What Used to Drive Me Nuts About Designers

My first company was bootstrapped – which meant that I would use a number of contractors when I won a project. As time went on, the company grew and I hired full time designers, developers, and project managers. Through the course of my professional career, I’ve learned how to work with designers much more effectively. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about working with designers.

Some Designers are Prima Donnas – I Now Avoid Them.

Most of the people I work with are down to earth, hardworking, and interested in the mutual success of those they work with. There are some who refuse to listen to feedback from others. Their designs are “perfect for the project” and if there is any constructive criticism the designer’s interest in the project ceases or diminishes so much that one had best look for a replacement.

The claim “we’re artists” made by some of these prima donnas is an attempt to explain to away their lack of talent. Honestly, how many of us work with Picasso or Michelangelo? Not many – most of the designs created today are re-hashed designs of other sites. There’s nothing wrong with this – nothing at all. Most buyers don’t need something absolutely unique – they need sometime that works. So, Mr/s Prima Donna, life is too short to work with you.

Avoiding Checklists and Reporting Status

It used to frustrate me that designers would not give accurate status updates on the progress of their work and would sometimes avoid items on a project’s checklist. While I still find the act of avoiding items on a checklist to be inexcusable, I’ve learned that the creative process is a difficult one and reporting status can be tough.

Tip for designers: create a checklist for your projects and refine it regularly. Follow through on this and you and your clients will be better off.

Having a Recurring Theme in All Your Work

A long internet time ago (about 10 years), we had internal designers and used some outside contractors. Over time, there was a recurring theme in each person’s work. As a manager, I failed to communicate the need for different designs and layouts. As designers, they failed to change according to market need and chose to manufacture instead of create.

Artists need a recurring theme – designers in a corporate or freelance environment do not.

This may seem contrary to my previous point, but there’s a balance between churning out the same designs over and over and creating new, interesting layouts as design themes change – a la Web 1.0 versus 2.0.

Showing Up at the Office on Time

This used to drive me nuts because I equated working hours with productive output. The amount of hours one works does not equal the quality or quantity of work product. So, what used to drive me nuts was my own problem. We no longer have set work or vacation schedules. We’re all adults and know what needs to be done to reach our personal and professional goals.

Being Responsive – as in “Call Me Back Today”

The designers I work with are not on planes all day or taking audience with the President. When the person calling you asks for a call back, they generally mean “today”. It’s implied and I think everyone knows that. Otherwise, they would say “when you get a chance” in their message.

So, when the designers don’t get back with me for a week, I finish the project we’re working on and never work with them again.

In Conclusion

I really enjoy working with other people. The creative process is my favorite part of the project and it’s great to have the right people on a team. No one wants to help someone grow up and understand what it means to be a professional while on a project.

Follow Bill Dotson on Twitter or visit his Business or Personal website.

Bill Dotson

Bill Dotson is owner of <a href="">WebMedley</a>, a web hosting and application development company with over 1,000 clients. For fun, Bill advises freelancers and small businesses on sales and growth strategies.

  • I completely agree with the point “Call Me Back Today”. When one is on a deadline, communication is of the essence. I’ve collaborated with other freelancers who will not return phone calls or emails if they run into problems or setbacks during a specific project.

    I dropped a few freelancers that did great work, but were poor communicators.

    Along this line though, I don’t agree with “avoiding checklists and reporting status”. True, creative work can be difficult to report, but its essential to maintain a good workflow.

  • Sounds like a lot of generalisation there, If you had so many problems with so many designers… do you think maybe part of the problem could have been you? perhaps your own communication skills aren’t as great as you think they are. I think if you go into a job with this preconceived idea about what a pain the people you are a working with are, your bound to have problems.

  • Juliet van Ree

    Very well written! And most things are very true in my opinion. I especially like this one “Artists need a recurring theme – designers in a corporate or freelance environment do not”

    This is almost exactly what an attelier owner I used to work for as an artist said to me, this is when I started considering a carriere switch and later made that switch. When I was working as an artist my work had no recurring theme/style to it, which was why my paintings didn’t sell enough. Learning the Design jobs goes with babysteps, but I enjoy it more because now having a huge variety in styles/themes etc. is no problem but an advantage.

  • familychoice

    Doesn’t sound like any designer I’ve ever worked with, however it does sound like a typical rant from a bad client blaming everyone else for his own shortcomings.

    “Tip for designers: create a checklist for your projects and refine it regularly. Follow through on this and you and your clients will be better off.”

    How patronising. Sure there are bad designers, but there are are a whole lot more good designers out there trying to cope with bad clients.

  • I jumped right into graphic design freelancing and, from the beginning, all of this was common sense. It does not take a wizard to conjure up the notion that you should serve others how you would like to be served.

    On the other side, sometimes it can get extremely dicey providing a client with blow-by-blow updates—generally I like to keep my clients very involved while providing them with plenty of details and discussion regarding design that anyone can understand. It’s only when a client starts getting ridiculously picky—then it can get very impeding to workflow and creative output.

