how to work with clients who can’t make up their minds

A reader writes:

I work as a designer and recently have had clients who cannot make up their minds. I end up going in circles with designs. It feels like an endless game of whack-a-mole, they ask for X, I give them X, but now they really want Y, so I give them Y, but actually let’s go back to X, no never mind, let’s do Z, so I give them Z. I really do want these gigs but how do I tell them enough is enough with the redesigns? I find when I work with clients, I have been more compliant because I want the job and when I speak up it’s not always received well — perhaps I’m usually frustrated at that point. How can I be nice and assertive?

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employee has already decorated for Christmas
  • My employee keeps getting in my personal space
  • Is it unprofessional to bring your own beverage to an external meeting?

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. toolittletoolate*

    Allison is right–your contract for services should include a specific number of revisions included in the initial fee, and what additional revisions cost per revision.

    1. The OTHER other*

      Exactly, if you are doing all these revisions for free, clients have no incentive to make up their mind. Make it clear how many revisions, if any, are included with the original contract (maybe distinguishing between making corrections to changing the entire design), and make sure you charge enough for your time to make it worthwhile. If you charge enough, having an indecisive client that wants the work done 4 different ways is as good ad getting 4 clients!

    2. Quinalla*

      Alison’s suggestion is great, definitely make it as clear as you need to in your contract and make sure to bring it up as you move through the process. That said, I’d also encourage you to give a mock up (whatever that means in your design realm) to your clients as early as possible for some initial feedback. A lot of clients don’t know what they don’t know and need to see something they can say no to before they really can get into what they want. Now, some clients are just a PITA changing their minds, but the ones that aren’t this can help you narrow in earlier in the process. Also, if it makes sense, a list of common questions that pertain to your design area can be helpful to go over to – helps jog some of those “Oh, I never thought of that..” etc. before you get too deep in as well.

      Also, plan for a certain amount of revision as a matter of course – definitely an expected part of any design process – I find that planning for it and reframing it as normal (to a point and then they get charged more $$) helps me to feel little to no frustration about it.

    3. middlemgmt*

      yes. I’m a marketing person who hires graphic designers, and is friends with a lot of freelancers. specify initial designs (2-3 comps) and 2 rounds of revisions, and cite your hourly for anything additional beyond that. industry standard whether you are a one-person shop or an agency.

    4. Science KK*

      An artist I really like also does freelance graphic design, and this is exactly her model. You get X revisions and after that it costs Y. Clear up front, if people don’t like it they can go elsewhere.

    5. L. Ron Jeremy*

      That’s why I charge by the hour; really don’t care how many revisions they want. Really, the more revisions the more money I make.

    6. Ace in the Hole*

      This is what I do, and as far as I know it’s standard for most freelance art/design work.

      I recommend having a clear written process you review with the client at the start. Break up your workflow into stages (specifics depend on your type of work, but mine are usually: composition sketches, full size layout drawing, fully rendered illustration). Spell out how many revisions clients can have for free at each stage, and what you will charge for additional revisions. I also like to include a provision that standard revisions can’t involve changes to an already-approved stage. For example, if I get to the final render and the client wants to change the composition/layout… that’s not a free revision, that’s a new project. I negotiate those kinds of things case by case, but usually end up charging them a percentage of the original fee based on how much of the project I’ll have to re-do.

      If this happens a lot though, you might want to examine how you communicate with clients. You might need to do more to guide them into giving you the information you need at the start – a lot of people are really bad at articulating what they have in mind, or lack the ability to visualize what they want without seeing it on paper. If the second one is the main issue, spending more time on small scale concepts/layouts/rough drafts/sketches/etc. may be helpful. For example most of my indecisive clients have trouble figuring out what they want in terms of composition or color scheme. So on larger projects I’ll send a batch of 4-6 thumbnail sketches, then once they pick a sketch I’ll send another batch of various color options to pick from. Since they can give me feedback/revisions at both points, most issues are resolved before I get to the full scale image.

  2. I'm just here for the cats!*

    The coffee thing is so weird. Like I go everywhere with a bottle of water. I don’t see why it would be a big deal to bring a coffee mug

    1. leeapeea*

      I live in Dunk’s country aka New England and it’s almost weird NOT to see someone with a cup in a morning meeting.

    2. Dinwar*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t think twice about it. I think 2/3 of the non-company participants in our meetings bring their own (usually branded) water bottles, coffee thermoses, or whatever.

      Especially in this day and age, where disease transmission is a bigger concern than it was in the past. I know I can wash dishes well enough that there’s not one part per billion of anything on it (I have the data), but I don’t know how YOU wash your dishes, if that makes sense. It just makes sense to have your own beverage, rather than relying on the communal coffee pot or water jug.

    3. High Score!*

      Same here. Our office even has ceramic cups available if we don’t bring our own to reduce usage of disposable cups.

    4. Llama Llama*

      My work expects us to bring in our own cup. You can scrounge around and find one sometimes but not always. If we have visitors, we do supply them cups but don’t care/notice if they bring their own.

