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I have a question about dealing with a client. They're not accepting the final design, and we've spent a lot of time making small changes to one part of the page, well beyond our estimated timeframe. The client keeps changing their mind in every meeting and can't provide clear preferences. All they say is 'I don't like it' and ask for more options, even after multiple revisions. This is my first design contract, and I'm not sure what's standard practice in the industry. What should I do?

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  • Is the contract fixed-price or hourly rate?
    – morsor
    Sep 15, 2023 at 11:21
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    It sounds like the client is fully ready to do the project. Constantly changing their minds means that they don't have a clear idea of what the problem is that they are trying to solve. One idea might be to say, "I'll come back in six months."
    – David R
    Sep 15, 2023 at 14:00
  • @morsor fixed as it's my first contract and wanted to be competitive - probably not the best choice in hindsight. Maybe I'll incorporate an hourly rate if the estimate is exceeded in the next work I do.
    – Drew
    Sep 16, 2023 at 11:56
  • That should read "the client isn't fully ready to do the project."
    – David R
    Sep 16, 2023 at 15:08

3 Answers 3

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Stop the work immediately and demand payment. Justify this by listing the initial offer and the history of the changes.

There is a risk that the client will refuse to pay, but another risk that you do more work for free.

Keep in mind that an hour performed is an hour due.

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  • Thanks, really appreciate the answer. I sent an email to the client to follow up on the initial deposit I haven't yet received
    – Drew
    Sep 16, 2023 at 11:52
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In my experience, no piece, even the most intricate complicated piece, has ever gone above 5-10 revisions. If a piece is surpassing that amount, or the requested revisions are "sweeping" in nature, something needs to be discussed.

  • If changes are repeatedly sweeping in nature, I'll stop working and have a conversation in order to determine why work thus far has been unsatisfactory. If the client isn't liking anything I'm creating, then they simply don't like my work and would be better served finding another designer they do like. I request payment for my time and move on. "I just don't like it" is not a response I'll accept. I push so I know why it's not liked. If a client is unnecessarily concerned with my "emotional well-being" over their reaction, then I'm not getting valuable, usable, responses from them. I often need to let the client know that my "ego" is not part of the equation... they can outright hate the work, and that's fine. But I need to know an honest response if they wish me to improve what they are seeing. If they aren't willing to provide more concise design direction, then it is indeed a "lost project" and I need to move on. The client is either unprepared for design or too indecisive for me to waste my time with.

  • If changes are more of the minor, typographical nature then the client is merely disorganized and I need to have a conversation about my time and how repeated minor changes are more costly. Essentially, I alert the client that I'm reaching a threshold of tolerable changes. I don't refuse to make any further changes. I merely make it known that my time is valuable and they need to be more decisive and targeted with any change requests. Thus far, this has always sufficed.


All the above being posted. If you have a contract, what does that state about revisions, if anything?

If you don't have a contract, then, well, it's a matter of negotiation, or just abandoning the project, hope you get paid and let the client find a designer they like.

Not every designer is suited for every project and every client. It can be considerably more beneficial in terms of my time to just let some clients or projects go to some other designer. I need to spend my time where it's most valuable to me, not the client.

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  • Very good perspective, thanks for the elaborate answer. I'll pause the work for now and try to dig deeper into the "I push so I know why it's not liked. " - although I tried that before and the client still wasn't very clear.
    – Drew
    Sep 16, 2023 at 11:54
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I'm noticing from the one of the comments here that you haven't received your initial deposit yet. Oh my gosh! You are being played.

As you have not received a penny of "consideration" for the current contract that required a deposit, many jurisdictions would consider your obligations under the contract as void due to breach. (I am not an attorney)

Don't turn over any completed work product whatsoever. The client is trying to get you to submit work on a speculative basis, and then when you submit something that approximates their needs, all of a sudden all of your calls to them will start going to voice mail and your emails will go unanswered.

This isn't about the client being indecisive. This is more so about you being unwilling to set boundaries, and the client gradually testing and testing to see if you're going to draw the line -- and it looks as if you haven't. When you have an undecisive client, you CANNOT accept fix priced work. If the client controls the requirements and can change them at-will, you must charge hourly instead. If the requirements are fixed, THEN and ONLY then you can charge a fixed price.

You're going to have to reel it in, or clients like this will eat you alive. See the no-spec website. Make sure you have specific payment terms in the contract (I wouldn't go past net 10). In fact, for THIS slimy client it'd actually be better for you to take a retainer up front, and bill your hours out of the retainer until it's gone; at this point, the client must refill your retainer for work to continue. This would be the safest situation for you.

I'd bet any kind of money that when you set some boundaries, this client will disappear. But hey, you've gained some experience and no money -- call it "tuition".

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