First off, have you tried contacting them about it? Most likely, they will ignore you, even if you had email communication. Yes, it is a written agreement, to a point, but unless you have a contract, it's very unlikely you'll get your money back.
When trying to collect money, make sure that you have all your ducks in a row, so to speak:
- A signed, well-drawn out contract
- A well-defined Scope of Work
- Communication that shows they are interested
- An invoice for work that has been agreed upon and is completed
You can sometimes get away with less, but if you are talking about 16,000 in ANY currency, it's very important to get everything covered before you do the work. Remember, you're spending lots of time, and they currently can just walk away!
Does your email mention anything about what happens if they don't like the design? Are they allowed to walk away after all your work? Did you give him a bill for the time you have spent on it? Try sending him the bill, and see what happens. Most likely, you won't get the money, but it shows you have tried.
Certain jurisdictions give different rules on taking someone to small claims court. In BC, it requires that you are seeking $10,000 or less from the person you are charging. If you decide to go this route, make sure you have your concrete, bullet-proof proof that the client had intended to use you, and agreed to the terms you set out. If you don't have an invoice to prove it though, this will likely get thrown out.
I believe this is just going to go on the record as a "lesson learned" type deal, but hopefully you are better covered and protected in the future.