    5. Tupac Coachella*

      This question uncovered a really weird personal bias for me: I wouldn’t give a second thought to a guest bringing a bottle of water or cup of coffee to a meeting, but if someone walked in with a giant fountain Mountain Dew or something, I would find it odd and off-putting. I have literally no reason or explanation. Maybe it’s the awkward largeness of it? *Makes mental note to MYOB on other people’s beverage choices, since I’m apparently inexplicably judgy about it.*

      1. coffee is respect*

        I have an obsession with Mountain Dew Zero (after not drinking soda for a good 10 years). I recently started a new job and brought a 20 oz bottle to a couple of meetings before it occurred to me that…people…might be judging me for it?? Think I am immature or unprofessional? That said, I don’t think drinking a Diet Coke would have the same reaction. So anyway, now I’m back to coffee, even at afternoon meetings.

        1. snoopythedog*

          I used to prefer diet coke over coffee when I was tired, but it’s wholy against norms to show up in the morning with a can of diet coke, so I used to just pour it into my coffee mug and nobody knew any different!

        2. crankasaurus*

          My old manager would put Diet Mountain Dew in a coffee mug, so nobody would judge him for drinking Diet Mountain Dew. I caught him once at a client meeting – he had a can under the table and I saw him pour it into the mug. After that, I noticed he always did it.

          The rest of the staff thought he loved coffee so much, they got him a custom coffee mug for his going away present. It was hilarious.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I think giant fountain drink reads much more casual, too, and now I am wondering why. We have a couple of people here who are soda drinkers, rather than coffee drinkers, but they keep to regular sizes and it doesn’t read too badly, but I would be surprised if they brought it into a formal meeting rather than having it at their desk.

        Maybe it’s the higher chance of spillage? Or the attitude that a cola or soda is somehow less mature, since teenagers also drink it (And for a long time were not supposed to drink coffee, it was a more adult beverage.)

        1. acmx*

          Why would there be a higher chance of spillage? It would have a lid. My thinking is those who are judgy about someone drinking soda is probably due to the straw.
          People have a weird obsession with coffer so they think it’s inherently professional.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            My experience is that your standard fast food cup with the easily detachable lid is less sturdy and more likely to tip or spill while moving than most coffee chain cups. (I’m kind of klutzy, so I pay attention to things like this).

            Bringing in Big Gulp level cups or 2L bottles would come across as odd, as would bringing in an entire personal carafe of coffee, or your own tea pot with cozy.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            Soda lids are not as secure as coffee lids, are made of a flimsier grade of plastic, and the drinks as a whole are less frequently ported about in a travel mug (Or we wouldn’t know it was a fountain drink).

            But like I said, it seems unreasonable to think that way.

        2. Adequate Archaeologist*

          Maybe it’s the cup that reads more casual? Especially if it’s a wildly patterned Styrofoam cup. If it was a plain, non-patterned I think that might come across less casual and more “professional”.

      3. metadata minion*

        Huh, interesting. I have that same knee-jerk reaction. My suspicion is that it’s some ingrained classism since I mostly associate big fountain drinks with fast food, and that’s less respectable or something, even though I don’t have that reaction at all to someone bringing in coffee they bought at a gas station on the way to the meeting.

      4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        The only legitimate reason I can think of offhand for the fountain drink to read differently is that, in my experience, fountain drinks full of ice in plastic cups “sweat” a lot and will leave a bigger ring on the table compared to a typical hot beverage.

        I don’t think that’s why it reads like it does (I’m guessing that it has more to do with soda being seen as “junk food” and so it reading like bringing a bag of chips to a meeting, even though it doesn’t really make sense to treat it differently than coffee for that reason), but it is something to keep in mind if you’re bringing a cold beverage to a meeting.

      5. Nikki*

        Yep, I love soda and I’m very aware of this. I tend to drink a can in the morning, instead of coffee, and if I know I’ll be in a work meeting I actually transfer it to a travel mug. That way nobody can see that it’s actually soda and judge me ;)

    6. Lucy P*

      A distant cousin of mine, by coincidence, went to my boss’ home to give a quote on doing some repair work. He brought a cup of coffee with him that he had picked up along the way. Boss thought it was rude and completely unprofessional.

        1. metadata minion*

          I agree that you can’t necessarily transfer office norms to doing work in private homes, but if anything I would be even less surprised to see a contractor or whoever show up with a cup of coffee.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            yeah, surely the person receiving them ought to be offering them something to drink?
            I mean, I know there are people who don’t think of that (I remember an English student, I had to teach him in his filthy bedroom, and his mother brought him a cup of coffee but not me… I didn’t go back) but surely that’s how it’s supposed to work? I would never dream of having someone come over for an estimate or to work and not offer them coffee or tea or water. I mean, you want someone to work efficiently, you make sure they have enough stimulation! Not to mention just being a decent human being….

    7. Glitsy Gus*

      I agree, I think most of the time this would be fine. I do kind of agree with Allison that maybe not on the very first visit, but I wouldn’t worry about it enough to throw out my coffee or anything.

