December 14, 2009

Freelancers From Hell

Recently, a Tumblelog called Clients From Hell popped up. It is a collection of stories about clients clueless about web design. At first, I enjoyed reading the stories. After all, anyone who ever worked with a client has heard "I can't pay you, but it will look good on your resume." However, the more I read the daily posts, the more I started to realize that freelancers are probably a pain. From the clients perspective, some of these freelancers are dead wrong.

Biased Stories

Take a look at the following story:

Your designs are too pretty, too beautiful looking. I need them to look more like I designed them. For example, instead of using a green box to highlight a chunk of copy, instead I would put green trees all over the page. You should try and be more creative like me and stop trying to make everything look so good all the time.

I would imagine that this is what the freelancer heard, not what the client actually said. After all, who would say a design is "too beautiful looking"?

I imagine the conversation went more like this:

Your designs are beautiful, but I need them more like I designed them. For example, instead of using a green box to highlight a chunk of copy, instead I would use these green trees. You should try and be more creative like me, rather than just going for something that looks good.

This isn't to say the designer is bad— he or she might be great. But either way, the design he produced wasn't what the person paying for it wanted. People want to get what they paid for— and it is evident that the designer ignored the clients initial suggestions.

Which brings us to our next point…

Clients Know Their Audience

Sure, freelancers may know "Web 2.0" inside and out. They may be able to make a beautiful, standards compliant website that would impress even the best of web designers. But the client undoubtedly knows their audience better. If the client thinks that their users would rather green trees, he is probably right. Maybe not from a design standpoint, however the client is closer to their own clients.

For example:

I m not a Graphic Designer but I redesiged your brochure in MS Publisher. This is kind of how I d like it to look

Do I find MS Publisher brochures attractive? Not at all. However, it is likely that this clients audience consists of other people who use MS Publisher. There's no reason to scoff at a client requesting Word— why shouldn't they be able to edit the documents they're paying for? I once had to redo my resume in Word once, and was pleasantly surprised at how similar it was to my InDesign version- and you didn't need a degree in graphic design to edit it.

Lack of Work

These stories are anonymous, so it is hard for submitters to upload work. But wouldn't it be nice to see the work in question? What if the designer created something truly horrid?

I have met a lot of people who complained about clients not appreciating their work, when their work was simply bad. We have no context.

Back to the story about the trees. What if the site was about nature, and the trees were tasteful vector images that subtly highlighted the message? Maybe the client wanted to get away from a plain green box- after all, very few sites can pull of a square, solid green box. Feel free to attempt to prove me wrong.

Car Mechanic Problem

Car Mechanics have a reputation for overcharging. When something breaks on my car, I know my uneducated "estimate" is always much lower than the actual cost. I have a superficial understanding of cars— there are a ton of factors I overlook. Are there a few mechanics out there that overcharge? Of course. However, overall, I would argue that normal people merely don't have a proper understanding of what repairs entail.

Customer: Our budget is $4,000 but it is not so complex what we want. Have you used Outlook?
Me: Yes
Customer: We want exactly that functionality in our site plus some other stuff.

Many of the posts on Clients From Hell are about lowballing clients. If a client offers you $100 and gives you two days, it isn't because they are insulting. They have no frame of reference, and they value the benefits of a website at $100 and two days of work. Do your best to make your case, but remember they aren't trying to screw you over— they just don't know any better.

For the few that involve the freelancer getting screwed— well, that's the freelancers fault. The client was wrong, but so was the freelancer.

We know your photos have been on our website for six months, but we re only going to pay you 1/4 of your invoice because we don t think the quality is there.

Get a contract, and get money up front.


My biggest problem is the name— Clients From Hell. I get it— clients like Comic Sans, ugly colors and Microsoft Word. But does this mean we should vilify them? We are dealing with people who don't know our trade— much like how we don't know theirs.

Wouldn't it be less bitter if the site was instead called "Clients Say The Darndest Things"?

There are two sides to each story. While these stories make for a good (despite repetitive) read, it would be fun to hear clients talk about their horrible hires.

Freelancers From Hell, anyone?

About Gregory Koberger

I'm a freelance developer and designer, formerly of Mozilla. I talk a lot about web development, technology and user experience — sometimes on my blog but mostly on Twitter.

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