7 Personality Types of Clients Today

In previous articles, we discussed seven types of designers and seven types of developers.

Designers and developers form two parts of the design trinity: the client completes it. You can have the technology to build something and the design to make it magnificent, but if someone doesn’t fund the project, it usually falls flat.

No one has the time to do such a thing for fun. Designers and developers need clients to build their portfolio, sustain their lifestyle and grow and learn.

Not all clients are difficult, so we’ll try not to stereotype. But in all honesty, the perfect client needs no introduction or description. The perfect client is rare, though not extinct.

Today’s article focuses on seven types of clients who aren’t so perfect. You can decide for yourself which of them are the lesser evils.

Common comments from clients:

“I want this done as well and as cheaply as possible.”

“This should be easy to do right.”

“I know of others who would do it for free, so please hurry up.”

“Don’t freelancers work for free?”

“I need a professional-looking and functional website, but I can only pay you when I start earning from it.”


Spotting the 7 Types of Clients

You have probably encountered all kinds of clients in your time. You may have worked with clients from hell, and you may have been lucky to work with amiable and respectful clients.

We need clients to sustain our business and to build our portfolio and reputation. Sometimes we have the luxury of choosing which projects to take on and which clients to work with.

So, who are these seven?


1. The Word-Breaker

“Promises are made to be broken,” says the word-breaker. Word-breaking clients remind us just how important it is to write a contract prior to commencing a project. Sometimes, though, even legal contracts do not prevent these clients from breaking their word. The word-breaker is dishonorable and can side-step the agreements in a contract. He expects you to honor your end but has no intention of fulfilling his own commitments.

The word-breaker is glib and charming, and he manipulates people into doing his bidding. He is always right in his own eyes and works hard to keep the upper hand. Be careful when dealing with the word-breaker because when something goes wrong, you will be the target in his firing range, and he will not hesitate to shoot you dead.

Client: “I’m the client! You can’t make me agree to your schedule!”

Freelancer: “But it’s in the contract you signed.”

Client: “That was a month ago—this is now!”

Freelancer: “You’ve changed your mind? Well, I could walk you through the creation process and explain why the schedule and the fee are as they are.”

Client: “I don’t care. I’m the client.”


2. The Garbage Collector

Less is not more—at least, not in the world of the garbage collector. As freelancers, we always hope that our clients have an idea of what they want, but the garbage collector goes to the extreme; prior to approaching you with his project, he has done plenty of research and assembled all of the designs that he likes.

This kind of person goes to a buffet and puts a little of everything on his plate. The garbage collector gathers all of the effects, functions and designs that have caught his eye and will insist that you include them in his project. The concept of usability is lost on him, even though you repeatedly try to explain it. It’s his way or the highway.

This type of client wants a construction worker, not a designer. “Do or do not; there is no try,” insists the garbage collector.

Client: “I hear a lot of new web technology has come out since we last spoke. Can you put all of it in our website?”

Freelancer: “Err, you’re won’t need all of it, and more features will cost you more.”

Client: “Then add $10 to the total cost. I’ll also need you to help me fill in the content, write a couple of articles and set up a marketing campaign for this.”


3. The Clueless Child

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the clueless child. Like a child with a short attention span, he is indecisive and ignorant. Working with the clueless child might not seem so bad at the beginning; he is agreeable and relies on your expertise. Problems arise after your initial agreement on the details of the project—when he starts to change his mind.

His interest was piqued by the details of the project, and now the clueless child is not so ignorant. Perhaps he has been hit by a sudden epiphany or has received feedback from friends, co-workers or other experts. He calls you in the middle of the night—whenever inspiration strikes—to tell you that he wants certain changes made.

It doesn’t end there. You make the changes he wants, and when he comes to view the project he brings his mother along. She then suggests more changes. After all, “Mom knows best.”

Client: “We want something that looks professional.”

Freelancer: “Okay.”

Client (three hours later, after you have sent proofs): “Get rid of that image and add this instead.”

Freelancer: “Okay.”

Client: “The blue isn’t right.”

Freelancer: “What Pantone color are we trying to match?”

Client: “Oh, you know—the color of the Miami sky at daybreak.”


4. The Queen of Hearts

Be prepared to be at the beck and call of the queen of hearts. A royal decree must always be obeyed, and the queen is of the opinion that you are blessed to be showered by her favor. She has no concept of weekends, public holidays or time itself. A summons in the middle of the night is a common occurrence.