      The only exception I can think of is, if it is a new relationship and you end up arriving late. Even if the coffee had nothing to do with your arrival time (Like, you were fine until the rogue marching band blocked the freeway 3/4 of a mile away from your destination and you had to sit there for 20 minutes), walking in late with take-out coffee can read badly.

    8. Koalafied*

      I have never really thought twice about anyone’s coffee I’ve seen in the real world, but I will note that upon reading the letter, I suddenly had an image flash in my mind of the main character in Weeds, who was always carrying a huge 40 oz Starbucks iced coffee everywhere she went, like it – along with her butt-skimming shift dresses and trendy sunglasses – was part of her uniform. And she is indeed not the picture of professionalism!

      Ultimately I think it’s a big “who cares either way” but if LW really feels iffy about it, I’d say to probably just avoid showing up with the largest possible cup size. Most people won’t care even about that, but if anything is going to raise eyebrows it’s probably gigantic cups moreso than cups in general.

    9. Rolly*

      Reminded of a grad school party some years ago. Ivy League. Mainly art history and other humanities students, mainly women. A friend (also female) arrived and was offered a drink.

      “What do you have?” she asks.

      “White wine and craft beers. O sparkling water” is the reply.

      So she says “I thought so,” and take a whiskey flask out of her back pack.

      Good times.

  3. Alice*

    Off topic but I really want a update on that “our ‘unpaid intern’ is paid 42,000/year” post, especially the “smile and forget about” the sketchy financial stuff going on. I worried!

    1. Vio*

      Yeah that one had all kinds of red flags. Burning red flags. Would be interesting to know what happened next

    2. KoiFeeder*

      Yeah, the sheer scale of what was going on plus the fact that the OP for that post had been scapegoated before was super worrying.

  4. no longer working*

    You can also specify how much time you are allowing for the revisions, instead of how many rounds. For example, a revision consists of up to 1 hour of work. This will prevent you from doing a complete re-design as a revision.

    You could also charge by the hour to start with, instead of per project. For example, you can quote them “$250 based on 5 hours of work, additional hours are $50/hour.”

    1. irritable vowel*

      Yes – I do this kind of work and I charge by the hour whenever possible, rather than agreeing to a flat project-based fee.

    2. higheredadmin*

      All of our graphic design vendors are very clear on the number of revisions you get. If you go over then you are charged hourly at a huge rate. (Admittedly, if your boss is useless and can’t decide stuff, there’s no amount of pointing out the fortune this is now costing us that will help with that. I speak from experience.) But at least you get paid out if they are indecisive.

    3. TiredDesigner*

      I work for a design firm that charges by the hour. You would be surprised how many clients still f*** around and won’t make up their mind. And you may think these are all clients from giant corporations with lots of capital but right now my most annoying client is self-funded.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I hope you’re pointing out that X change involves Y charge as you go rather than just letting it all mount up and the client freaking out once they see just how much it’s come to!

        1. TiredDesigner*

          Yup they get quotes for all work! It’s funny because they’re also very budget conscious but only about stupid stuff. it’s very much a “can’t see the forest for the trees” situation

  5. Caramel & Cheddar*

    Laying out the number of revisions that comes with the contract is critical, but I also wonder if the LW needs more/better/different requirements gathering before beginning the project? In my experience, people often don’t actually know what they want *especially* when it comes to something creative and it’s only when you do what they *thought* they wanted that it becomes clear to *them* that they were very wrong about what they wanted.

    This actually reminds me a lot of advice columns, where people will write in with what they think is their problem, and the columnist teases out what the actual (different) problem is. Sometimes a bit of “What you’re saying is X, but what I’m hearing is Y” can help them reframe how they’re thinking about what it is they want to hire you for and maybe get you closer to nailing down the brief before you even begin working.

    1. Hydrangea*

      This reminded me of a recent letter along the lines of “my boss keeps changing her mind about what she wants.” This situation is different bc at a regular job, you get paid the same whether your boss likes the 1st time or the 5th. The similarity, though, is that some people need to see something before they know what they want. So whether you are regular employee or a freelancer, develop a way of teasing out what they might want and develop your creative and business processes to minimize the impact of repeated changes. Including a set number of revisions in the contract addresses the business side. Something like frequent early reviews with these clients will help with the creative process.

    2. Arin Cursed Epub*

      you are absolutely correct in that many clients really cannot envision on their own what they really want – they need you to supply that for them, even if that’s by showing them what they don’t want.

      possible one of the most valuable skills in the creative/media/design field is how to probe clients and ask questions that actually tell you what you need to do for them. it’s different for every client – each one tends to have their own personal definition of what buzzwords like “disruptive” and “thumb-stopping” mean, but some useful questions are along the lines of “how do you want the user to engage with the material?,” and “what would indicate the material is successful?”

      showing your client samples of work similar to what they want you to make/asking them to choose between styles early in the process may also help you guys get on the same page. you can also start soliciting feedback earlier in your production by showing drafts or sketches so you haven’t spent too much time before having to revise.

      however, having a set number of revisions or cost per revisions is definitely a must even if you have the most savvy, respectful, and accommodating client of all time – your time and expertise is important!

