.

Literally two minutes before it was due to go live one of the directors stepped in:

Client: I just want to confirm that customers aren’t going to notice any difference and get confused?

Me: Well, it’s a completely new design that you and the other directors approved. The only similarities are the logo and that they’re both for you lawnmower business.

Client: But those designs aren’t going live, right?

Me: Uh… Of course they are.  It’s a completely new design – as requested, as quoted, as built and approved.

Client: Oh no, we can’t have that.  It needs to look the same as the old site.  What about the backend, is that different too?

Me: Yes, it’s now considerably easier to use, has no downtime when uploading products unlike the current site, and I eliminated the possibility of making mistakes which currently bring your existing site offline on an almost daily basis until you panic and reupload an old backup.

Client: No, the backend needs to be the same too.  Why did you change everything?

Me: Because you told me to…?

Luckily because of previous bad experiences with idiot clients, I didn’t remove the old code from the server, I had it in a backup folder.  I deleted all the new stuff, dragged all the old code into the server root and handed them an invoice.

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6 cm is average, right?

Clients from Hell - 7 January 2021 - 2:00pm

Client: I’m looking at this on different screens and it’s a different size. It should be 6 cm no matter where I see it.

I’m still haunted by the image of her taking out her ruler to check.

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Well, that’s a relief.

Clients from Hell - 6 January 2021 - 4:00pm

I was a videographer on a small film set. I had dealing with a close family member’s illness for a long time. I did my best not to have it impact my work, as I still had to make money, but it did color my daily life, naturally. Eventually, sadly, the family member passed. 

I showed up, after only two days grieving, to work:

Client: (face buried in the phone): What’s up?

Me: Well, George passed.

Client: Oh good, that’s a relief. Now you can concentrate on things here.

Me: (stunned. Just stunned)

He tried to backpedal and say “it had been long illness and this was a good thing he was out of pain,” but no. I quit within in a week.

YIKES. What’s the most inhuman thing a client has said to you?

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Postcards from the Spam factory

Clients from Hell - 6 January 2021 - 3:00pm

My client was a magazine publisher whom I’d worked with before. I’d always been surprised by their aversion to technology. They adamantly refused to go digital and thus did not have any original online content. They had a Facebook page which they occasionally used to announce events but, really used to share links to “interesting” online stories from other sites, which not only helped other publishers generate traffic but also made them look like a spam site (when I worked there, I was supposed to share 5-7 links a day and most aren’t informative at all).

I came back as a freelance writer to produce content for their print publication. From my knowledge, all the full-time editorial staff they have hired in the past had never stayed on for over 6 months. I was in between projects and didn’t mind the extra cash with zero commitment (made sure I added that in our contract).

But I spoke too soon. I was working remotely, I tried to set up some kind of communication system after learning that they basically had no idea how to do things.

Me: Do you use a project management app? Trello?

Client: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Right, not a techie company.

Me: How about Google Docs, just so we’re on the same page?

Client: I know Google, but what’s Google Docs?

After much discussion, this is what we wound up doing: emailing the same attached word doc and manually changing the file name and header to FILENAME_NAME_DATE to keep track of the last person and date the file was edited. That wasn’t all. To track what has been changed, I had to use a different color font each time.

So now I have a frustratingly long email thread with multiple attached docs files with multicolored texts.

My liquor store bills were bigger during this period. 

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Afraid of commitment

Clients from Hell - 6 January 2021 - 2:00pm

Client: The site looks good, but what’s with this writing on the photos?

Me: Those are watermarks. I’m using stock photos, and before I commit to buying them for you I wanted to make sure you liked the design – so I’m using the free version with the stock branding.

Client: So what’s wrong with the design?

Me: What? Nothing, they’re stock photos.

Client: But something’s holding you back. If you’re not sure about this photo, why should I be?

Me: … 

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No fun refund

Clients from Hell - 5 January 2021 - 4:00pm

Client: I need a website for my upcoming book launch. I’m a widowed entrepreneur who is just trying to get their feet off the ground, I don’t have a huge budget but whatever kindness you can spare will be appreciated.

Me: Sure, we can get you up and running with a new website. I’ll only charge you $250 for it.

I was straight out of high school, I didn’t even know what a freelance contract was.

Client: Wonderful! Thank you so much, God bless you!

I proceed to get a basic landing page up for their website, with a full website to come in the future. 

Me: Hey, I sent you the designs for the full website a little while back, did you get a chance to check them out?

Client: No! I’ve been so swamped, I’m so sorry. We’ll put the website aside for now. I need your help with a bunch of graphic design tasks. I’ll just have my son do the website if that works for you. 

These tasks weren’t my strong suit, but I could passably perform them. I should have said no, but it was my first freelance job. 

Me: …Okay.

Six months later:

Client: I have a huge event coming up and I still have no website!

Me: After multiple attempts to send you the design files, you said that you would have your son work on it.