Your loyalty is expected, your respect demanded. The queen of hearts wants you to fix all her problems, and she wants it done yesterday. She wants you to be a designer, developer, technician, networker, anti-virus expert, plumber and even nanny. Her wish is your command. And don’t expect to be paid extra—for she is your queen; obedience is your privilege.

Just learn to say, “Yes, your majesty.” And learn it fast or it’s “Off with his head!”

Client (calling at five minutes to midnight): “It’s not too late, is it? I Googled my name, and there is some nasty stuff about me on the Internet. This guy saying on his blog that I am an idiot. I want you to remove that blog and block the Internet if they keep writing crap about me.”

Freelancer: “I can’t do that.”

Client: “Well, get someone else to do it then. I want all nasty stuff about me removed from the Internet today. And make sure no one can write bad things about me again. I want you to control the Internet.”

Freelancer: “I can’t control it, and neither can you.”

Client: “Well, if you won’t do it, then I’ll find someone who will.”

Freelancer: “Good luck. Let me know how that goes.”


5. The Smart Aleck

The smart aleck thinks he knows it all. This client probably has an interest in design and has read a couple of books about it. He sticks his nose in the air and looks down at you from his pedestal. The smart aleck feels compelled to interfere because he wants his “expert views” to be taken into consideration.

The truth is: the smart aleck knows very little about design. He is arrogant, shows blatant disrespect and doesn’t think it beneath him to order you around and insist that his ideas are better than yours. He tells you everything without really saying anything. He has particular ideas about what he wants but never communicates them explicitly. “It’s so easy even a monkey could do it,” he claims.

Client: “I’ve studied design, so basically I know what I want.”

Freelancer: “Sure. What do you want exactly?”

Client: “You’re the designer. You come up with the idea—but it better match mine.”

Freelancer: (in astonished silence).


6. The Nitpicker

The nitpicker might seem a tad meticulous during the negotiation phase, but he appears normal on the whole. When you start production and show him your progress, though, you’ll see this client’s true colors.

“Hold it right there! I’ve got a bone to pick with you,” says the nitpicker. There is always something wrong with what you’ve done: the color is not what he envisioned, the border is a few pixels too wide, the images are not as exciting as he expected.

The nitpicker scrutinizes your work and never fails to find fault with it. His grip on the project is tighter than a noose. One could call him a perfectionist, but the truth is he’s just trying to get his money’s worth by ensuring that you work doubly hard for the money that you will wrench from his cold unwilling hands.

Client: “The site looks great, but I need you to do it again.”

Freelancer: “Um, okay. What for?”

Client: “You know! You made the website on a Mac, so you need to make another one on a PC for people who don’t use fancy computers like you.”


7. The Scrooge

The scrooge wants everything for nothing. Discounts, freebies and sales make him happy. Even if he doesn’t need it, he wants to get his hands on a free item “just in case.” Like his namesake, this client is a money-pincher who gives you all kinds of trouble on payday.

Even prior to payday, expect plenty of issues with payment. And expect to battle for months with the scrooge over final payment for the project—you can certainly expect him to want the agreed-upon amount to be heavily discounted. The scrooge is the ideal person to bring to a bargaining market, but pray he is on your side and not the other.

When the project is completed and it’s time for the scrooge to cough up, you’re in for a surprise. He is not afraid to renege on your fees, and he insists on further discounts, despite your unwillingness. In his attempt to save money and reduce costs, he suggests a barter system or offers a monetary equivalent from his belongings. Expect the unexpected. Once you’ve been paid and are nearly out of earshot, the scrooge inevitably murmurs, “Bah, humbug!”

The war isn’t over either. Your dealings with the scrooge could be lifelong. He expects you to fix everything that crops up with his website, so don’t be surprised if the scope of your job expands over time.

Freelancer: “Here’s the invoice for $400.”

Client: “Okay, thanks.”

Three days pass.

Freelancer: “I think you made a mistake. You paid only $300.”

Client: “No, I gave myself a discount.”

Freelancer: “I never agreed to a discount.”

Client: “Well, we won’t be using the design anyway.”


Clients: Devil Incarnate?

Are all clients mean and pushy? Have you encountered clients who break the above stereotypes and are real gems? If you have, then you’re a lucky one.

Every client has a different level of knowledge of design and development. They also have different expectations. Not every client will appreciate your attempts to educate them on web design. Some will take the designer or developer for granted and try to bully them.

Still, blaming the clients entirely is not fair. They have been coddled and spoiled by designers and developers who condoned their methods and encouraged their outrageous behavior. If we want our industry to be fair and just, everyone has to do their part to prevent bullying. We are all responsible for the atmosphere of the industry.