    3. Lacey*

      Yeah, I try to get clients to show me examples of what they mean when they say “contemporary” or “sophisticated” because these words can mean very different things to different people. And sometimes people are just using the wrong word!

      I had someone say they wanted a “formal” look to their ad and when I showed them the proof it turned out what they meant was “industrial modern”

      Now, you still have the issue of some clients choosing things that aren’t applicable to their business or coming to you with 5 different styles of design that have no overlapping features.
      But it helps most of the time.

      1. Artemesia*

        LOL. When I was buying a house in Nashville that was half built and was working with the builders to choose finishes, I used the term ‘modern’ — I was thinking sort of the feel of PNW simplicity — woods and white and elegance. In Nashville apparently ‘modern ‘ meant mylar light fountains and metalic wall paper and astonishing chandeliers — just awful tasteless stuff fit for Graceland. I had to literally pour through dozens of books before I found stuff I liked which was nothing at all like what their decorator called ‘modern.’ (this was 70s and wallpaper was still a thing). If you are not a decorator it is hard to communicate with one.

    4. Chickaletta*

      100% this. When I was a freelance designer, I learned this works pretty well (on top of having a contact defining the # of revisions allowed).

      I worked up a list of questions and would spend an hour or two with the client before even conceptualizing the design to get an idea of what they really wanted, learn about their project, their company, etc. Logo design always always this, and sometimes for other projects I’d do this too. The first draft was always well received by the client and it gave me back-up in explaining my design choices (“I used green here because you mentioned blah blah blah”.) Such a better outcome for everyone.

      I did the whole whack-a-mole, 20 revision thing when I used to work in house and couldn’t put a limit on revisions. That sucked, every designer’s been through it. That’s how you learn ways to prevent it :)

      1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

        “I did the whole whack-a-mole, 20 revision thing when I used to work in house and couldn’t put a limit on revisions. That sucked, every designer’s been through it.”

        Yes. A nightmare. It’s so demoralizing.

    5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Not sure if this is relevant or helpful for designers, but I wonder how OP is documenting decisions and whether a more robust process would help. I’m currently on a project where we’re coming up with a process for how a service will be requested and provided. My main tool is a spreadsheet where I (and potentially others) have listed out the specific questions we need answered (e.g., does everyone have to book in advance or are you accepting walk-ins?) and where I document what decision was made on what date. I project the spreadsheet during our discussions and document in front of them as we go. Sometimes we do need to revisit a past decision, but not too often, and it’s usually because something came up we didn’t anticipate.

      I suspect that many clients who don’t know what they want may baulk a bit at having a decision documented when they’re not certain. And I like that it makes it more obvious that they’re changing their minds.

      Again, I’m not sure if this type of thing could be adapted to be useful for design.

  6. Ridiculous Penguin*

    I run into this ALL the time, especially when there are multiple stakeholders. I’ve started billing by the hour instead of by the project. The smart folks will realize they are paying me more than they expected because of all this back-and-forth nonsense.

    I’ve learned not to care either way. As long as they are paying me, I’m happy to play the game.

    1. Texan In Exile*

      I switched from being a full time salaried employee who ran the projects and did the writing to a part time hourly contractor who just did the writing at the same company and wow did it make a difference in how I felt about management wanting changes.

      In the salaried case, I had to make changes and still do all my other work and meet my deadlines.

      In the hourly case, I just shrugged and kept track of the hours.

  7. shruggie*

    Can’t read due to paywall (but all respect to Alison for making a buck!), so I may be repeating stuff, but I’m commenting because this is my bread and butter. I’m a project manager for an art installation company. Our *most* change-requesting clients are typically working on a construction project; since art is the last thing to go in, we feel every ripple of change elsewhere in the project. However, even our non-construction-involving clients are also generally used to getting what they want (most of them own significant art collections and have a lot of money…) and will change their mind on the fly, or ask for things with truly wild turnarounds.

    Things we’ve done to protect ourselves and our time are to add a cancellation fee and a reschedule fee. We also slap fees on to other processes that don’t do well with quick changes. For example, there’s a fee if we have to pull work from warehouse storage to deliver, but then have to reshelve due to a change (sometimes we waive this for small stuff, but for huge 500lb/+ crates that wind up blocking our major pathways, this is clutch). Basically, identify the pain points, create fees accordingly, and make sure they are relayed to the client before you need to implement them. Ours are detailed in the estimate that they sign to confirm and book the job.

    Other things I do include trying to understand the project as best I can (including knowing if the person I’m dealing with is inexperienced, an admin who isn’t privy to all details, etc – might need to dig elsewhere for info) and relying on my own experience to assess that certain projects are likely to experience scope creep. Like the construction projects I mentioned above, I just automatically approach those differently. Sometimes I can let them know early we are already booked out the two weeks after we have them scheduled, and that rescheduling isn’t going to be possible until much further out.

    Finally, I would love to just say no more. My CEO doesn’t love this option (obviously, ha) but if you’re in a position to start making it normal to just say “Sorry, we can’t accommodate that,” it can be a healthy way to give your clients a reality check. Having them pay fees helps cover time you’ve invested already, if things fall apart halfway in. If saying no isn’t an option, it might be worth discussing the possibility of hiring more project managers/admin to help with the back and forth.