    Also am against manufacturing (good word for that template-pushing mentality/behavior). We are in the field of providing creative solutions and identities as unique as each client that comes to us. Should be noted that, yes, sometimes clients are looking for impressive and well-known styles. Would you spend as much on a “plain pair of shoes that serve their purpose” as you would on some shoes with a very well-known name attached to them? There’s always stuff out there that blurs the line between paying for a design and buying art, in my opinion.

  • I think I more-or-less agree with all the points, true- I’m not doing freelance design/development work anymore- and it was quite a few years ago for me …

    but I think your points make good common sense – I find I’m often revising my “todo” lists, I think I’m still searching for the perfect desktop to-do app.

  • All due respect, maybe the problem is you didn´t do a proper selection, there is good and bad workers in every field.
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  • Lisa Ellwood

    Sure there are bad designers. But here are bad clients too. The relationship between designers and clients is a two-way street. The generalisations in this article apply to clients and management as much as they do freelancers and employees. Designers ARE artists – graphic artists. Ive worked with too many managers and others who like to belittle creatives due to their own shortcomings. Designers never really stand a fair chance with mindsets like this…

  • Graphic designers already have to deal with a lot of difficult clients at a minimum wage, so please don’t push clients to expect a lot more from a designer by writing articles like this one.
    Sometimes it just doesn’t work between designer and customer, and in that case it’s mostly the client that’s the problem because he wants to use comic sans, sends lowres pics, asks a million corrections, sends documents at the last moment… And what does the designer have to do? Kiss the clients feet, push the button and everything’s ok. I’m sorry, but in that case I’m gladly a Prima Donna!

  • Lisa Ellwood

    I think the closing shot “No one wants to help someone grow up and understand what it means to be a professional while on a project” says a lot more about the author than any of the designers he’s had the supposed misfortune to work with. This does not sound like someone who really enjoys working with other people. At the very least he seems to despise designers to have the same patronising attitude towards every single one he’s ever had to deal with…

  • Ava

    I have heard many a horror story about graphic designers, BUT to all us out there who put up with ridiculous clients on a daily basis enjoy this….

  • B. Moore

    @iconicimagery wow talk about a gut shot! I think it was needed for sure.

    @colorburned “Showing Up at the Office on Time” this one has gotten me fired from a job before. They would rather have someone who shows up on time everyday and puts out crap work if any work at all. I show up late (never late for phone call or meeting) then work even later (more than 8hrs) with my output being top notch and done on schedule with every project I was on.

    Can anyone explain to me why I should have been fired. I still to this day do not understand.

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  • Jaime

    To everyone here trying to offload the blame of the graphic designers… Stop making excuses. I design websites, though mostly I’m a developer, because I can’t stand bad user experience. I’ve worked with graphic designers just like this. The attitude that they’re more important than the code or business side of a project, is prevalent in web design world. True, designers get to deal with a lot of crap as Ruben said, but so do programmers, business types, system administrators, etc. Be realistic, we all have to deal with pressure from clients, it’s not just the graphic designers. I’d rather be a graphic designer being asked to add the interface for x feature late in the project, than being the coder that’s gonna have to re factor code and spend many sleepless nights to achieve the deadline. I’ve worked with many great designers, but a lot more that just weren’t workable with.

  • Jaime

    @iconicimagery “No one wants to help someone grow up and understand what it means to be a professional while on a project” I don’t know about you but I hate working with a designer that just graduated college and thinks he’s the next big thing. That said, I love working with people and can fully appreciate Bill’s closing statement for what it is. Being a designer is a profession, and it should be treated like one. Have fun while you’re doing it, but don’t screw everyone else by acting like you’re that much more important than everyone else to report your progress and be open to criticism.

  • splif


    With all do respect, I could not begin to tell you how to do you’re job. What I think is being expressed here is that you hired a graphic designer because you are not a graphic designer. You were hired as a developer because the person that hired you is not a developer. It is one thing to be open to criticism. It is a whole other thing to to a bad job because the client is making poor choices. I said in a post here (that seems to have been deleted) it is any professionals job to make sure that the client understands that they are making poor choices & why you think that is the case. That is part of what you were hired for.
    Sometimes clients thoughts are excellent & as you well know sometimes they are just plain wrong. They’re are good & bad in any profession. All the parts of a project work as a whole. They are all important in their own way. You should be hiring a designer for their expertise in that field & if that is what you hired them for then you should also take the time to listen to what they have to say. Of course being a designer is a profession, but some people seem to think anyone can do it. There are different degrees of talent & expertise in any field & sometimes you get what you pay for.

  • Jaime


    I think you missed my argument, and maybe I wasn’t all that eloquent trying to get my point across. That being said, I did start college studies on graphic design, though I didn’t finish. I generally hire graphic designers ONLY for work like branding, print work or if I have no time to do the design part. That being said I generally do all my graphics work myself. What I mean to say from that is that I’m not speaking from a non designer point of view, as in a way I am a graphic designer. Now the problem with graphic designers, and I think a lot of people are mistaking the original post (and maybe my comment), is not the quality of their work (you get what you pay), nor the quality of the clients. It’s the fact that business types, programmers, writers, all are required to be in constant communication, be it through email, jira, 37signals suite of apps, etc. And a lot of designers, decide that since they believe that their job is the only creative one, they have a license to not communicate, and to complain at every single step of the way. I hate it when a customer comes all of a sudden saying, I want to put AJAX here and there and there and there. And it always ends up in discussions regarding time frames and cash, and we always get to an agreement and I do what I have to do (I also offer my expertise by recommending them solutions or not to implement features that are ill concieved off course).

