10 Designers On Wild Things Clients Say

What are some of the crazy things clients say to you? Everyone has a few tales of bizarre interactions with people at some point in their lives, but few vocations seem to welcome them like graphic design. In large part, the subjective nature of our business means that an organic process, fueled by solid dialogue, is the only means to an end.

Needing to talk to our clients and often communicate in an in depth way about abstract concepts and emotion-triggering images and colors can lead to some enlightening conversations. 99% of the time, this is for the best (with the occasional bump in the road.)

I developed a thick skin where visual criticism is concerned long, long ago, but nothing can prepare you when a client starts holding up your comp and acting out in detail how they imagine it dripping with vampire blood, as they position themselves below it as if to swallow any wayward drops. (This happened to me once while presenting very regal invitation designs for a massive charity fundraiser event, solely spurred on by variations in the color red and rampant vampire fever.)

The result might be that some minor change needs to be made, and you can never quite look at that person the same again, or it might require a more drastic adjustment. Luckily, one thing we designers are good at is thinking fast on our feet.

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However, on occasion, things can take a turn for the bizarre, and a client who you felt like you had a good read on can utter some of the oddest things you could possibly imagine, and mean them with all of their heart, about YOUR work. Asking a number of top creatives to share their thoughts on odd things clients say,  I was filled with giggles and delight and also left shaking my head at times. The fun part was that I’ve been there before, but not “there” before. (Thanks to everyone that shared their experiences.)

For any clients currently shaking in their boots concerned about truly inappropriate behavior being exposed; don’t worry. While I can’t say the same is true for all mammals, we’ve kept things PG for the humans. That still leaves a few jaw-droppers though. And remember the next time you’re sitting across from the conference table scratching your head at what has just been directed toward you, you’re far from alone.

1. Robynne Raye: A Mother of a Meeting

Robynne Raye, co-founder of Modern Dog along with Mike Strassburger, shares that early learning experience that none of us are ever prepared for, especially when the client reminds us of our mom:

A long, long time ago (circa 1989) I remember a client bringing her mother in on a project we were doing that the client didn’t think we were doing our best work on. She said, ‘You kids are real cute, but you have no idea what you’re doing,’ while shaking her finger at us. They both continued on like that for another 20 minutes or more, thinking that the $250 they were paying us was too much.

Maybe it’s not the craziest thing a client has ever said, but it was certainly disrespectful. Looking back, I wish we had asked them both to leave. But they both reminded us of our moms, and we didn’t have the heart to do it.

2. Kim Berlin: Doing a Good Job

Kim Berlin, senior vice president/creative director at Sterling Brands, reminds us that you might just do too good of a job. And you also have to be careful what you wish for:

‘I only wish the flame was real and the entire logo would burn up’ was some of the feedback conveyed when they were redesigning a well-known identity. 

3. Stefan Bucher: Paint it Black

Stefan Bucher knows a teaching moment when he sees one, even if it is teaching himself something:

A Nü Metal band once actually asked me — non-ironically — if we could make the black, blacker. But they were right! They picked up on K vs CMYK, and we were, in fact, able to make the black, blacker, so… joke’s on me. They did also ask for more spiders.

Stefan Bucher is the tall man behind 344 Design and the Daily Monster.


4. Kara Eganhouse: It’s a Zoo, No Literally

Photo from Shutterstock

Kara Eganhouse, designer in the development department of The San Diego Zoo, is all too happy to tell us about life working with somewhat uncooperative photo subjects and the joys that can bring:

One of the first projects I worked on at the zoo was a series of banners to go up to thank a donor for one of the zoo’s largest gifts. I was instructed to use a photo of the donor with a cheetah and its dog friend. (The cheetah and dog are raised together and are good buddies.) Anyway, I designed the banner, and it went through the litany of approvals.

The morning the banners are to go up, I arrive in the office only to see a series of frantic emails and voicemails from a couple of our development staff who picked up the banners from our sign shop. ‘The dog’s penis looks HUGE! You should have Photoshopped it out! We’re going to have to do a reprint.’

Ever since then, I’ve made sure to thoroughly assess the size of the animals genitalia before sending to print. CREEPY.