      1. PollyQ*

        Nah, I like it when people who are in the same situation share how they’re handling the same issues, and I appreciate the detail!

    1. Joielle*

      This is great advice, and also this sounds like a fascinating line of work and I’d love to hear more on a Saturday thread if you’re ever up for writing an even longer novel :)

  8. Ranon*

    Documenting decisions can (sometimes) help too- emails after meetings saying what was decided, reminding clients of what decisions they made and why, etc. But ultimately with truly indecisive clients making cost in terms of time and money is pretty much all you can do. (And in my experience it doesn’t matter if they’re spending one thousand dollars or one billion dollars, some clients are good at decisions and some are really, really bad at it)

    1. Lacey*

      Yup. And some are willing to pay to keep changing their minds and others will find that once it costs more to do that they suddenly are very happy with what you’ve already done.

    2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Absolutely! I’ve had to walk away from some design projects because of things going to vers.8.2 with no sign of it ending. And this was after many proofs, calls, discussions and they were still demanding size and format changes, whole rewrites, complete re-dos, etc., AFTER they approved the first initial rough draft (and I always show a rough first, then v1, v2, etc.).

      You get to a good stopping point, get your check, give them their files and multiple versions, and walk away. But if you work as an in-house designer, this is more difficult because they feel they’re paying your salary to keep redoing things. It’s so demoralizing to be in that situation and if you ever are, I’d suggest looking for another job.

  9. AdAgencyChick*

    This kind of client FOR SURE gets billed by the hour, with an estimate at the beginning of the process that includes a stated number of revisions. Every time they change their minds above that, they get reminded, “OK, since we only scoped for X revisions, that will cost an extra $Y.”

    Story of our lives in the ad agency world.

    1. Dinwar*

      But think of the exposure you’ll get when we run the ads! Surely that’s worth a little extra time!

      I’ll see myself out. :D

  10. Government Director*

    I don’t care if you show up with a coffee in hand but if you show up late with a coffee cup in hand, I will assume you prioritized getting coffee over being on time and I will judge you.

      1. Heather*

        People aren’t going to be unconscious just because they didn’t get their coffee before a quick meeting. If you’re talking about an all-day conference, sure, but if you’re 5 minutes late to a half hour meeting because you had to get coffee I think most people are going to look askance at that.

        1. PollyQ*

          I don’t think people should show up late for meetings at all, but you have no way of knowing that the coffee was the reason. If they left from home, they may have taken 20 seconds to pour a cup from an already brewed pot into a travel mug, and then hit traffic on the way.

    1. J!*

      Yeah, I think that’s where the vague negative impression may have come from. There’s lots of jokes about showing up 15 minutes late with Starbucks in hand because there’s always that one person who does it. I don’t care about your drink if you’re on time, but if you’re missing the conversation or we’re all sitting around waiting for you and you roll in with a hot coffee (or ice cubes jingling) that you stopped for, it’s not considerate of other people’s time.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Of course not, but people make assumptions. If it were me, even if the coffee isn’t what made me late, I wouldn’t take it in t the meeting. It’s bad optics.

        Once you have establish a relationship with someone that may change things, but if I weren’t a well known quantity to the group, I would err on the side of not being late with Starbucks.

    2. KRM*

      We had a meeting with our department head once, at 9AM. My friend who HATED being in that early (she was a 10-6 kinda person) showed up at 8:50 with a large coffee. TWO people showed up over 30′ late, one also with a large Starbucks coffee. You better believe she was judged for that. And she was trying to be hired full time as well! And obviously my friend was not judged at all, because she was ON TIME.
      If you’re late and you have a coffee that isn’t clearly from home, I’m going to judge you as having stopped even though you were already late. Did you get the coffee and then get stuck in traffic? Then don’t bring it to the meeting because it will absolutely contribute to a negative perception. Of course there will be an occasional person with the clout to not be judged, or you can come in 10′ late and say “I’m so sorry I’m late, there was an accident on the way”, but on the whole it sends a bad impression.

      1. Sandi*

        Context often matters.

        I had a director who planned an early full-day meeting where he was supposed to give the opening talk, and he threatened to dock pay for people who didn’t attend and there was a long email ahead of time about lateness being unacceptable. This doesn’t go over well in tech, where people are paid well to be technically competent and many of them have flexible schedules that start later in the day. It went over really badly when the director wandered in 30 minutes late, with a coffee cup, as though he had arrived at the right time. We later found out that this was typical for him, always arriving late with a store-bought coffee, and it stood out to many of us as being in very poor taste. No surprise that this was only one of a long list of reasons that no one liked him.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I get it that the higher you are in the org chart, the more meetings you’re probably going to be in. But I absolutely detest people who use their position as an excuse to be late at the start of the day, when nothing’s run over time yet. It just shows that they don’t even have a minimum of respect for the people who work for them. And I’m a morning person, so it’s no problem for me to get to a meeting early, just so I can grab a cup of coffee and still be on time. In the days we had in-person meetings, that is.

