I was recently joking with Martin Bean (a friend, fellow web designer and founder of MCB Studios) about a couple of silly web design enquiries I’ve received over the past few days. Between us, we realised, we had quite a number of such stories and quotes to share with you, here are 10 of the best (or worst!) ones.
#10 – “I have an idea for a website which could by the next eBay and I need a web design partner…”
I got this email when I was young and naive, so I agreed to meet this guy to discuss his plan over coffee in Central London after work one evening. It turns out his idea of “the next eBay” was to clone eBay itself! Indeed, he had acquired a rip-off domain name and wanted an identically functioning website, to be delivered within 6 weeks, and to be within his budget which was £900. I made my excuses and walked out.
Meet the new eBay, same as the old eBay.
#9 – “I want you to use this photo. I want it to be in landscape, but changed so that the height is bigger than the width”
You may presume here that this is just a case of a client not knowing the term ‘portrait’, but you’d be wrong. It was a photo of the building which the client in question operates from; the client wanted this photo stretched vertically so the building looked “taller and more corporate”. Bizarre I know, but this might have worked were there not trees in the foreground which made the whole effort look completely ridiculous. I tried in vain to convince the client to remove it, but the response I received boiled down to “I’m paying you to do a job, so do it as I tell you”. Fair enough.
Then they got all offended when I removed my “Designed by…” credit from the bottom of their site.
#8 – “Black on white is boring. How about hot pink on lime green? And can we make the logo spin? And Ariel is boring, let’s use Comic Sans.”
Of course this is not an actual quote and yes, it is a mild exaggeration, but the proportion of web design clients who fail to grasp the basics of good, sensible design is staggering. Just because you can make an element on the page animated doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can use a kooky font doesn’t mean you should.
I don’t hold it against a client for not having good design sense – that is my job. However, it does irritate me when my advice is ignored completely. One school of thought is that they’re paying me to do a job so I should do it exactly as they specify. Another school of thought is that it is a good designer’s job to convince the client against stupid design decisions. I think I lie somewhere in the middle – I’ll always make a case againse their ill-advised design choice, but if they’re still insistent, why waste more of my time?
#7 – “Use these photos, I got them from Google Images”
A big problem I encountered recently was with a client who provided a number of images for me to use on his site. I didn’t realise this, but he’d lifted them all from other websites, having done searches on Google Images. A few weeks after launching the site I received an angry email from a professional photographer who was accusing me of stealing his images. Clearly he was in the right (the image in question was part of a series he was presenting via his website) so I forwarded to the client his request to remove them. Soon the truth came out: every single one of the client’s images had been lifted from other sites, and he refused to remove them. Thankfully I include a liability disclaimer in my web design contracts which indemnifies me from claims that supplied images are copyright protected. In other words: if he gets caught, he’s got to deal with it. Last I heard, the photographer has initiated a copyright infringement claim against him, all because the client is stubborn.
#6 – “It sucks.”
Constructive criticism is a good thing. “It sucks” doesn’t fit that description.
This is a conversation I had with a client. I had just emailed them a link to a demo of a web page I’d made for them. The underlying page structure was identical, but I’d modified the CSS to change some colours and alter the size of some H1 and H2 tags. Nothing that major.
Client: I don’t like it.
Me: OK… what about it don’t you like?
Client: I don’t like any of it. It doesn’t work for me.
Me: Is it the colours, or…?
Client: No it’s ALL of it. You need to change this all completely.
Me: I only changed the colour scheme and the size of the headings. It’s otherwise the same as the last version.
Client: (pause) Well, now I don’t like it, change it back.
The client then agreed to use the original version.
#5 – “Why is your quote so expensive? My nephew can do [a 5 page website] for £50″
If he’s so good, just get him to do it. Even if site looks like this:
It doesn’t matter what quality your site is so long as you have one, right?
The quote above represents the attitude of too many small businesses acquiring their first website. A significant proportion of my clients already have existing clients designed by the boss’ son / the boss’ nephew / the office junior / the work experience kid /the boss himself using Publisher. In time, they realise that good web design is best left to the professionals.
#4 – “I paid for my domain name by credit card. My credit card billing address is in Oxford. So why doesn’t my site come up in Google when I type in ‘Oxford’?”
My response, in a nutshell, was: because it’s a one page website which hasn’t been indexed by Google, and the content did not refer to Oxford once.
I didn’t bother responding to the follow-up email, which began “Thanks for your response. Just a few follow-up questions” then asked about two or three dozen questions – “why am I not #1 in Google“, “why won’t anyone link to me“, “how do I get to #1 in Google“, etc. I followed the link at the bottom of their website to find their existing designers, who boast proudly to be SEO experts. I advised that this is a question for them, not me. There’s plenty of free information out there about SEO too, I’m not going to waste my time explaining it when some comprehensive answers to those questions have been answered in forums and blog posts many times over.
#3 – “I want to be number one in Google for the term ‘consultant’. My budget is £200.”
I just had to write back to this guy. What kind of consultant is he anyway? Turns out he was a life coach operating in the South-East of England, and didn’t even have a site yet. I briefly explained that it is useless to target the generic term ‘consultant’, far better to go for something like ‘London life coach’, and that the whole effort was useless when there wasn’t even a site in the first place. His response? “If I’m only going to show up for ‘London life coach’ then the cost should decrease proportionally. £25 should be enough.” No, it won’t.
#2 – “Just one more small change…”
Though it seems trivial to “change everything from red to orange“, you might have to change a PSD or PNG file, export all the slices, modify the stylesheet, modify some other details to complement the new colour… the list goes on. Only for the client to say “nah, I don’t like the orange. Make it red again“.
#1 – “We can’t afford to pay you but we’ll let you have a link back to your site.”
How generous. This is a particularly common request, some variations of which are “we won’t pay you but all our customers will see it” and “we’ll pay you once the website turns a profit“. A few months ago, a lot of people were finding my website by searching Google for “UK web design student” or similar, and my site was ranking highly. Therefore I was getting one or two of these requests per week. I now have a stock response to this:
Thank you for your enquiry. MB Web Design does not undertake any speculative work. I encourage you to read this article.
Of course, they won’t write back because they’re cheapskates who want to exploit students to get a website on the cheap. This issue only seems to be getting worse – everyone with a computer and a copy of Dreamweaver can log onto sites like Gumtree and Craigslist and call themselves web designers*, freelancer sites like Elance allow prospective customers outsource their web design requirements to the lowest bidder. Both of these tend to be sources where price is proportional to talent. Craigslist in particular is often frequented by businesses seeking students to do their work for free as it will give them something to put in their portfolio.
* This is a generalisation of course, there are some good designers on these sites as well. They’re the ones who charge the most.
This post has been rather tongue-in-cheek but does highlight a fundamental problem of being a web designer. People hire you because you are the expert. It is, of course, unreasonable to expect your clients to be as savvy as you so patience and understanding are pre-requisites. However, they ran a little thin with the people mentioned above!
I’m sure in a couple of months I’ll have to update this with a few more “nightmare” clients and potential clients. Feel free to add a comment with your own experiences.