phrases graphic designers hateOver the years we’ve heard a lot of things from potential clients and from those we’ve been able to put together a list of our top most frequent and hated phrases that we hear.

The following are 15 phrases graphic designers hate to hear. Statements like these are red flags for designers, not necessarily because they come from “bad” clients, but because they come from clients who are a bit misguided. If your client repeats any of these, tread carefully and make sure to explain and clarify the scenario. You’ll avoid a lot of hassle and broken business relationships if you communicate the issues beforehand.


1. I have a simple project. It shouldn’t take you very long.

You wouldn’t schedule a medical procedure and inform your surgeon it shouldn’t take him more than two hours, would you? Just like you wouldn’t tell your mechanic that your broken-down truck should only cost $100 to fix. Why? Because they are the experts; they are the ones who know what they are doing and can properly assess the situation. The same rule applies with design projects. This phrase is basically telling the designer you don’t want to spend the time or money to have your project done right.


2. The last designer I hired was horrible and won’t give me my files.

Sometimes things just don’t work out; we get that. But when you start a new design relationship with this phrase, it makes us wary. Was the previous designer really awful or was there a lack in communication ending in total project failure? Are they holding your files hostage out of spite or did you refuse to compensate them for their efforts? If you hate your last designer, we are left wondering if this is any indication of how our relationship with you is going to end.


3. Can you just… – or – I just need…

Not sure why, but it seems like adding the word “just” inevitably means “I want the best, I want it cheap, I want it now.” For example: “Can you just add a social networking blog?” or “can you just make my site like Ebay?” Sure we can; it JUST won’t be simple, it JUST won’t be cheap and it JUST won’t be quick.


4. I have a project that is a huge opportunity for you.

This phrase is usually uttered by starry-eyed clients with next to no budget. This client wholeheartedly believes their site will be wildly successful, and they want to give you the opportunity to share the fame (and maybe the fortune) when their inevitable success story unfolds. Unfortunately, this scenario rarely plays out, and most designers can’t pay their mortgage with your broken hopes and dreams.


5. Let me just ask my wife/kids/BFF what they think.

Really? We assume you’ve hired a professional design company because you want an expert with experience and a proven track record, but if your twelve-year-old daughter or your Friday night drinking buddy know better, who are we to stand in the way?


6. I need the design in Word so I can make changes myself.

There’s a good reason why designers use programs like Photoshop and InDesign – they are meant for design work! Microsoft Word is a great program for basic text formatting, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use it in a home or office environment. However, it is not a design program and asking a designer to use Word is like asking an engineer to build a bridge out of Legos.


7. My website was working, but…

We design a perfectly functioning website, you absolutely love it, so we go live and hand over admin access. Months go by without any issues – no phone calls, no questions – then out of the blue, “oh no! We’ve got problems!” Thinking you could save a few bucks, you decided to make your own updates. Now your site isn’t working, because you broke it. Instead of owning your mistake, you try to pin the blame on us so (fingers crossed) we’ll fix it for free. We wish you would have come to us first! We might have saved you from making this mistake. When you expect (and on occasion, demand) we fix something we did not break, that makes us grumpy, and a lot less eager to help you out.


8. This is easy. Why is it so expensive?

Ah, the phrase every good designer hears over and over. Good work is hard to find, and it usually can’t be sold to the lowest bidder. What good design does for your business has value, so does a designer’s time, their effort and their expertise. It would be great if we could help people for free, but that’s just not realistic.


9. My site just needs some minor updates.

We get clients like this all the time; they have an established website and want to change it for one reason or another. Sometimes they really do need some minor updates and it is an easy fix. However, this “simple fix” scenario rarely goes smoothly. It can be very challenging to work on a project you have had no part of, and this is especially true with website coding. With these clients, be careful of the words “revamped” or “tweaking” because more likely than not, the client will send you a link to their GeoCities-esque, homemade website circa 1994.


10. Create mock-ups for me and if I like your design, I’ll pick you.

With so much design competition on the internet, I can’t really blame clients for approaching a project in this way. There are tons of sites that will show you a bunch of options with no up-front costs and no obligation to buy. Make no mistake, those sites are not custom creating anything for you, you’re picking and choosing from an arsenal of stock templates and imagery and what you end up with will be incredibly generic. This is not how good designers work. They can’t afford to custom tailor a dozen designs at no charge in hopes of you buying one in the end.


11.  I want a simple, clean design like Apple, but…

All good clients have an idea in mind as to how they want their website to look. Designers appreciate background information and a clear direction before starting a project and referencing popular sites is an easy way for a client to communicate what they want. However, the project direction quickly derails when a client asks for one thing, and then picks away at it until the vision is all but lost. Using Apple as a reference for a clean, simple site makes sense, but when a client presents overly busy photographs, decorative fonts and asks for a “bolder” background, that’s not Apple, now is it…


12. Make the design match my logo that I made in Word.

Creating a strong and recognizable brand is important, and designers always want to keep brand assets looking cohesive. This can quickly go wrong if a client is steadfast in keeping a terrible logo as their foundation. It never fails to amaze me when clients are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for a new website, brochures, stationery, packaging, etc. but are not willing to update their company logo. Do yourself a favor; spend the little extra money and build yourself a better brand starting with your logo.


13. You’re creative, you figure it out

This phrase may not be as common as some of the others on this list, but it is a doozy! Us designers are creative. We can come up with some pretty amazing things for our clients but we are not magicians. If you give us a pixelated web-based logo, we won’t be able to use it on a ten foot banner. If you don’t have a company bio and employee photos for your About Page, don’t expect us to make them up. If you have a unique product, that has to be seen in action, we can’t use stock photographs and photoshop something together – spend the money for good product photography!


14. I paid another designer $5000 for my site and I have nothing to show for it and I blew my budget. Can you help?

This is always a tragic scenario; clients who have been raked over the coals, because they went with the lowest estimate and got a lackluster designer. The initial bid was really low, especially compared to other designers, then the project gets started and the expense starts climbing. Before the client knows it, they’ve spent a lot more money than they had anticipated and their site still isn’t up and running. Fed up, they call a designer they had contact with before ultimately choosing someone else, hoping for a life raft. The conversation usually goes something like this: “I spoke to you about three months ago when I was looking for a web designer. I went with a different company, I spent an exorbitant amount of money, and they never finished my site. You were so helpful when we spoke last, can you help me out for next to nothing?” We have heard from clients like this on several occasions, and it really is sad, but we didn’t screw you over. I would still love to be your designer, but I won’t give you a 95% discount because someone else took all your money.


15. I want my site to look and function exactly like…

Websites, especially successful ones, can generate a lot of income. However, asking for a site “exactly like Craigslist” or “just like Instagram” doesn’t work. Why? Because those sites already exist and everyone is already using them. In order for sites like these to become popular, you have to be offering something the others don’t have and you have to build the infrastructure ahead of time. There is a lot of time and money involved just getting this type of project started, which many clients don’t realize beforehand.


Successful graphic and web designers are the ones who take the time to work with their clients, or at least figure out how to work around their crazy demands. Often clients understand the value of our work (which is why they’ve come to us for help) but they don’t understand the knowledge, skills and process involved in design.

Author: Chris London is the art director for Pixel Productions Inc., a strategic graphic and web design company where his focus is to continually find creative and innovative strategies to implement with businesses who need brand design and marketing with impact.