  11. Tigger*

    For the design question, if you can charge by the hour, do so. Also bill monthly if they are a repeat client, it helps to make sure you are paid while working with then, rather than waiting for projects to finish. After that, your mindset becomes “if they want to pay for this stupid change then have at it, I’m making money.” Some clients I have want quotes, others don’t and don’t care how much they end up paying. So if they want a quote, something along the lines of “here is a quote for the initial design and two rounds of revisions. Of course the cost will increase if there are multiple re-designs and rounds of revisions, I can let you know if we get to that point.”

    I’ve been working on the same brochure for over two years now. Every couple months the guy wants to change the design and layout. Haven’t even gotten it to print yet. It’s frustrating, but by making sure he pays me each month for the hours I worked means I won’t be stung if he decides to take forever or even drop it.

  12. Danish*

    I have been on both sides of the design issue. I’ve worked design jobs where the client keeps wanting changes of ever-decreasing ROI for all our time, as well as the person requesting a design that the designer seems incapable or unwilling to execute on; sometimes I will then change the whole idea to something, uh, simpler. I’m sure that’s frustrating, as it would be to me, but there’s only so many times I can entertain “no, you still didn’t nail it” before I wanna give up on the idea.

    Definitely suggest charging by the hour – for people (LIKE ME, APPARENTLY) who want a particular execution, or who are indecisive… well, either you make more money, or they will figure out how to phrase things better to save time.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      If you see the design is WAY off base though, it’s probably better to cut and run. I’ve done that with writers and designers. I’m a former designer in marketing and work with other designers, and sometimes you get one and you’re just not on the same page because of their style.

      If you’re having problems with a designer, I’d also suggest showing or giving them some examples of what you’re specifically looking for upfront. I always do that. Like I want my website to do X and look like Y here’s some links, for example.

  13. Magenta Sky*

    For #3: This is a cultural thing, called proxemics. Different cultures have a different sense of personal space. For most Americans, the most comfortable distance is about about where your wrist is if you extend you arms. For some places, it’s inside the elbow, or even closer. Often, it’s different for men and women, as well. When you get a mix such as the letter writer has, both are very uncomfortable, no matter what either does. In an open room, one will move up close to their comfort zone, the other back back off the theirs, lather, rinse, repeat, over and over, and often, *neither will even realize they’re doing it*. (In letter writer’s case, there’s no place to retreat to, so it gets *very* uncomfortable.)

    The best approach here would be to read up on proxemics and discuss it with the other person, so that you both understand it’s not personal, and it’s not intentional. Then work out a plan like the grown ups you both undoubtedly are, because, as they say, knowledge is power.

    1. WellRed*

      I don’t know any Americans who would be ok with someone COMING BEHIND their desk when there’s zero need to.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        If you are uncomfortable being three feet away from someone you’re talking to, you’ll want to move closer. That means either coming *around* the desk, or *over* it.

        It’s not a conscious process, as a rule. If you’re from a culture with that close a sense of personal space, it’s perfectly a natural thing to do.

        1. Artemesia*

          There is a such a gender issue here too — it is so often about men dominating women and their space which is what the OP’s situation feels like. A man who feels he should be dominant but isn’t in this situation.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, I agree. I’m from Finland, where we tend to have a very large personal space, to the point that the 2-meter (>6 ft) distance imposed by Covid restrictions felt only slightly larger than natural to most of us. Sure, in crowded public transit we can flex, but a Finn pretty much never, ever sits down next to a stranger if there’s space available elsewhere in the carriage. At least not unless it’s a man who wants to sit next to an attractive young woman…

    2. PollyQ*

      Disagree. Reading up on proxemics would probably be interesting, but there’s no need to turn this into a seminar or a negotiation for some kind of plan. We’re talking about someone who reports to the LW, so all that should be necessary is saying, “Please don’t do that,” which Alison’s scripts address nicely.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        If it is a cultural thing, being arbitrary about it is discriminatory. Probably not illegally so, but bad management nonetheless, because the other person very likely has no idea what’s happening or why.

        And when you want someone to change behavior based on cultural norms, you can’t reasonably expect them to do so instantly and perfectly.

        1. Danish*

          Its not discriminatory to tell someone to not stand so close to you, even if it is the norm in their culture. And yes, you can also expext someone to immediately understand “step back and dont come so close”.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Actually, I think that would overcomplicate the situation.
      This veers into making assumptions about the other persons culture, and that’s generally a bad idea.

      Just don’t make a big deal about it. “Could you please sit over there?”

      1. It's not Monday*

        Generally the best approach is to deal with the behavior not motivation or personality. “This is unacceptable. Please stop .”

      2. Magenta Sky*

        There’s assumptions being made on all sides here. You, for instance, are assuming that “Could you pleas sit over there?” with no explanation of why would not be taken poorly by someone who is uncomfortable being so far away from the person they’re talking to because it’s normal for them to be much closer.

        Instead of making assumptions, try *talking* to people.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          How is making a request not talking to people?
          If they have some reason they don’t want to follow the request, they’re quite capable of stating it.