Client: Okay, no problem. Can I have a refund of my $250?

Me: You received a fully functioning landing page, countless hours of meeting time via phone calls, and a number of other “favors” and you want a refund?

Client: Yes.


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What can you do for ME?

Clients from Hell - 5 January 2021 - 3:00pm

Client: I’ll come clean with you. I have someone else lined up to do this at half your price, but I want YOU to do it. So… what can you do for me to make my decision easier?

Me: Walk away and wish you luck.

Don’t waste my time with a bargaining tactic that may or may not be true, a**hole. 

Paying you less is an arms race. What’s the latest technology for screwing you over that you’ve experienced?

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3 hour meetings are a RED FLAG

Clients from Hell - 5 January 2021 - 2:00pm

Last year around this time, I was asked to develop a website for a client because they liked my previous work with their friend. I gave them a 20% discount on a quotation for a project that I estimated would take two weeks. The client quickly showed a preference for very long meetings – each meeting taking 2-3 hours.

Let this be a huge warning sign for you folks!

Eight months later, I am still working on this project. It hasn’t all been bad, but I’ve learned a few things from it that I’ve put into effect elsewhere. For instance, now I only take meetings on Mondays and Fridays.

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Client/Boss Combo from Hell

Clients from Hell - 4 January 2021 - 4:00pm

I was working as a designer for a company that creates custom built-ins for the storage spaces in people’s homes. Think shelving, cabinetry, the like for people’s garages, closets, pantries, etc.

I had a client who wanted me to design for them one pantry and four closet units for their apartment. Pretty standard. I meet with them at the apartment, take measurements of all the spaces, and briefly discuss design elements with them. Usually, I create the design while in their home, but this client had other obligations and wanted to proceed over email.

Upon arriving home I email them a few questions about their specifications.

Client: We will be going back to (different state) tomorrow and won’t be back until (six months from now). We will contact you again when we are back, and can meet up in person to finish the designs.

Alright, not unusual. Most of my clients are wealthy and have winter and summer residences.

Keep in mind I have at minimum one new client every day, requiring anywhere from two to ten separate designs from me. Additionally, all designs are hand-drawn to scale, as my boss is too cheap to pay for CAD. I simply can’t check in with every client who has said they would get back to me.

Months pass.

Boss: [Client] is very upset that they haven’t heard from you. I talked them into giving you one more chance, but you’re going to have to fix this.

Me, wracking my brain to remember them: Oh, yes, they had told me they would contact me when they were back in town.

Why did they take the time to go over my head and complain to my boss, but not to call, text, email, carrier pigeon me that they were back?

Boss: You need to check in with all clients you haven’t completed a project with regardless of what they say!

Literally not possible. But my boss is a “the client is always right” type, and I’m not going to argue.

On the way to the new appointment, I got a call from the office manager (OM), who handles all incoming calls and appointments, and who often gives advice when she senses a client will be difficult.

OM: [Client] indicated to me that they are planning on taking your finished designs and having their contractor build it for them. Obviously, as much as I want to, I can’t deny them the appointment, but I doubt you will be making a sale.

I’m paid commission so this means I get nothing. I decide to not put any measurements on their copies of the designs. It’s technical stuff only on there for the manufacturers anyway. I can verbally discuss the measurements with them, and this way they can’t steal my work.

I leave the clients with the designs and they give no indication of unhappiness, only tell me that they will let me know if they’re going to buy or not.

A week passes. I hear nothing from them.

Boss: (Client) called and is extremely unhappy. They say you didn’t put any measurements on your designs. I am taking over this case from you and we are going to have a meeting about this later in the week!

In the end, I got reamed out and had to give my boss my designs, which he then used, so my act of defiance was wasted and my work was all for nothing. After receiving the fully labeled and annotated version of my designs, the client ended up deciding to “go with another company.”

I quit shortly after.

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The least you can do

Clients from Hell - 4 January 2021 - 3:00pm

Client: Who are these people in these photos?

Me: I don’t know. Probably models – I used stock photos since you didn’t supply any.

Client: If you’re building a website for a company, the least you can do is take some photos of their customers. 

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Change Control

Clients from Hell - 4 January 2021 - 2:00pm

Me: Based on your user stories and requirements you submitted in May we plan to deploy the next major software release in August.

Client: OK, great!

Me:  Looking at the feature request you submitted in mid-July, we can get you that feature by mid-September.

Client:  Wait, what happened to August?

Me: You asked for more to be added, and it will take a month. 

Client: You gave me a timeline, and I expect you to stick with it.

You gave me a feature list and I expect you to stick with it too, jerk. 

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Get the Ultimate Creation Kit of 2,000+ design elements for 99% off at only $14!

Clients from Hell - 3 January 2021 - 4:00pm

This week’s deal is on an incredible bundle that collects 9 other awesome bundles. At $14, that’s only $1 a bundle – which is bonkers.

