5 Types of Clients Every Designer Knows (And How to Deal With Them)

Every client is unique, sure. But there are types, and there are patterns. Have you met them?

By
Molly Cornfield
July 19, 2022

As designers, we like to mix it up - new design trends, new tools, new partners. But one things that doesn’t change is that there’s always a client at the other side of the brief. 

And when you’ve worked with enough clients, you start seeing types. Some are great, some are a challenge, but we’ve seen them all before.

And yet, the more you see, the more you know. Once you recognize the patterns and habits of each type of insufferable client, you can mitigate their behavior and actually get some work done. Quickly recognize these five recurring clients and you’ll improve your creative project management, keep them coming back, and maintain your sanity:

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 —  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 just to be like everyone else?

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, too many opinions can lead to more confusion. 

To get the Survey Taker back on track, pose a situation to make it clear that they’re pandering to the wrong crowd. For instance, if you’re selling tampons, you wouldn’t ask a group of men for thoughts on your latest ad, would you? Of course not. They won’t — and probably shouldn’t — understand the content. That should get the message across: your friends are not your target audience.

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.

“While we certainly care that our stuff isn’t for you — we’re making it for you, after all — the why is much more important than the what”

The Buzzkill

The Buzzkill 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 much 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 Buzzkill 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 navigate. 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 Buzzkill 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.

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Now that we’ve identified five of your agency’s recurring characters, I’m sure that a client or two come to mind. Handle these clients with care and you'll not only be able to generate killer creative, but maybe even enjoy the collaboration process. 

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