        2. allathian*

          She’s the boss here, she has the authority to tell him to sit wherever she wants him to sit, regardless of any assumptions about his preferred personal space.

          But yes, I’m from a big-personal-space culture, and I would definitely not think it was okay for a male boss to tell his female subordinate to sit closer to him… Or for that matter, for a female boss to tell her attractive male subordinate to sit closer to her.

    4. Ana*

      Someone is entering in my office, I’m gonna tell them where to sit/stand. I do not let them decide where to sit.

    5. Nance*

      “The best approach here would be to read up on proxemics and discuss it with the other person, so that you both understand it’s not personal, and it’s not intentional. Then work out a plan like the grown ups you both undoubtedly are, because, as they say, knowledge is power.”

      That is making it a much bigger deal than needed. You can just say “please sit in the chair while we talk.” Problem solved.

  14. It's not Monday*

    The personal space one is weird. Could be a seriously clueless person or an authority/power play?

    Alison’s advice was great! It does sound like LW 3 has been too subtle about staking out their space. Directly saying “you stay over there” is needed with this type of person.

    Not respecting your personal space can be a clear sign of disrespect.

    Anecdote time: we had reorganized and I had a manager from a different location. He came to visit one week. We sat down in my office & he asked me to come sit in front of the desk. “Maybe he wants to side-by-side to be collegial?” I thought. No, he then went and sat behind my desk for the 1-on-1 meeting. It was clearly a power play.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      It’s not clear at all. Go read up on proxemics, and consider the likelihood that the letter writer, in today’s world, would have mentioned if the employee was, say, an immigrant from the middle east (which has a much closer sense of personal space the most Americans) – imagine the reaction to anything that sounds even remotely like “these foreigners are so pushy”. To arbitrarily declare “My culture is superior to yours” without even trying to understand why it’s different is pretty offensive, too.

      It *could* be a power play. But it’s at least as likely it’s a cultural difference. We don’t know, because there’s nothing in the letter to tell us.

      1. It's not Monday*

        I used qualifying language in my response like “could be” and “can be” to show this was not a definitive conclusion but a possibility.

      2. wordswords*

        Sure, it’s definitely useful to mention this — if there’s a cultural difference at play, that’s definitely something for LW 3 to consider. (Although I’m confused by your assertation that, in today’s world, it would be wildly taboo and unheard of to mention that the employee is from a different cultural background when asking for advice on handling something interpersonal like this. Plenty of letters to Alison contain things like “he’s originally from the Middle East and we’re in the US, if that’s a factor.”) It doesn’t change Alison’s advice for immediate response, though. Either way, LW 3 can and should politely ask him to sit down across the desk, take a step back, etc.

        Now, it’s certainly possible that LW 3 didn’t think to mention relevantly different cultural backgrounds between her and her employee. But she does mention other factors like age, gender, and past experience, all of which make it plausible (though certainly not guaranteed) that this is indeed a power play. Getting inside a younger woman’s personal space and coming around someone’s desk into their work space as a power play in order to demonstrate that you’re the other person’s peer or superior are far from unheard of. It might or might not be what’s going on, but based on the information we have here, I do think a power play is more likely than a cultural difference.

        In any case, LW 3 should consider both options, or a combination of the two, based on the rest of the context that we don’t know. Either way, the response to the situation is basically the same. But what it does affect is how much leeway she should grant versus following up sharply (defaulting to different cultural norms whenever you’re not paying attention is a lot more understandable than refusing to stop doing body language power plays, conscious or not, with your boss after she’s asked you to knock it off), and what attention she should pay to the situation with her other direct reports. (Is he trying to subtly position himself as superior to them and/or a second supervisor? Is he perfectly respectful but accidentally making people uncomfortable with similar cultural differences of personal space? Is he only impinging on LW’s personal space and no one else’s? All of this is useful information to figure out the root of this, and also, is useful information about the team and how well they’re working together and whether there are things LW needs to address.)

        1. allathian*

          There’s no evidence the guy is from the Middle-East, and even if he were, most Middle-Eastern cultures have a high degree of segregation between men and women. Many Muslims and Orthodox Jews won’t even shake hands with a member of the opposite gender. So I’m not sure how much proxemics apply.

          I think it’s far more likely that it’s an older man who’s trying to show his dominance over a younger woman, who just happens to be his manager.

      3. JayNay*

        @Magenta Sky On AAM, we generally follow the assumption that when commenters or LWs describe a hunch they get from a situation, that they’re correct. I think that’s a good starting point. you’re projecting your own assumptions on this situation rather than taking It’s not Monday at their word.

    2. Ana*

      I agree. This person is not a novice, they’ve been in the business for years, even ran their own business. They know the norms of the industry. They’re invading personal space as a powerplay.

      I’d simply say “In my offices visitors sit/stand over there”. If that doesn’t work, I’d call security.

  15. What's in a name?*

    I always bring a water to an interview. I think it is important since dry mouth is very possible and I can take a drink to take a break. Is it common for people to consider it rude of people to bring their own beverage?

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      Overall I don’t think so. I would say that I myself wouldn’t want to tote around anything that would stand out significantly.

