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15 Design Sins No Client Should Ever Make Us Commit

Kevin Whipps March 31, 2021 · 9 min read

Working with clients can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, you’ve got the awesome ones that know what they want and are willing to work with your creative vision. On the other are the ones that have no idea what they want (but they’ll know it when they see it) and demand you compromise your integrity to make that happen. Know what happens when you do that? Nothing good, friends. Nothing good.
Which is why today we’re going to talk about design sins. Specifically, the ones that those clients insist we do to realize their “vision,” but go against every fiber of our being. Sounds like fun, right? Oh, it will be.

Too many fonts

Ever seen a design where it looks like someone couldn’t make up their mind about fonts? You know the ones I’m talking about. They’ve got every font they could find for free on the page, and the results are so disjointed and awful that even though you’re positive the design will end up on someone’s Pinterest page, it’s just a horrific disaster. How do these things happen?
Sure, sometimes it’s just a rookie designer, or someone that’s learning how to design their first website. But many times it’s also because of the whims of a design client that wants things their way or else. And when I find out that was the case, I wish the designer the best of luck, and silently curse the client into a world where no colors match and they’re constantly on fire.

Using low-res images

Whether you work in print or on the web, there’s a big difference between the kinds of images that you can work with. But if you want a rule that works in all mediums, it’s pretty simple: you can never have to high a resolution on an image.
Now you might be thinking, “But Kevin, I can’t publish a 600DPI, 3600X3600 image in my blog post,” and I’d respond, “Yes, you’re correct.” But here’s the thing: resizing images down is easy. Going up? Not so much.
And with the advent of fancy 4K displays, iPads, and everything else that we view content on or in, it makes sense to start with a high-resolution image, instead of some bad shot that someone pulled from Google Images. And when a client asks you to work with something like that, I achieve a level of frustration that’s usually reserved for trips to the DMV or people that drive 20mph under the speed limit.

Overusing stock photography

We’ve all found ourselves in a situation where we need a photo for a page, and we just don’t have the unique images we want. So we dive into the world of stock photos, sometimes finding something amazing, and other times … not so much. That’s how you end up with a document or website that looks more generic than a box of Honey Flavored O Shapes cereal.
But we all know why these decisions are made. Usually it comes down to money: either the client has it, they don’t, or — and this is the biggie — they have it, but don’t think you or the project deserve it. Then they yell at you for the site/magazine/doc looking like crap, like you were somehow the person pulling the purse strings. For these clients, I wish them to a death that involves nothing but boring board meetings with culturally appropriate members, just like the ones you see on every stock photography site that references “business” in any way.
Besides, there’s stock photography and good stock photography. It’s pretty easy to spot the difference.

Using ALL the social icons

How many social media sites do you belong to? I personally have logins at most major ones, but when it comes to the apps that I visit regularly, it’s usually just a handful at best. But do we need to reference every single social media network out there when I design a site? No. But some clients think we should.
This client wants all the icons. They want one for Dribbble, even though their site has nothing to do with design. They want WhatsApp because that’s what they think the cool kids are using. And, of course, they want one for the App Store, even though they don’t actually have an app. And why? To fill up the nav bar? Because they want to seem edgy? Because they have a constant need for affirmation?
I’m guessing that last one.

Bad copy

This is a sensitive topic for me. After all, I am both a copywriter and a writer, and believe me, there’s a difference. I could write a whole paragraph about the garbage that clients send me about copy. In fact, I think I will.
Look, I know my audience here is a group of designers, but the fact remains that copy and design go hand in hand. Without good content, a design can fall flat, and vice-versa. So having a client that pushes copy on you that they wrote because “I was always told I was a good writer in high school,” deserve to be pushed off a cliff. A very tall one. With spikes at the bottom. Or whatever you’d call what happened to Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones a season or two ago. That’d be perfect.

