5 Recurring Characters / Clients at Every Design Agency

You might think of yourself as wholly original, unique, incomparable. And yeah, sure, aren’t we all.

But when you’ve worked with enough clients, you start seeing types. Some are helpful, some are annoying, but we’ve seen them all before.

Guy Ben-nur
January 23, 2022

The Copycat

The Copycat has a lot of ideas and very little imagination. That’s because all their ideas are taken from other people — namely, their competitors. They saw some billboard, ad, or commercial that hit a home run and think “we want that!” — without realizing that the ad’s originality is half the reason people noticed it at all.

The good news is that once you recognize The Copycat, it’s easy to understand how to deal with them. Because — unbeknownst to them — after all, it’s not that they want to create the same work, but they want to trigger the same feeling. Start by asking The Copycat exactly what they like about their competitor’s work, then find similarly evocative creative to inspire your own work. Make sure your client understands the importance of standing out, and highlight the ways your work can help them do that. Because why would they come to you.

The Survey Taker

The Survey Taker needs to know what everyone — their partner, their parents, their friends, their children — thinks about the work before they can even consider forming an opinion of their own. While we appreciate a solid democratic system, we already did our research. Our work is specifically designed to speak to your business’s target audience, not your second cousin twice removed.

The Unprepared Decisionmaker

The Unprepared Decisionmaker has exactly no experience and has done precisely no research. To compensate for their total lack of expertise, they’ll give general but meaningless feedback that helps them appear to know what they’re talking about. And sure, this gives us some decent wiggle room to work with. But it makes it a whole lot harder to create a good fit.

To help the Unprepared Decisionmaker prepare to make a decision, you can give them a little bit of guidance. Show them some of your work and solicit feedback. And of course, make sure you’re asking the right questions — if your client can’t be specific, make sure you are.

“but can’t say why. They give criticism to express their dissatisfaction”

The Mood Killer

The Mood Killer doesn’t like our work, but can’t say why. They give criticism to express their dissatisfaction, but offer no useful feedback to help improve the work. “This is bad.” “I don’t like this.” “This isn’t my style.” And while we certainly care that our stuff isn’t for you — we’re making it for you, after all — the why is even more important than the what.

As designers, we don’t take this personally. But we do need specifics to know how to improve. Very politely explain to the Moodkiller that feedback isn’t just a yes or no, it’s a signpost that leads you in the right direction and nonspecific feedback makes it really hard to navitage. To help them help you, ask guiding questions. What don’t you like? How do you feel about the font? The colors? The composition? What don’t you like about it? Is it too messy? Hard to read?

The Overly Enthusiastic Stakeholder

Opposite of the Mood Killer is The Overly Enthusiastic Stakeholder. While a little appreciation goes a long way, a lot of appreciation makes us wonder if you’re faking it. When everything is “genius!” “perfect!” “beautiful!” and “amazing!”, it’s clear that the client simply doesn’t understand design or their own needs. That being said, we don’t hate some love. But apply gratitude with care.

To get more (and less) out of the Overly Enthusiastic Stakeholder, show them some alternatives. Explain the pros and cons of each one, so it’s easier for you to understand the client, easier for the client to understand you, and yields a conversation that’s finally productive.