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Top Designer Nightmares and How to Avoid Them

Creative Market April 9, 2024 · 8 min read

Most of the time, a designer’s life is a ton of fun. Hey, you get to be creative for a living, and if you work from home, you get to go to the office in your slippers and PJ pants. What could be better? However, it’s like any job. Sometimes you’ll have a great day. Your clients will sing your praises and your work will be unsurpassable. Other times, you’ll want to bash your head against the nearest solid surface. Which is often your computer. Oops! It’s those nightmare moments I want to talk about now… and how to avoid them.

Top 7 Designer Nightmares

Every so often when you’re working, something can go wrong. This could be just a minor issue, and nothing to get too worked up about. Yet on occasion, it can be a nightmare of Freddie Krueger-like proportions. Here’s our (least) favorite designer’s nightmares, and how to make sure you steer clear of them.

1. The Indecisive Client


We’re all familiar with clients who aren’t quite sure what they’re after. They’ve got a vague concept in mind, but that’s about as far as it goes. They’re often quite fond of using expressions like ‘it needs more…energy’ or ‘I’d like it to look punchier’. These clients can drive you to the nearest mental asylum faster than any other. Thirty-three edits later, and you might have just about nailed it for them, but you’ll be an emotional husk of your former self afterwards. Make your life a lot easier and establish exactly what they want, right from the beginning. Don’t do any major work until you’re absolutely sure.

2. The Endless Cycle of Approval


Not many nightmare scenarios can compete with the seemingly endless cycles of approval. You know how it goes. Your client loves the ideas you’ve suggested. He’s completely made up with the concept and thinks it totally reflects his brand. But wait. Before you can start, he’ll need to run it by his manager. That’s fine of course. Until you find out that there’s another manager above that one, and a further manager beyond there. And of course, that final manager? She’s in the Bahamas at the moment, so you’ll have to wait until she’s back. This is a difficult one to avoid entirely – but one way you can better prepare yourself is to find out right from the start who has the power. Before you begin, ask who the main decision-maker is. This will give you a good idea of what you’re up against, enabling you to factor the extra time spent waiting for approval into the project.

3. The Dreaded Blank Screen


Inspiration is always a wonderful thing in design. You know the feeling when the perfect concept comes to mind. You rush to your computer and voilà, the most delightful designs appear by magic on the screen. We all love those days. Equally, we hate the days when the reverse happens: when you sit in front of the monitor, chewing your pencil and thinking about… well, nothing, really! Lack of inspiration is a crippling thing in design, but there are things you can do to help yourself. Instead of staring blankly at the screen, get up. Walk around. Talk to people. If necessary, go outside to clear your head. Then try to come back to it with fresh eyes. Nine times out of ten, a simple change of scenery can seriously help.

4. The ‘Ideas’ Client


It’s always a joy to work with enthusiastic people. However, there’s a world of difference between natural excitement and living in a world of complete fantasy. Many clients believe they’ve discovered the ‘next big thing’ and have design concepts to match their grandiose visions. They often demand too much in too little time, generate new specifications, and change requests at lightning speed. Trying to tether their dreams down to a tangible reality can be a real headache. When faced with this type of client, if possible, arrange to meet face-to-face before starting. This can really help your client to focus on what you’re telling them. Emails are too easy to ignore, and phone calls make it simple to get distracted! Next, create a firm outline of your design ideas in writing, detailing what you envisage as an achievable design concept. If they don’t like it, then it’s probably best that they take their imaginative ideas to the next designer.

5. Dealing with Another Developer’s (Bad) Work


Seeing your artwork sloppily coded and horribly laid out with all the important details missing can be a truly nightmarish situation. This can be twice as stressful if you’re working with a team that doesn’t share your passion, and delivers poor results that adversely affect your own work. Remember, you have to carefully choose the development team who will eventually bring your design ideas to life. If things don’t feel right and you’re worried that it will reflect badly on your own work, it’s time to get proactive for the sake of your career. Be firm with your client if they’re expecting too much from you. Likewise, voice your frustrations with your team (as politely as you can, of course). Don’t take these situations lying down.

6. The Outdated Client


Most clients, thankfully, are pretty up-to-date with modern web design. However, occasionally one will emerge who is completely clueless; and often, these are the ones who have a lot of very firm ideas as to how things should be done. They’re inevitably the ones who ask you to add ticker-tape to the site, put up little animations, and who like to send you minute blurry image files, then ask you to blow them up to 1000 x 500 pixels. Yikes. Be firm with them. This may be their design project, but it’s your good reputation on the line, and you want to preserve it. If they request something shockingly outdated or downright awful, gently explain to them why that won’t help them in the long-run, and offer a viable alternative. As long as you’re not confrontational in your approach, most clients will be receptive to your ideas.

7. The Know-It-All Client


Finally, the know-it-all client. This is the person who has come to you, presumably because of your expertise, who simply refuses to acknowledge that you might actually know better than they do. These are the clients who like to question every suggestion you make, who contradict every notion, and who inevitably frown over every mock-up you send over. Oh yes, and they probably have a qualification in web design which exceeds your own. Of course. Dealing with these types of clients is invariably frustrating. However, it’s important not to let your annoyance show. Allow them to air their opinions, then calmly explain why your way might be the preferred option. On occasion, allow them to have their own way, as this will help to reassure them that they’re in control, which surely matters a lot to this type of customer! If things get too heated, ask a fellow colleague to intervene every so often, just to give you a break.

Tell Us Your Stories

Have you experienced any nightmare clients or situations recently? If so, we’d love to hear about them, so we can commiserate, sympathize, and possibly laugh a little too!

Lana Lozovaya is the content strategist and social media manager at PSD2HTML®, the leading PSD to HTML and web development company.

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