Sometimes the client and the designer do not fit. Plain and simple. It’s not a judgement of taste or style. It’s not an insult to one person or another. It’s just a fact of life. People dress differently, like different music, and have different opinions. Design is not an exception to this reality.

It’s okay when this happens. It’s a natural part of the job. But it’s not okay to proceed with a project in spite of this. If the client and the designer do not agree on the direction; if they try to force things, no good work will come from it. It’s time to stop.

Of course in theory this is obvious to anyone. But in practice, it’s a very different scenario.
But why?

Nearly all clients seem like a great fit in the beginning. They are nice, say all the right things, and are discussing a new project with the designer (always a fun prospect.) They don’t simply introduce themselves as “your next challenging client.” It isn’t until the work is well underway that problems can begin to surface.

So what does one look for in a bad client designer relationship?

1. A lack of trust in the designer’s direction.
Don’t hire Monet if you don’t like Impressionism. If the client hired the designer, the client should have seen his or her previous work and approved of it.

2. Revisions, revisions, and more revisions
Any good project will involve multiple revisions. That’s just part of the job. But when things don’t connect, revisions will go on endlessly, often changing the direction drastically each time. This results in wasted time and money for both parties.

3. Micromanagement
Direction and suggestion are one thing, but questioning the designer’s choice of each and every icon, color, and arrangement are something else. The client must remember that he or she is not the designer. There comes a point when he or she must release control and trust the professional.

4. The designer is not included in design meetings
Weird but true! Sometimes in a bad design relationship, the designer is the last on the chain to be given instruction. The boss, the assistants, and even the janitor might be called in with their opinion before instructions are sent to the designer. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how designers work. The designer and client should work hand-in-hand in approaching and attempting to solve the problem.

5. Other projects are sidelined
When other clients are beginning to suffer, when deadlines are not being met, and day-to-day business is not being managed properly, this is often a symptom of a bad relationship. Just as a bad girlfriend or boyfriend will cause a person’s social life to suffer, so too will a bad client relationship affect other projects.

But remember…
Some of the best client relationships will at times be challenging. Revisions and fresh approaches to a project are not necessarily a bad thing, and can often lead to better results. However, this will only happen when mutual respect is given to both the designer and the client, and when serious collaboration is actually taking place. If this is not happening, then the relationship is likely a bad one, and it would benefit all parties to part ways.