Stressed out: Managing demands from unreasonable clients in graphic design

This post explains how to manage those demands, setting boundaries and establishing clear communication strategies to keep the client's project on track.
June 2023 · 4 mins read

by Roman Kamushken

When clients make unreasonable requests or change their minds, it can be difficult to maintain the quality of the design and the relationship with the client. Discover tips for navigating these situations and delivering the best possible results.
Graphic designers often face challenges when working with clients who don't understand the design process. They have to deal with constant changes, last-minute requests, and unreasonable expectations which can lead to frustration, stress, and burnout.

These challenges are even more pronounced when working with difficult clients who don't value the designer's expertise and are never satisfied with the end product.

Such requests may cause an increase in the stress levels of designers and can negatively affect the outcome of a project and the designer's satisfaction with their work.

Let's dive into the most cursed phrases that designers dread to hear from their clients:
«Can you change the font?»
A client may request that the font used in a design be changed to a different font. If the client isn't happy with the initial font choices, the designer can show them how the current fonts accentuate the design best.

Try to reply back here, like: "I understand that you're not happy with the current font choices. Let's try out a few other options. Here are two fonts that might work better. What do you think?"

Tip: Instead of getting upset about the request, explain your reasoning for choosing the particular font in the first place. Offer to try out a different font, and show the client both design options slide by slide to see which works best.
«You got done with this quickly, can we add something else?»
Clients often underestimate the time and effort it takes to create a design. They may ask for additional changes or additions to the project, even if the designer has submitted their final piece.

You may respond like this: "Adding in this feature will require an additional few days. We are happy to accommodate the request, but this will impact the delivery date. We'll also need to adjust the budget for the additional work. What do you feel about this?"

Tip: Explain to the client that adding additional elements may significantly delay the completion of the project, and if they still want to proceed with the changes, discuss additional costs or timeline extensions.
«Can we change this landscape into a portrait configuration?»
Changing the orientation of a design may seem like a minor change, but it can have a significant impact on the design. It can sometimes result in stretching elements to fit the new dimensions – for sure it takes additional time.

Explain the situation in a way: "If we alter the current design, we will need to adjust the composition, spacing, and layout elements to account for the new orientation. If these adjustments are acceptable, we can proceed with the changes"

Tip: Try to anticipate any changes to the design that might come up later in the project and take necessary steps to accommodate them in the initial design phase.
«Sorry, this will need to be rush, and overtime isn't approved.»
A client may request a rush job with an unexpected deadline. The designer can communicate that this timeline may be difficult to meet within the given circumstances and could incur additional costs.

The best answer is: "We understand that this is an urgent requirement, but accommodating it will require us to work some overtime and possibly bring in additional resources. We will need to charge additional fees to cover the cost of bringing in extra resources."

Tip: Be transparent about the time limitations and suggest alternative solutions. Include contingencies in your timeline to accommodate unexpected changes in project requirements. Describe any additional time or expenses that may arise and that need to be acknowledged by the client in advance.
«Sorry, we will need to undo the changes and use the older concept/design.»
In case the client requests changes to the completed design, try to get a clear understanding of why the older design is being favoured. Identify why this is the case and how to incorporate the newly learned information into the original design within minimal efforts.

Dig for details by answering: "If you prefer the previous design, that's perfectly okay. Can you elaborate on why? Let's merge the best of both designs into a new composition."

Tip: Discuss the reasons behind the change and see if there is a way to salvage any elements of the new design to incorporate into the previous design. Implement changes while remaining flexible. Educate the client on the importance of adhering to agreed-upon designs and project scope.
«Can you tell the printer to stop because we have more changes to make?»
Making last-minute changes after printing can be costly and time-consuming for everyone involved. The designer can have the client sign off for approval before submitting anything to the printer.

You should elaborate clearly: "Before we send this for printing, I'd like for you to review and approve it carefully. Once we have your sign-off, it will be locked. Any changes after that will require new proofs and additional costs."

Tip: Emphasize the importance of approving designs before printing to avoid additional expenses and delays. Make sure that the client has thoroughly reviewed all design elements carefully. Set a final review stage to avoid any last-minute changes that may impact the design.
«We will need to get additional approval before we can finalize this (of course, the deadline isn't changing)»
A client may need to obtain approval from higher stakeholders before finalizing a design. As this request can put pressure on the designer and delay the project's completion, you can communicate the timelines clearly and mark the deadline.

The strategy here could be like: "It makes sense to loop in other stakeholders for this type of decision. Can you provide the decision-maker or email contact so that we can start the process? I'd also appreciate if we could get feedback or approval back by x date so that we can ensure that we can meet the deadline."

Tip: Discuss realistic timelines and try to get client approvals as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary delays. Get clarity on the approval process, who needs to be involved, and what date approvals are required to make the timeline work.
«How's it going? Is it done yet?»
Clients may not fully understand how much work goes into the design process and rush designers, causing unnecessary stress, and pressure. This may happen by keeping the client uninformed at any stage of the project.

"We are currently on track to meet the deadline. We have completed phase one of the project, and we are currently moving on to phase two. Would you like to schedule a meeting to review the progress?"

Tip: Set a clear timeline for all deliverables, with clear checkpoints for when they will be accomplished, and set a precedent for deliverables. Let clients know of the consequences of requesting work done faster. Provide regular status reports.

Final advices

Clients and graphic design & unreasonable requests
Dealing with complex requirements, tight timelines, or unexpected challenges. Design process can be frustrating and stressful.
Here are some finalizing tips to help prepare for potential complications that may arise in a designer's work:

  1. Define the scope and set expectations: Clearly define the scope of the project and ensure that both you and the clients are on the same page. Set expectations upfront regarding timelines, milestones, and deliverables.
  2. Keep a record of conversations: Document all conversations, meetings, changes, approvals in writing. This documentation can serve as evidence and help recall details later.
  3. Have a contingency plan: Prepare a contingency plan in case complications arise, such as unexpected timelines, costs, or rejection of design concepts by the clients. Having a backup plan will help manage the client's expectations and prevent panic.
  4. Anticipate requests: Anticipate client requests ahead of time, such as font changes, shift in orientation, color scheme, etc. This preparation will save time and avoid back-and-forth discussions.
  5. Collaborate with the client: Build a strong rapport with the client and foster a collaborative atmosphere. Encourage the client to communicate openly, share feedback, and be transparent about their expectations.
  6. Communicate proactively: Take the lead in communications. Keep the client informed of progress, pending decisions, timelines, and any changes that may arise. Avoid surprises as much as possible.
  7. Learn from experience: Analyze the challenges you faced during the project and learn from them. Reflect on what went well and what could be improved. Use this experience to inform and improve outputs for your upcoming clients.

Let's summarise

It's essential to establish effective communication strategies, set clear expectations, and maintain proper work hours to reduce stress. Educate clients on the importance of sticking to agreed-upon design, and communicate the impact of changes on the project scope, timeline, and budget. By following these tips, designers can build stronger relationships with clients and provide high-quality designs that meet their client's goals.
By following these tips, designers can build stronger relationships with clients and provide high-quality designs that meet their client's goals.
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