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A few years ago I made a website for a client. It was arranged informally, there was no contract. Since that time his business has grown along with the website and I'm also involved regularly in various work for him.

Mostly we have gotten along okay, we do almost all communication by email. The only thing that's been a problem I would say is that he's someone who tends to change their mind, even after stating clearly that he's happy with something and finalising it. He does not seem to understand the importance of having a brand image that's consistent, despite the fact that I did explain this from the outset when he asked for advice in this area and have repeated a few times, both in person a few years ago as well as since then in emails. I should say also that I've always encouraged and been clear that I wanted open discussion about anything that he wanted changed during the design process.

The original logo (which I did a few months after the website) I felt was professional looking and fitted well with the type of industry he's in. A few months later though after much discussion and saying it was "excellent", he started saying he would like to see what it looks like with colour added... Obviously and as I tried to explain, it's not possible to just "add colour" once a design has been finalized, and when the design itself was intended to be in just one colour with white. Eventually and after suggesting an alternative design that would be more in line with what he now wanted, I ended up doing a different take on the original design(because that was what he insisted on) incorporating colour. He was very happy then with this new logo. I thought it looked okay, though not what I would have chosen myself, but it was definitely acceptable looking and so we began using it everywhere, on social media etc.

Well, that is the brief background. The latest thing that's happened is he's gone and 'branded' his vehicle with all plain text - similar a bit to the text that's on the website header(but slightly different font and the colour also not an exact match) and also leaving out the actual logo itself. This means basically that it's a separate branding from the one we'd been using. (Added to this, he also misspelled a word in the description of services offered, which I pointed out but only after he showed me the result as he didn't tell me beforehand he was going ahead with this). He now wants to put pictures of this vehicle on the website... He has already put some of the pictures up on social media. (He is using the logo for business cards though, so I know he likes the logo. I suspect the reason he didn't use it in the vehicle branding was to save on cost).

I emailed him about this, basically repeating what I'd said before - that only one logo and branding should be used, otherwise it confuses the company image, explained the reasons why etc. I suggested that since he'd done this branding and if he doesn't intend to change it, that it would now make more sense to take the logo down from the website and social media and instead just go with a simple plain text header, to be more in line with the branding on the vehicle.

None of this would bother me so much I think if I hadn't told some people about this website(and logo etc) and also I was intending to add it to my portfolio. Obviously as he now wants to have this unprofessional looking stuff up there, I can't really do this.

So I am just looking here for some advice on how to handle this, hopefully from someone who is more experienced than me in dealing with clients. I'm meeting with him soon - he wants me to work on a new project - but I feel a bit like maybe I don't want to continue working with him if I'll be unable to use this logo and website in my portfolio. He has stated in the email reply that the vehicle branding will stay as is and he also wants to keep the website logo as is.

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He's the client. What he wants is final even after you've explained. You've done all you can do, now you need to follow his instructions or decline the work.

While you always want to do "portfolio-worthy" work, your portfolio should never be a reason to tell a client "no". Your promotion is not the primary thing you should be worried about. You should be worried about sharing your knowledge, then ultimately completing what the client is asking for to the best of your ability. Yes we all want every project to be great and a piece for our portfolios. But the truth is I have dozens or hundreds of things that don't meet my portfolio standards due to client-driven changes. It's the nature of the business. All I can do is share my expertise and knowledge and if the client chooses to ignore it, fine. They are paying the bills. If they want to pay me and ignore me, that's their choice. Part of good client relations are about knowing when to just shut up and do what you're asked to do. If you just can't do that, then declining the work may be best. I have turned down projects due to a client overly micro-managing everything about a piece. And I've turned down work from a marketing vendor explaining that "This is just grunt labor not design, none of it is anything I can ever use as a sample of my work. I'm assembling, not designing." You are free to do that if you are a freelancer.

Be careful though. You can easily go broke if you insist every project live up to your idea of marketing and brand standards. Clients that respect such things aren't very common - they exist and are great to have. However, in my experience they are rare and very loyal once they find a designer they like.

If I had a dollar for every "Here's my suggestion..." -- "Thanks, but please do it this way." conversation I've had, I'd have a yacht.

Some things to consider:

  • The Vehicle is local (in spite of social media images) Only those in close proximity will see the vehicle and online the vehicle isn't going to have very much impact. Also realize that including the logo in the vehicle stickers most likely was a cost decision -- cheaper to go all text.

  • The web site is international and has a direct (2-3 foot) impact on the reader. Far more impact on the customer is felt via the web site.

I think of the vehicle as a flier in the wind.... you may see it and hopefully you remember the business name or URL but beyond that it's doubtful you'll retain much more information. So, there's little to worry about in terms of overall branding. Sure it would be nice if the vehicle carried over company branding, but it's the least important branding mechanism overall. Anything directly in the customer's hand or face is far more important. Photos on social media sites or even the clients site aren't going to be a big issue. People may see them, then they'll simply forget them, especially if it is merely a vehicle with text on it. There's very little "design" retention there unless the vehicle is really something out of the ordinary (like Oscar Meyer's wiener mobile).

  • Scott, thanks a lot for this reply. You've helped to put it in another perspective. – user34032 Dec 7 '14 at 0:04
  • Great point about website vs. vehicle. Even if I take a photo of the vehicle to look up the URL later, only because I'm a designer would I notice that they don't match. – Lauren Ipsum Dec 7 '14 at 13:07
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I made a logo for my parents once. They hired a sign company to get a custom fabricated laser-cut metallic sign built. They spent a lot of money and were very proud of it and excited to show it to me in person.

I showed up and looked at the sign and said "Umm...that's not your logo. They swapped out the typeface.".

My parent's replied "Oh, they couldn't get the file to work so they just used something close."

Point being, some people just do not care. Sounds like your client is one of them. As Scott says, you have two options with this type of client, suck it up and just be a production artist for them and take the check, or let them go as a client.

For the latter, one option is to start raising your rates. There's a few advantages to that. For starters, if your rates get hire, you tend to track a higher caliber of clientele (provided your work justifies it). Conversely, you start to lose clients like this one. Granted, they may REALLY like you and want to keep you regardless, at which point at least you're getting paid a better rate to put up with them. :)

Good luck!

  • Thanks for this also. It's true I'd been undercharging a bit. – user34032 Dec 7 '14 at 0:08
  • Post up the website and social media link so we can change his mind by proxy - we can act as your design conveyance by commenting on his social media posts about the car/lack of brand/misspelling (#onlyjoking) – Mark Read Dec 8 '14 at 1:34

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