Note: some quotations were extracted from the website Clients From Hell. Thumbnail image courtesy of Sébastien Roignant

Written exclusively for Webdesigner Depot by Aidan Huang, a freelance developer, designer and ingenious blogger. He is one of the editors-in-chief at Onextrapixel. Follow him on Twitter @AidanOXP

Of the clients mentioned above, which do you detest the most? If you have a horror story of your own, feel free to vent in the comments section below. We are happy to hear about your client woes.

  • http://ingebjorghuus.com Ingebjørg

    I have to smile, and I am not going to tell who relates to me in this post…but great post and a professional looking site ;-)

  • http://www.pscyhed.be/wordpress Darkened Soul

    clients are ALWAYS nice… … …

  • fourthBee

    that type on number 4, does anyone really have an experience like that example ? man, i’m surely glad i haven’t and sure hope wont…

    guess i’m fortunate enough that by percentage, the good client comes at larger percentage than the bad ones… hope that will last, though i know that life can never be that easy all the way…

    anyway, nice sum up !!

  • Brad Cathey

    After 32 years in the design biz, I could relate. However, all of it predictable and negative. We’ve had many great clients, actually, some better people than we. I can think of other types: The Generous, The Appreciative, The Loyal, and The I-Would-Do-Anything-For-You.

    Don’t be such a downer

    • http://le-mimi.net Mimi

      I agree with this, this post is focused solely on the negative. It’s saying that the seven types of clients are all evil and terrible to work with. There are many, many more positive clients out there. Why focus only on the negative ones? Or why not rephrase and title the post “Seven Negative Personality Types of Clients”?

  • http://www.jordanwalker.net Jordan Walker

    That is why it is so important to vet potential clients.

  • RahulK

    very true… tough to serve these people 

  • Pokepoke

    You’ve forgotten one: The unknown.

    This client usually wants a website ‘because someone told me to’ or ‘because all my competitors have one’. But this client has no clue of was he/she wants and makes up the website (or multiple versions of it) on the spot.

    Good read!

  • http://www.graphix1.co.uk Carol

    Great article – definitely made me smile – I do not have clients, I am a client and I think I fall somewhere between The Clueless Child and The Scrooge, haha. A really good read, thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.michaelsaathoff.com Michael Saathoff

    great post!

    the Garbage Collector makes up most of my clients haha!

  • http://www.sametomorrow.com/blog adam

    Good post and breakdown of the 7 types of clients. I think I have definitely encountered most of them and probably have dealt with the nitpicker the most.

  • Joshua

    Wow, this amazing series are back. It’s such a great read and the war between designers/developers and clients will go on for a long long time. We will prevail!

    Thank you so much for writing this!

  • http://www.world-click.com dotcompals

    nice analysis. used to get almost every kind of clients listed above.

  • http://www.digital-results.com Russell Bishop

    Wow, that’s 7 bad types of clients. Where are the 7 types of clients who pay promptly, give constructive criticisms, are understanding of time frames and are happy with the work we produce?

  • http://www.designnonsense.com Srini

    Excellent post… a very good write up on clients, I almost encountered all of the above types in my career ;-) some are a real HELL

  • http://illustratedmemories.blogspot.com/ Fotinos

    I always enjoy this kind of posts! Especially the dialogs.

  • http://www.kreative-clover.com/ Kreative-Clover

    An excellent & informative post.

    @ Jordan Walker – I totally agree. In my experience, if you inform and educate the client they will usually(not always) be ready to listen and implement the ideas we are suggesting to them.

    However saying that you do get some clients who just do not want to listen and want to push their ideas forward no matter how much we educate them…

    It is in these cases that it gets frustrating, as we the designers/developers want to create the best site for the client , but some clients just don’t let that happen.

  • Keith

    I hate to deal with clients who think they know everything and make impossible demands, worse still they want it real cheap as they can bargin with you for months… Excellent article on revealing our heartfelt feelings on clients! Clients please read up and stay away from these crops!!!

  • http://www.mvestormedia.com/ Ian Rogers

    Haha I for sure experienced a few of these! I usually never have a problem with telling a client “no”, and act like I don’t need their business. They always come back a few days later ready to go. If you put yourself in control as a professional, they will respect that and let you do your job…just dont tell them how to do theirs!

  • Anderson

    Errrr…. It sent a chill down my spine just by thinking of these clients….

