5 Reasons Why I Can’t Be Your Designer

I wish I hadn’t said, “Yes” to certain design projects. It’s not that the projects were a problem, but something about the clients’ approaches, actions or expectations made the work more trouble than it was worth.  Have you, as a client, ever done any of these things:

  • Refused to pay the the designer the full amount agreed upon and invoiced, after approving and accepting the final designs?
  • Asked a designer to personally assist you in a non-design capacity or in something that is unrelated to the project?
  • Required design work NOW but paid the designer for the work only if your business was successful?
  • Asked your designer to provide technical support on a problem with your computer?

These are true stories. I’ve experienced these and others over my career. It took me awhile, but I finally came to realize that I needed to establish policies for accepting work. Having criteria for qualifying who I work with and saying “No, thank you!” to sideline requests that don’t fit has enabled me to be selective and experience less issues in a working relationship, which makes for a happier working relationship. You want your design to be able to focus on designing, not on tech support or worrying about how they are going to pay their mortgage while they’re working on your project.

These are a few of my qualifiers. I can’t be your designer if:

One of the first questions you ask me is “How much do you charge…?” This usually indicates that you are not looking for targeted designs that support your goals, but want something — anything — quick and cheap. You want to buy a web site or identity rather than develop a carefully-positioned presence in your marketplace.

There’s an adage in the design world: If you want it cheap, it won’t be good. If you want it fast, it won’t be good. If you want it good, it won’t be fast or cheap. Design solutions that are worthy of your business require time, effort and financial investment. If cost is your main reason for choosing a designer, I’ll be happy to refer you to crowdsourcing sites.

You want me to start the project now but you’ll pay me later. Providing a down payment helps to establish your credibility with me, and enables me to spend time and effort on your project without concern for my livelihood. If you won’t pay in advance, what basis do I have for trusting you to pay when the project is finished?

A related approach often suggested is to pay me if you like what I create. There are a couple of problems with this. First, I design to appeal to your specific customer base. Your personal taste and style preferences aren’t involved. Depending upon your criteria for liking something, your preferences may not be involved at all. Second, this shows a lack of commitment on your part. You really are not serious about having appropriate designs.

You want me to give you some ideas before you will give me your project. The request sounds something like: “How would you approach my problem?” I’m happy to discuss ideas with you. This is known as consulting and there is a fee involved. I don’t develop an approach until I know that I will be accepting a project.

Different from a design consultation, I will schedule an initial discovery conversation where I will delve further with you into the purposes of the design and what you want to achieve with it, and then create a design brief outlining your goals, and my approach. But I won’t be able to discuss specific ideas or start working on your project without a firm commitment from you in the form of a signed contract and a down payment.

You don’t know what a designer does. In this case, you either don’t understand the value of design to your business or you are asking me to do things that fall outside my scope of services. I am not a publicist. I am not a booking agent. I do not provide technical support for your computer or set up your email clients for you.

You ask me to tweak or finish the work of another designer. Many requests for design work involve changing something that already exists. This is not what I do. I’ll be happy to take your job specs and begin fresh, but I will not alter someone else’s work, even to fix it. I do a lot of re-branding for clients, and I start from scratch on new design development.

Why Good Client Relations Matter

Does all this make me sound haughty? If you think so, I probably can’t be your designer. But consider this: My purpose as a designer is to help your business or organization succeed over the long term by creating visual communications that support its identity and message. I want to be able to do my best work for you, and I can’t if you don’t support my process and the work being done on your behalf. If I can’t help you accomplish your goals, then I’m not your designer.


To work together, we need to relate well, on a peer-to-peer basis. I need to know I am not working in vain. I believe that design is a service to the client, and it’s a wise designer and a wise client who understand that good design solutions come from mutual respect.

No matter who you choose to work with, select a designer who has established boundaries and criteria for working with you. Then you will be confident that the designer will stay on track and focus on the project requirements, and not engage in anything that distracts or detours him from the goal.

Your Turn:

As a client, what are your criteria for selecting a designer?

As a designer, what are  your criteria for qualifying a client?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.