This article was contributed by Ray Hurley.
Every few months I get that special phone call. It starts out with pleasantries being exchanged, information being sought and me doing my best to provide the client with sound guidance. Then, the proverbial bomb shell hits. A professional conversation suddenly transforms into a Michael Bay inspired piece of story-telling, and, as with most of Mr. Bay’s stories, it doesn’t make much sense.
The client requests something that is either impossible to achieve, in bad taste, or occasionally, illegal. Sure, it may sound reasonable at first, but any lingering self-doubt is extinguished and I quickly realise that this client might be difficult to work with!
In my experience, bizarre client requests don’t occur daily or even that often. Ninety-nine percent of my clients are a pleasure to deal with. However, there are always a few special cases.
For this article, I got in touch with thirty design contemporaries and asked them to share their most bizarre graphic design requests by clients. Each entrant agreed to submit his or her story on the condition that I agreed not to reveal identities or the companies involved. The following constitutes twelve of the most bizarre requests.
Bizarre Client Request One
We completed a website for a solicitor’s practice in Ireland last year. We explained the process to them over the course of two meetings. They could not be nicer to deal with, very warm and professional. When we presented a mock-up draft of the website on a PDF via email (as we explained in two meetings and in our proposal) one of their partners rang up and gave out that he had never been treated so badly in his life. He wanted a refund and did not tell us what the problem was. We were of course convinced it was a design issue and studied our notes before we came back with a rebuttal.
Everything seemed to be in order, so we arranged a meeting and sat down with the solicitor to see what his grievance was. He was happy with the design, but couldn’t understand why the buttons wouldn’t work, why he couldn’t use the contact form and why it wouldn’t work in Microsoft Explorer. We then proceeded to spend the next thirty minutes explaining that you couldn’t build a live draft in a pdf mock up. Eventually he understood. There was no apology.
Image via Iconfinder
Bizarre Client Request Two
I had been working with a client for about a year, creating social media posts for their brand. The brand was a body scrub created for people with sensitive skin. The owners of the business are both Chinese but predominantly sell to the Australian market. We had agreed, throughout the first year, that we would train them to take their own photos and create their own social media posts. After six months, they would start creating the posts and we would only review to make sure they were on brand. We agreed that all posts should in some way show the products or in some way relate to the ethos of the company.
The first post they sent over to us for review set alarm bells ringing. We received a photo of the owners’ children in a bath, each of them naked-holding nothing but the product to protect their modesty. Obviously, this was not very suitable for an Australian audience, so we carefully explained that although the photo was well taken, and their three boys were good looking young men, we felt that an Australian audience might not respond positively to the image. We also added that the age demographic was not correct as the product was aimed at the 25-35 age bracket.
Bizarre Client Request Three
I had a two book deal with a chef. I completed the first and was paid. At the start of the second book, she said she said that she did not wish to proceed and asked for the artwork files to be packaged and sent over for both books. I sent her an invoice for five hundred euro for the artwork files. She sent me a solicitor’s letter demanding I return stolen company assets.
Make sure and have “all artwork is property of the studio until… Etc” in your email signature. It’s important.
Bizarre Client Request Four
I’ve been lucky enough to have been shielded by account execs for most of my career. I’ve been tasked with the usual mind numbing mac monkey requests like making the logo bigger, reducing the amount of white space used, changing 10 pt body text size to something ridiculously large and I have been asked to make a design pop more times than I wish to recall.
The stand out request has to be “I don’t know what I like but I’ll know it when I see it”! It’s hard not to get disheartened. I guess good communication and managing expectations are essential tools for me when dealing with clients.
Bizarre Client Request Five
Last week, I was asked to photoshop some images in a clients’s brochure to look less “Asiany” and more European as their features were putting off potential local clients…
Bizarre Client Request Six
My studio and I were presenting a new corporate identity and website design to a fairly conservative company. The conversation went as follows:
Client: I don’t like dark coloured text.
Client: I don’t know…it looks kinda boring…it might be just me, but I don’t like black text.
Us: It is quite common. And good for readability. Google uses dark text across their websites-millions of people visit their websites everyday.
Client: It lacks character, I’d say.
Us: We were aiming for a more professional, corporate feel.
Client: I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem right to me. We want to use fonts too that have the squiggly bits on them. The serif fonts. They read much better.
Us: That may be the case on a printed page but research shows that sans serif fonts make for a more comfortable reading experience on screen. Think of Wikipedia for example. 7th most visited website in the world. It uses sans serif fonts. And it is set in a black colour too.
Client: I’m not convinced. We’ll have to do our own research on this.
Bizarre Client Request Seven
Recently, we were approached by a well known financial company to create a new website. That was fine until we asked some more questions. It was explained to us that it wasn’t a real website, but a prank site. We weren’t fazed by a prank as long as it was in good taste. So, we asked what kind of prank it was. They explained it was a corporate prank. It would involve setting up a fake recruitment company with three fake physical addresses.
This website would be used to see if current employees of their company would be willing to give up sensitive information to get a new job. Basically, this website would be a tool for the entrapment of real people, that would put them at risk of losing their jobs. We thanked the company for thinking of us and politely declined the project on account that we thought it was morally wrong. Corporate pranks don’t sound like fun!
Denise, Kerry, Ireland
Image via Iconfinder
Bizarre Client Request Eight
I think the most bizarre request I received occurred while I was employed at a small agency in Dublin. A client working for a large energy company, sent me a stock photo of a sad elephant with flowers in its mouth. All very deep and thought provoking in itself, until they asked me to make the same elephant HAPPY and also turn the elephants stance from a side profile to a front profile!
Bizarre Client Request Nine
A gentleman asked me to design a calendar for his boyfriend. For each month he had a fully naked picture of himself.
Bizarre Client Request Ten
A man walked into my office (in an Irish Graphic Design College) saying that he wanted a student to design templates for his website. Towards the end of the conversation, he finally revealed it was for an Irish porn site, and that he wanted a female student to do the work. Before he was asked to leave, he tried to turn the tables on me saying I obviously had morality issues around the subject and he couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t recommend a student to him. True story.
Bizarre Client Request Eleven
A client I recently worked with wanted a logo designed, but didn’t provide a company name. He insisted I design the logo while he thought of the name. I politely told him that I would need a name in order to design a logo. They asked me to come up with the name with the following instructions, “we want a made-up name, like those big corporations where the name doesn’t really mean anything and it just sounds cool”.
Bizarre Client Request Thirteen
A former colleague of mine was once asked to change the skin colour of a black man to that of a white man, after a photoshoot. True story. Amazingly, he didn’t refuse to do it!
A while back a client came in with a ridiculous request. I was asked to look after him, being the most proficient in the office at Photoshop. I’m also the only female in the office. He had a problem with the latter. He didn’t think I was up to it. My boss said nothing in my defence. One of the other lads in the office took it on. Next day the same client called with a query about the job. I was asked to take the call. I replied calmly ‘Tell Mr. ‘X’ I’m sorry but I won’t be able to take his call at the moment. I’m very busy, plus I have my period.’ Everyone in the office went red faced and there was an a heavy uncomfortable silence until we all starting laughing. Things have been slightly better since. It probably wasn’t the best way to make a point, but I was very angry. Women, eh!?
Author Bio: Ray Hurley is the creative director of Opus Creative, a branding and web design agency based in Cork, Ireland. You can follow Ray on Twitter via @Opus_Creative.