  • Michael Long

    I billed a client for a small design job. Chased him for payment for months. And was eventually told – “My uncle is going to pay you. Ask him for payment.” And the client actually thought it was ok to do this.

    Never met said uncle – who lived about 100 miles away. And never got paid. Ex client was the boss of a security firm. A big guy who you didn’t want to mess with.

    If all the clients who never paid me, were laid in a long line…it would be a great idea.

  • Birdy

    What about the dysfunctional corporate tool? Political instead of logical decision-making and about much idea of design as a colorblind cockroach.

  • http://www.bebop-cafe.com BebopDesigner

    Absolutely hilarious! love it. I had a client once who wanted to recycle all the “unfinished stuff” from a long string of previous designers, so that I would work as much and charge her less. No wonder why them colleagues ran off.

    Thanks for sharing

  • http://www.facebook.com/TownPlannerCalendar Perry Spearman

    Absolutely love this analysis…I’ve had many clients who fit this article.

  • Char_Los

    um–I think you forgot the Know-It-All. seems to me that is who we are working with most these days. Disregarding the fact that they can’t do any of the design or development, this client insists on managing the project and driving each phase. Suddenly the client, who came to you for help in the first place, is making the design choices and disregarding your recommendations–“because I know my clients”.

    Of course, their design commands do not take into consideration any of the functionality or programming that would be required to make it work.

    Ian–I wish I worked in your perfect world of clients and flow of business….


    • kes

      isn’t this like no. 5 – “The Smart Aleck” ?

  • http://www.vivoocreative.co.uk Web Design Nottingham

    hahahahaa great post, had pretty much every type

  • http://www.brazierwebdesign.co.uk Peter Brazier

    I think I have nearly had every type of client. I like the challenege tho and it never makes work boring :)

  • alex

    very good article… very ture about thoes typical clients..

  • http://www.wwebz.com Rehaan

    :) i had know idea about such client. maybe because i ma new beeeee :)

  • http://arlographic.com ArloGraphic

    Another forgotten type: The Passive-Aggressive Friend/Family Client

    They know you do this stuff for a living, but expect you to give them thousands of dollars of design for $50 and a case of beer. If you do it, they tell their other friends that you did a great job, charged them nothing and then more freebie business comes in. If you don’t, they tell your Grandma that you were too busy to help out family.

  • Margaret

    Two months ago I designed a brochure for our group and it was approved by the committee. But since then the President has emailed me numerous changes he wants – he has proved to be a combination of all the personalities except for the last one as it is a non-profit group run by volunteers! I thought it was finished but now he wants it sent to him in a certain program so he can “try out some ideas”. It wasn’t even created in that program.
    A great article, thanks.

  • Alicia

    Hilarious! Love it. So funny and true. I’ve had a glimpse of each one in my entire career.

  • http://www.himachalsoft.com Himachalsoft

    Very interesting and very real. I’m dealing with No. 3 days, phew!

  • http://knowledgecity.com Jae Xavier

    The last client type I’d mention is the Industry Insider (those in design)

    Some are understanding, some grade very hard, some will bring you more business. Double edged sword.

  • Todd

    Queen of Hearts? Yes definitely. Phone calls on public holidays, demands to fix unrelated issues such as email spam problems (no charge), constant threats to go elsewhere, total lack of appreciation, tight arbitrary deadlines, a sense that allowing you to work for them is bestowing a great honour upon you…

  • James

    What if a client has a split personality and combined characteristic of all the Seven!!!

    It’s so frustrating that clients take you for granted and constantly buzzes you with unreasonable request. Most clients don’t stick to our work schedule and can call you when as where they like! When requested essential stuffs from them, they will wait and drag…They started to abuse you..torture you…mock at you…

    Some clients are not from hell, they are worse then it…

  • Lin

    Have you meet a client who denand you shown them a proposal, mockup, planning, wireframe etc before he will discuss with you? He insisted that he want to have his option available to him before deciding he reward you with the project. After month and several time of changes, he say that he will have to think again and the project is just around $200 budget….!

  • Larry

    I agreed strongly that designers should not overly pampered the client! It will be a vicious cycle that will come back to harm us. Saying no and making firm decision is a must at times…

  • http://www.gameonlinespot.com Jasmeet

    Let me start with a smile. This article did remind me of one of my clients who just fails to obey his commitments…Till date we were dealing with his manager and other staff who were happy with our work and approved whatever we did for them(after some revisions) and one fine day comes the “The Smart Aleck” (Owner’s son) who seemed to know nothing about designing and insist on having the whole web site redesigned. Enough to give any designer a heart attack…The client is a “Scrooge” and also does not follow and agreements.