> These are super useful, tastefully designed elements too. 

Art deco borders, elegant fonts, and enticing patterns add up to one heck of a value in The Ultimate Bundle. Filled with minimalist designs, this is a one-stop shop for designing business cards, packaging, and invitations. Just take a look at the beautiful designs in this bundle – you’ll be throwing together astonishing and classy products in no time. 

At only $14 for all 2,000+ elements, The Ultimate Creation Kit is a steal. Sell one design with one border and it’s already paid for itself. Sell anything else and you’re basically making free money while saving yourself time and effort.

> Check out the deal here. 

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How long is YOUR weekend???

Clients from Hell - 3 January 2021 - 3:00pm

Had a project that should have been finished one and a half months ago, but the client slowed everything down because of personal reasons. I’m right in the middle of three new projects now, but still willing to help this client, even though the budget is pretty small and I barely have any time anymore. It’s not the first time something I waited for two weeks had suddenly to be done overnight.

Client: I need you to work some more on this project urgently. Can I send it to you at the end of the week and you work on it over the weekend so I can get it back on Monday?

Me: Well, actually I’m pretty busy again and have family plans over the weekend, but if it’s that urgent, I’ll see where I can fit it in. Send it to me as soon as possible.

Client: Oh, okay. It can wait until Monday then. 

Now it’s Tuesday afternoon and I haven’t heard from the client yet. Don’t cry wolf, please. 

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Cost-cutting by design

Clients from Hell - 3 January 2021 - 2:00pm

Client: We’d like to hire you on an ongoing contract basis.

Me: Awesome! Here are my services, my hourly wage is $X and if you’d like to hire me on retainer my fee starts at $Y.

Client: …Oh.

Me: What’s the problem?

Client: Well…

Long story short, they’d just laid off their in-house designer thinking they could save money by hiring a contractor… except they had enough work to keep someone busy full-time. 

At that rate, I was in no way a savings. 

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Know everything right away, please

Clients from Hell - 2 January 2021 - 4:00pm

Client: We have headlines for the 3 blogs we want, can you sketch out what’s in them. Here’s a URL we like. 

Me: Okay sure!

I read up on the blog, which was a fairly complex topic. We were communicating via a messaging app so I responded quickly.

Me: I think I will cover what the product does, the risks are… what competitors do.,,, security (looking at flaws etc and how to cover them), case studies, more stats, summary. 

Client: This is very disturbing. You’ve just put three ‘,’ marks instead of dots. I am very worried about this. 

Me: Sorry, it was a note form so just rough thinking. I do apologize. 

Client: And you haven’t even explained the risks? 

Me: Well, I can do that in the blog… 

Client: Well we want to know exactly what you will cover. And also – you’ve put security in there! That’s totally irrelevant. This is very worrying. 

Me: I can give you a more detailed layout shortly, but I wanted to make sure that I knew where to put my efforts. That’s useful feedback, but security was one of the main points in the URL you said you liked. I’m not off-base to assume it would be included in these blogs at this early stage. 

Client: (clearly not happy) Fine. Leave it with me, if this is how you want to work. I want to make this work but…


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Professionally unprofessional

Clients from Hell - 2 January 2021 - 3:00pm

I’d been working on a project for a week. The client had told me they needed it by the end of the month.

Client: Is it done yet? 

Me: No. 

Client: But it’s the deadline!

Me: What? You didn’t tell me that. You said it needed to be done by the end of the month.

Client: Yeah, but we have an internal policy to set aside two weeks for review before something goes live. 

Me: But I’m not internal.

Client: You should have researched our policies before you took this job. That’s what it means to be a professional. 

I came very close to being ACTUALLY unprofessional in that moment.

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Why you’ll never “GoPro.”

Clients from Hell - 2 January 2021 - 2:00pm

Client: When you’re editing the video, can you maybe have the camera spin around the host in slow-motion?

Me: We didn’t shoot that, so no.

Client: I thought that’s just something cameras could do now. Maybe if you use a GoPro? 

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First things first.

Clients from Hell - 1 January 2021 - 3:00pm

Client: Thanks for meeting with me! Before we get started, are you single? 

No, and then no – to whatever else they were going to say/want/ask. 

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Contract Woes

Clients from Hell - 1 January 2021 - 2:00pm
Client: Hi, can you please remove everything in the contract pertaining to your rights?  

Believe it or not, this is verbatim.


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Listen to the expert

Clients from Hell - 31 December 2020 - 4:00pm

This was a few years ago now, but I still can’t believe it happened.

Me: What do you think? 

Client: Hey, you’re the expert! That’s why I hired you! I think it’s important to listen to the experts. 

Me: Okay, great.

Client: But what if we made the text orange, and the background teal? Go for that “Michael Bay” thing. 

Me: That would be visually overwhelming. 

Client: I know you’re an expert, but so is Michael Bay. 

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