Nightmare Client Story – Don’t Ignore the Red Flags

I always find these posts entertaining so I figured I’d share my own.

I’m a UI/UX Designer with 10 years of experience. I’ve done a handful of freelance jobs focusing mainly on full-time roles over my ten years of designing.

I reached out to an app owner for a “sports data” app I thought had great potential but a horrible design. I asked if he was looking for a designer and he responded yes so we scheduled a meeting.

Our first meeting went well but he had the most obvious red flag which was asking me to do spec work to “see if he liked my style.” I pointed him to my portfolio for work samples but he wasn’t really interested since his app was different from my previous work examples. He didn’t want to pay for my time upfront which I honestly should have said no to but personally, the project was so different from what I do in my full-time role I accepted.

After submitting a screen design of the app in my style he said, “cool let’s work together.” And asked what my prices were. He was completely against hourly billing (of course) and wanted fixed rates. I quoted him 3 different fixed-rate packages with revision numbers etc. He said it was too expensive (of course) and I discounted them a bit because I was really excited about working on this app.

Once we agreed on one of the packages I sent over a contract to protect myself. Stating half payment now half payment later. Oddly he never signed the contract but sent me the entire payment upfront. Odd because the contract could protect him to some degree as well.

Countless hours were spent trying to land on designs that he liked. I tried out so many different color palettes (ones he said he liked), variations of different UI components, and different ways to do navigation, but every single time it was either shot down immediately or after he said he liked it, a few days later, he’d say, “I changed my mind I don’t really like it anymore.”

I would include descriptions each time I submitted a new screen design explaining my choices in an attempt to show him that UI/UX design is largely based on design principles and not just opinion. His responses to my screen design largely clued me in that he wasn’t reading any of my descriptions, regularly questioning things I had answered in my post. He regularly asked me to try semi-ridiculous things like, “putting the graph in a gameboy screen.” I still don’t know what that one meant.

I gave him tons of resources to discover or create color palettes. I supplied him with my own mood boards. This was done in the beginning but also after countless rejected designs I created. I supplied him with at least 10 links to mood board/app inspiration sites to find some kind of styles he liked. These were largely ignored at first. Finally, I put my foot down while on a call and asked him to open the links and show me what he liked. It was funny because he kept saying how he’s “not good at this, it isn’t my bread and butter” and would close out of the tab only to immediately reopen it because he knew I needed some direction. He said, “I can’t tell you what exactly I like but I know when I see it.” To which I replied, “great, then this exercise is perfect, show me what you like when you see it.” This was extremely challenging for him. Mind you our conversation was about finding a style of tabs he liked.

I designed my artboards in a separate Figma file and at his request dropped it in his team’s Figma file when I completed it. I would regularly see him and his team’s cursors swarming around my design picking it apart and absolutely destroying it. At one point he even told me “we’re done. lmk what you think.” And the design looked like a bomb went off. I told him how there was no hierarchy, the color palette was using 6 different shades of grey, and all of the layers were messed up. I quoted the time and price it would cost for me to fix the design hoping he’d learn that this wasn’t an effective use of anyone’s time.

Overall, he was a client that had absolutely no idea what he wanted, and any attempt to show him styles either through my own designs or others, left things even more ambiguous. Every design was shown to his team so it became ‘design by committee.’ I finally decided to try to piece out the components of the UI to design them individually, hoping this would speed up the process, his response was that he was concerned that “What if after I approve the components and you put them back on the screen together what if I don’t like the way it looks.”

I’ve finally called it quits and told him we should part ways amicably after his team did essentially the same thing I listed above, picking apart and completely redesigning my mockups with no input on my part.

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