    This article did remind me of many more idiots i have dealt with in past but yes, all of them have not been so bad :)


  • http://www.jaavedkhatree.com.au Jaaved

    Great post – I could probably add to this list but the Internet would break from the sheer weight of such a list.

  • http://www.ravendevelopers.com Anirudh K. Mahant

    “Clients” never come easy or bestowed upon you. But above all this there is some level of universal justice “TRUTH”. If you have been true/honest to your job/client/project or work then there is no force in heaven or hell that can change it.

    I work as a Freelancer, and have experienced this overhaul many a times all gift wrapped like Christmas presents. Which reminds me of a client “Mr. Markus Fryster” from Denmark; he is the omnipotent god of all promises “I am a Man of my word” as he denotes himself.

    The virtue of Success, Honesty and Trust are earned, never forced upon, and its a long process where both the client and the service provider meet on a single horizon.

  • http://beckyblanton.com Becky Blanton

    Wow. There have got to be more than seven. I admit though that setting firm, clear boundaries in the beginning, getting everything in writing, having consequences you enforce during the process, and not buckling when your personality disordered client pushes against your boundaries pretty much takes care of the problem.

    Number one rule for no headaches from clients is have enough money so that you don’t need these clients, and number two – be clear about your boundaries and the consequences. As in, “If you don’t have the materials I requested to me by Friday I’ll have to push your project back into next month and can’t deliver it by tomorrow. I have other clients booked and your delays will result in your missing the allotted time frame we agreed upon for completion. In other words, a lack of planning, organization and competition on YOUR part does not constitute an emergency on MY part. Prevent project scope and if you give them a freebie or discount, call it to their attention as in, “Because you’re a new client I’m giving you a 20% discount because I appreciate your business.” or “I will include an extra revision and not charge you on this project if we can put my name and a link to my website on the Table of Contents and credit page.”

  • http://www.vkamobi.com shirelly

    as a client,im not sure that if i havd been do my best ability to finish my job!

  • Pixel

    Hahaha! though this article is about the 7 negative types…. I have to admit that I’ve worked with most of these types. It can get really frustrating.
    The Queen …LoL

  • http://www.chrisgraphix.com Chris N.

    Right now I have a 3+5+6 SuperClient standing a few inches from me 10 hours a day for at least a week at my place while I (pardon, he) designs his 16-page brochure. Woohoo…

  • http://www.psdstyle.net Chuckles

    Hey – what about the client that is in a hurry to not hurry?

    Lost ya on that one I suppose

  • http://www.gameonlinespot.com Jasmeet

    @Chucles: If you are dealing with such client…You are in trouble, as they would be in a hurry not to hurry with payments too…While you might have delivered the best of work, there will be no payments :)

  • http://www.setupizle.com setup

    Great List of sites.

  • Andrea A. Richmond

    Refreshing! You are an artist. I enjoyed Your work very much. Creativity, good writing, a nice web page, humor and research, interactively served nicely on one web page!
    I sure can’t top that! Thank You for this fine work.It makes me hopeful about the human race after seeing G.B.voted in for eight long years. Remain blessed.

  • http://www.creativeman.nl Martin

    This post made me smile, some things are really recognizable.

    Only I need to say I also had very nice clients who say your the one with the knowledge and let you do your work.

    But I liked the post :-)

  • Skinny

    I have designed for a long long time. I have a strategy now for those clients that you know have to change something.
    i now add one stupid thing so they can remove it and feel that it is their design.

    Six phases of a project:
    1- Wild Enthusiasm
    2- Total Confusion
    3- Disillusionment
    4- Search for the Guilty
    5-Punishment of the innocent
    6- Promotion of the non participants

    • http://WatsonVA.com Tany Watson

      This is hilarious.

      I am afraid to hire people myself to work on my site, because I don’t know how to communicate what I like, let alone what I want. I don’t want to seem like any of the mentioned types above.

      Any posts for those of us seeking to hire someone for our website, but don’t want to make it difficult for the designer because we don’t know what we want or how to explain it? My only thought is to find other sites that I do like, yet at the same time I don’t want to resemble… LOL.

      I like the idea Skinny says here about putting something crazy on the site you know they won’t like so you remove that and hope that’s that. I will keep that trick in my back pocket for client videos if I suspect I am in company of a nit picker ;-)

      Thanks for the post!