    My point? 1) As a developer I am an artist also. And as a manager, a business type is also an artist. Drawing complex database schematics and work flow diagrams, coding the applications, writing complex but understandable feature and scope documents, etc, are all works of art, albeit some are more recognized than others. 2) This is the worst problem with designers. Explain this to me, how come a work from home designer I used to work with in a big tech company ALWAYS was on top of checklists and reported his status, while most designers I’ve worked with (and I’ve worked with LOTS) try to avoid that part? 3) Recurring themes are bad for webdesign, but in all honestly if your websites or applications are all coming out looking like the same thing over and over again, its time to hire a webdesigner that’s more dynamic. 4) I agree that work schedules for designers, programmers etc are all crap and we should focus on the work delivered. 5) I prefer a designer that tells me “I have a problem designing this and this, so I can try to work around it. But most just avoid calls until they’re done. It’s annoying and unprofessional

  • splif

    I agree with everything you have posted. There are going to be differences in opinion on just about everything that you work on. They should be handled in a professional matter. There is nothing wrong with checking in & showing a client progress on a project. After all they are paying you for your time. My point was that sometimes trying to guide a client in the optimal direction can be taken as someone being a prima dona. I think this is where the misunderstanding lies with most of the people that have posted here. My point is that it is my job if I’m hired to professionally state my point of view & let the client know when something is not working. In the end the client gets what they want (good or bad). Some people can not be saved from themselves. It’s just like any relationship some work some don’t. Most clients do not have your background. Sorry if there was a misunderstanding.

  • Jaime


    I agree completely with what you have just said. I think we’re on the same page. I think that when the article referred to designers as “Prima Donas” almost everyone derived a defensive stance. Although I understand the feeling I don’t quite believe that was the authors intent. What he describes is really something I see all the time. I give requirements to a designer such as “light pastel colors, fixed 960px with a 18 column grid, 2 and 3 column layouts, client doesn’t want the expanding header and footer web2.0ish look”, A few days later he send over a mockup with vivid colors, LOTS of contrast, no grid at all, a somewhat experimental layout and grunge page dividers… that extend to the sides. I then ask what happened with the requirements, and I get answers such as “It looks better this way.” The problem is not that designers are misunderstood. The problem is that when you’re working for someone else, you give them what they want. You might offer your experience on any topic relating to your work, or even other people’s if your work overlaps with someone else, but at the end of the day a designer is getting paid to get the best visual representation of the customers needs and wants. Many don’t get this and totally want to redefine everything, and then complain they’re called prima donas! If I did that as a developers equivalent, I’d probably get reprimanded and end up losing money by having to do things again.

  • How I wish all companies had more mature attitudes about working hours … valuing ‘getting it done’ over ‘following rigid rules’. It’s always such a job when you work at one of the former


  • graphicartist2k5

    what i find totally absurd is how designers are allowed to be so pretentious and haughty, as if those are actually GOOD traits to have. as a graphic designer, i have learned the importance of listening to my clients, not jumping the gun on what i think looks good in a design, because it’s not about my needs, it’s about the needs of my client, and as long as i focus on that truth then my need to get paid will go just fine. just because i’m a graphic designer doesn’t make me “superior” to anyone else around me that is/isn’t a graphic designer. it doesn’t mean that it’s “OK” for me to act like a butthead about something just because i don’t “get my way”. that is a SERIOUSLY childish and selfish attitude, and i personally steer clear of that attitude as much as i can.

  • Designers blame clients, Clients blame designers.

    In order to get along, it’s my belief and experience that:

    Designers (in this type of situation) need to learn how to pre-qualify their clients better, install policies for those things that constantly go wrong, and move on to blaming their process rather than blaming the client. (remember.. You’re the one that said ‘sure’ to the project.)

    Clients (branded as ‘bad clients’) need to lose the control issues and trust in the designer to do their job the same way they trust their accountant to do theirs. (go ahead.. try telling the veteran window washer he missed a spot 4 stories up in an unused wing of the building.)

    Emotion and Passion are two different things.
    – Emotion has no place in business.
    – Passion is what drives business.

  • graphicartist2k5

    It’s true that passion is what drives us as people to do the things we love to do, such as graphic design, or whatever else. If you’ve got a passion for doing something, then chances are that your attitude towards doing that particular profession is going to be a lot different than those who do not have a passion for it. In all honesty, I cannot see how someone can have a passion for working for McDonald’s, for example, but that doesn’t mean they honestly don’t have a passion for doing that type of work. We all have things that God has put in us that drive us to do better than we have already done in whatever professional field we happen to be in, but it’s up to us as human beings to not allow our passions to override our common sense, because passions can be VERY dangerous if they’re not kept in balance.