Minuscule/Hard to read text

There’s this one website I go to on a regular basis that uses what seems to be the tiniest font height possible, and does so in a color that doesn’t contrast heavily with the background. It’s difficult to read as a result, but because I love the content so much, I suffer through it. Needless to say, I’m an outlier.
Clients do this one a lot. They don’t think about people that might need a larger font size for vision purposes, or that their sense of design doesn’t match the world’s. It’s incredibly frustrating, and when someone asks me to go that direction, I want to push them off a bridge. Is that too violent? Nope. At least that’s what I tell myself while I’m pushing.

Too much stuff

Back when I was the editor of a magazine, I had a publisher once ask me what all that “blank space” was on a page.
“It’s whitespace,” I responded.
“Fill it up with something. Looks weird.”
Now the argument can always be made that there can be too much whitespace, but more often that’s just not the case. And if there’s little to no whitespace at all, then you’ve got a cluttered layout. And that sucks.
Cluttered layouts look horrible, whether you’re doing print or the web, and it’s usually the client’s fault. They feel like they’re paying for X amount of space, and all of it should be filled up with something, design standards be damned.

Nonsensical UX/Navigation

UX is a big deal, and as someone that regularly works with UX designers, I can tell you that they take their job seriously. They don’t want to just jam a bunch of pages into their nav bars just because; they want things to be easy and straightforward for the user. But clients don’t care, they just want their product on the page. Ugh.
This leads to crappy web pages, of course, with lots of nonsensical pages that seem to lead nowhere. Is it frustrating? Yes — for everyone except the client.

Splitting your content into multiple pages with no need

I’ve got this site that I visit regularly that pushes for ads more than common sense. They’ll take an article that should be one page, and stretch it out to two or three via vamping and rambling content. Why? Pageviews, obviously, which may deliver more ads, but also gives the user a poor experience. Somewhere, there’s a boss/client demanding they make more money, and the only way to do it is to commit a horrible design sin. But oh well, it’s money, right?

Ignoring mobile

I bet you’re reading this on your phone right now, aren’t you? Yeah, probably, and that’s why mobile is such a huge force on the web. If you’re not designing a website to work with mobile by using a responsive design, you’re out of date — or, you have a client that thinks they can save some cash.
To intentionally hamper your audience and their ability to interact with your site because you want to save a few bucks is spectacularly dumb. And yet, it happens. A lot.

Using outdated or awkward tech

Steve Jobs famously didn’t put Adobe Flash on the original iPhone, and it’s been dying a slow death ever since. And yet, some clients still want you to use the outdated technology, as well as a bunch of other garbage that they think will either save them money, or grab attention. Spoiler: it doesn’t. In fact, it just turns viewers off, and they navigate away from the site.

Ignoring everything below the fold

There’s this obsession that some web clients have with making sure that all of their “good” content sits above the fold — that area where a viewer has to start scrolling. This obsession is not always valid: people will look at the rest of the page if there’s something they want to see there. It’s not like you can just have an empty page and pray to the SEO gods that it’ll rank. That’s not how it works.

Overdoing it on graphics and effects

When I was in my 20s, I designed a page for my parent’s office that had a header bar with their logo inside. Since they used orange and black as their colors, I spent a good hour in Photoshop trying to mix the two shades using every gradient and filter I could imagine. The result is a mess, but it worked for a time, I guess.
My parents are not horrible clients. But the ones that are force you to overdo the graphics to a level that would make anyone a bit nauseated. Sometimes it’s best to keep things plain and simple. In fact, that’s often the case.

Poor color usage

Picking up on that last point, let’s talk about colors in general. I had a boss once that swore he was a color expert. The suggestions he’d make for accent shades in the magazine were scary bad, to the point that I started trying to avoid his opinion completely. Did it work? Well, kinda, but with varying results. Some months sucked, that’s for sure.

Papyrus/Comic Sans

If a client asks you to do this, just quit. It’s not worth the hit to your sanity.

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About the Author
Kevin Whipps

Hi! My name is Kevin Whipps, and I'm a writer and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. When I'm not working taking pictures of old cars and trucks, I'm either writing articles for Creative Market or hawking stickers at Whipps Sticker Co.

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