5. Eganhouse:  More Zoo-isms

You know what? Eganhouse could have filled up this article all on her own, so she gets one more entry to share some highlights. Somehow I knew the in-house positions might turn out the craziest results when I posed the question, but Kara far exceeded my expectations as far as what I would hear back.

Photo from Shutterstock

Here are some of her favorites:

The polar bear in the background looks like it’s pooping! You’re going to have to get another photo ASAP.

Can you find a happier looking baboon?


Can you find a nicer looking hyena?

The alala (bird) mouth looks like it has blood on it, can you Photoshop that out? (Which is silly because their mouths ARE red.)

And her all-time fave:

This guizhou snub nosed monkey reminds me of Michael Jackson, can you find a different one?


6. Don Clark: Payment

Don Clark is one half of the team of brothers that helms Invisible Creature. He taps into the anxiety all small businesses feel when it comes to getting paid. Even the biggest design firm is sensitive to cash flow, and we often consign those conversations to the sideline when presenting work, but that is not to say that we are not listening closely. Sometimes it can be an alarming phrasing that sets a designer’s head spinning.

Such was the case when these words were uttered and Don started wondering whether his great grandchildren would be alive to receive payment:

Our payment schedule is on NET 90 terms — is that OK?


7. Gary Taxali: More on Payment

Gary Taxali is one of my favorite illustrators and a man of pure genius. He reveals that those business conversations don’t always end so badly though:

The craziest thing was (and I’m paraphrasing) from an ad agency creative director who told me: ‘I’m really sorry but we accidentally overpaid you by $2,000. Sorry about that!’ My reply: ‘Apology accepted.


8. Brian Collins: Pitching and Winning

Brian Collins is one of the sharpest minds in design and advertising and is the Chief Creative Officer at the COLLINS agency. He knows a thing or two about conducting a pitch and chasing big name clients.

Still, we have all been on the end of what feels like an impossible pursuit, with barriers being dropped in front of us at every turn, to the point that the very last thing that we expect to hear is:

We’d like to hire you.


9. Martin Venezky: A Pleasant Surprise

Martin Venezky, the main man behind Appetite Engineers, knows that once we have that dream job, the climb is far from over. Showing up with a challenging first round presentation means that we steel ourselves for an intense debate and often a full re-working after we have stretched the client’s perception of what is possible.

Sometimes we take the approach to steer them into a happy middle ground, hoping for the best compromise. But the great thing about clients is that they too are often full of surprises:

We were showing design options for a book, moving from very spare and minimal to the very dense, assuming that the client would end up somewhere in the middle. But instead, the client said ‘We like it all….let’s do it all!’ Now THAT was crazy. But we did it and it worked!


10. Art Chantry: The Ultimate Response

Art Chantry is, well, the legendary Art Chantry. He has tackled work from all areas of the business, from underground theaters to global monoliths, but there is a single phrase that has been sent back his way after presenting work only once. It is the one we all long to hear in that first round, but know we rarely will:

It’s perfect.

international competition 2014


2 thoughts on “10 Designers On Wild Things Clients Say

  1. MerryT

    Late to this party, but my favorite “wild thing” that a client ever said to me occurred when I was working in the publications office of a large university in the southeastern U.S. The client, who had received a grant to fund her project, had been problematic throughout the design process, requesting – among other things – a “protocol” so that she would understand who was responsible for providing what information or services and when. This despite the fact that we’d provided a production schedule and our office was well-regarded throughout the university plus had won numerous awards for our work. As the project moved forward, the client seemed increasingly unhappy with the work we were doing, despite our best efforts to accommodate the project’s requirements and her suggestions / feedback / demands. Ultimately, at the conclusion of an extremely awkward meeting, she summed up her doubts and displeasure by saying, “I don’t know. I’m just not happy with any of the work you’ve done. I think it’s best if I just take this to an outside agency and have the work done by professionals.” Ouch. By that point, we were delighted to be shed of her and – since our in-house office didn’t charge for its design, writing, and editing services – felt like she would be far happier paying the going rate for “professionals” to create her publications. I hope they charged by the hour…. 😉