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Taboo Questions And Statements

Below are a few examples of taboo questions and statements. While you may not be trying to offend your designer, there are several questions and statements that can instantly add drama to a pleasant relationship.

Remember: you and the designer are working as part of the same team, and as part of the same team, neither of you should irrationally consider the other an enemy. While there should perhaps be a list of taboo statements a designer can accidentally make to a client, this is a list of things clients shouldn’t say to designers.

Asking the designer to come up with ideas, concepts, or finished work with only a potential for payment.

This is often worded like this: “Well, that all sounds good. Come up with a few concepts and if I like any of them, we can do business.”

Asking a designer to provide part of his service for free in exchange for only potential compensation is perhaps the most offensive request a designer encounters. It’s unfortunately very common, but is not how the design process works. A designer’s ideas, sketches, concepts, and finished work are his service, and even ideas have a price. If you say this to a designer, you may never hear from him ever again, because he’ll classify you as a problem client not worth messing with.

If you have not begun paying the designer for his service, do not expect anything beyond a written proposal of what he intends to do. No designer appreciates giving his ideas away for free or wasting his time for nothing.

Never, ever request the designer start working if you have not already gotten to the point where money has exchanged hands.

Expecting a designer to do any work without some sort of payment in advance.

Related to the above question, don’t request this. No designer likes to feel as if he’s being taken advantage of and giving away his services for free.

Asking for an estimate/quote before fully informing the designer about what you are wanting created.

This isn’t a major offense, it’s just an issue of getting the cart before the horse. A designer cannot quote you an estimate without being able to fairly estimate the amount of work involved. Depending on the amount of work, a direct mail postcard could take anywhere between 3 hours and 30 hours. The designer won’t know what you want until you tell him about your project. Without informing the designer completely, he cannot provide you a price.

Questioning charges on an invoice or questioning a designer’s hours.

Many designers work on projects at fixed prices rather than hourly charges. If you agree to a price, be prepared to pay that price whether the job took the designer half the time he expected or two times as long as he expected. The amount of time he spent on your project is unfortunately not any of your business.

If a designer is working for you at an hourly rate, the work done during each charge should be accounted for in detail on the invoices. If it is not, you have a right to request a detailed account of what was done during the hours you were charged. If the designer cannot provide you a detailed account, he is not running his business professionally and you may want to discontinue use of his service.

If there is an unexpected charge on your invoice or bill, first refer to the proposal and/or contract, and if still not explained, contact your designer with your concern. Accidental mistakes happen, especially when a single designer is also acting as his bookkeeper.

Resisting or refusing payment for work completed.

There may come a time when you don’t feel like paying a designer because you either don’t like what he made or the designer wasn’t able to get what you wanted designed by the time you wanted it. When a situation like this occurs, you need to refer to the contract with the designer. With most designers you are always liable for paying for the designer’s hours spent working on the project up to that point. Work cannot be unworked and the designer can never have that time back. Whether you have received a finished design or not, there are generally no refunds in the design service business, and you will have to compensate the designer according to his rules on the contract.


Do understand that constructive criticism that leads to a design you are happier with is completely welcomed and desired by a designer! However, sending an email back that simply says “I don’t like it” without anything constructive about what you don’t like and what you’d like better can ruin a client-designer relationship and develop instant animosity. Remember: your designer has toiled over your project for hours and even if you think his design stinks, he’s put his heart and soul into the work. Find something constructive to say that will lead to something you will like better.

Dread Requests (Vague Demands).

Similar to criticism, when you make a request, please make a constructive, detailed request. As a favor to your relationship with the designer, do not send one line emails that cause the designer to dread dealing with you. Dread requests are demands that are almost always very vague, and usually imply the client considers itself superior to the designer. The worst email of all is one that simply says “Call me.” If you want to be proper, be specific and don’t make a demand. “Can you call me sometime today before 1pm? I’d like to discuss some changes to the layout.” Remember: the designer isn’t an employee or child of yours; making demands isn’t going to do anything beneficial.

Asking for references or examples of their work.

Unless a designer is a complete fool, he will have an ample supply of examples of his work on his website. Self-employed designers usually create their websites to answer questions and address concerns that they do not want to address on an individual basis. When contacting a designer, you should have already qualified him as someone you’re interested in working with before making contact. You should already have the thought in your head that “this person’s work looks good to me and they seem reputable and smart, so I think I’ll contact them.”

Wanting to interview the designer at the first meeting.

This is inappropriate for the most part.

When you contact a self-employed designer, you are implying your intention to do business with him, and by showing up to the meeting, he has implied his interest in doing this business with you. The two of you are equals and potential business associates. You are not an employer interviewing a potential employee. You’ve already had the opportunity to qualify the designer as being up to your specifications. This meeting, while primarily a way for you to explain your project in person and meet who you’ll be doing business with, is secondarily an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you are someone the designer wants to do business with. You should be interested in doing business with the designer before requesting a meeting.

Wanting to have a meeting with the designer before briefly explaining the project.

While not offensive, it’s another cart before the horse issue. Always explain what the project is before trying to schedule a meeting with the designer. If the project doesn’t interest the designer or isn’t something he does, the two of you have both wasted your time.


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