      I remember I once had a woman come in for a client meeting and she pulled out this enormous Nalgene water bottle. This thing must have been 2 liters. We didn’t hold it against her or anything, she was great to work with and we really liked her, but you better believe she was “giant water bottle lady” from there on out.

  16. DisneyChannelThis*

    Curious to know what the date of the Christmas decoration was, Oct/Nov okay they’re just overenthusiastic, grinches just deal with it. March? Yeah that’s obnoxious and grinches may have a right not to see that all year.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The question was answered in early November. I don’t think it’s appropriate to call people “grinches” who don’t want a religious holiday pushing to take over an entire calendar season.

    2. to varying degrees*

      I went back and looked, the letter was published on Nov 8th (2017) so I’m guessing probably a little bit before then, maybe the first Monday after Halloween?

    3. Hlao-roo*

      The original letter was posted on November 8, 2017. The OP commented with a few more details:

      OP #1 here
      She is the co-receptionist and it is visible to all who walk in. Most of the staff is talking about Thanksgiving and have relayed their displeasure in having Christmas items up before Thanksgiving.
      On another note, she decorated for Halloween the first week of September, the other receptionist has a birthday early October and wasn’t thrilled that Halloween decorations were up for her birthday.
      As I type this, I’m thinking WOW I have some pettiness in this office!

      1. CharlieBrown*

        A few baubles up all year is probably fine.

        Garland and tinsel and lights all over the place months ahead of the actually holiday is probably not.

      2. Grinch*

        Personally I loathe Christmas. It stirs up a lot of unresolved grief and just find most of the decorations tacky/ugly. I hate going to stores because they put that crap out in frekin August.

        But I’d keep it to myself if a coworker decorated early. Roll my eyes, complain to my outside friends but ultimately grin and bear (bare?) it.

      3. DisneyChannelThis*

        Not everyone celebrates Christmas and it’s a very loud color scheme usually red + green which can be quite obnoxious.

    4. Dinwar*

      October is for skeletons, bats, pumpkins, and ghosts. If you bring Santa into this, be prepared for the consequences!

      Less jokingly: I think it depends. A Santa or two on a desk in August? Weird personal quirk. We all like different things, whatever. Full-scale garland, trees, wrapping paper, etc. in August? That’s just strange. If it’s in your work area, fine, whatever–you have a right to be comfortable–but I’m going to avoid it. If you’re decorating the office that way….that’s not so good. Mostly because some of us prefer other holidays, and someone taking up all the space with their favorite holiday by definition excludes the rest of us.

      Religion enters into this two ways as well. For my part, I find Christmas to be so heavily commercialized that I don’t presume anything about the religious beliefs of someone who decorates for it. But it can make people uncomfortable. Further, it precludes other religious celebrations. Setting up Christmas decorations in October is a way of saying that Samhain doesn’t matter, for example.

      1. Laika*

        Super tangential but I just saw a friend’s post on social media with their fully-decked-out Halloween house. I’m not much of a decorator but I couldn’t help but think how much work she put into adhering like 500 spiders and bats to her walls and how she’ll now live with them for another 3 weeks. Wouldn’t you kind of get indifferent to them after a few days? I love a spooky/festive/whatever house as much as your next person but the impact wears off pretty quickly (or maybe that’s just my ADHD…)

        1. Dinwar*

          I guess it depends.

          Some people don’t become numb to it. My family used to help a priest decorate his rectory for Christmas, for example. This started the Friday after Thanksgiving and ended the Sunday before Christmas. It literally took weeks and a good chunk of my family to do it. There were hundreds of pieces (if not thousands; we never counted them), ranging from prefabricated backdrops to painted windows to an entire village on a table (I wonder what ever happened to the village and table…). Everywhere you looked, from ceiling to floor on two floors of this building, was decorated. He loved it. He was as excited about it the day before we took it down as he was the day we put it up. He spent all year looking forward to it.

          For me, death has always been a part of my professional life. You don’t collect ancient bones without coming to the realization that whatever the thing was, it’s now dead. You certainly don’t macerate road kill without realizing that death is part of life. And when I’m not dealing with dead things, I’m dealing with deadly poisons for a living. Even the symbol of my religion is used to signify horror. I figured it was healthier to embrace the creepy than do take other options that presented themselves. Three weeks isn’t much time, all things considered. And for those weeks I get to express myself without driving people away. It’s not weird to have a collection of dried frogs and snake skins and animal bones, it’s festive! This is the world I’m most comfortable in, and for one month everyone else sees it the way I do. It’s hard to imagine getting tired of that.

        2. KittyCardigans*

          You really can’t make that assumption; it’s very individual. I enjoy the process of decorating my house, and then I am delighted every day by the decorations until it’s time to take them down, which always makes me a little sad. That goes for both Halloween and Christmas decorations. I want my decorations up for a full month so I have enough time to really bask in them!

          Similarly, my mother works in a Christmas-themed retail store and gets daily questions about whether she gets tired of Christmas music. Nope! But she is very tired of that question.

          1. Laika*

            I love the responses from both you and Dinwar! I appreciate you both taking the time to explain your experiences and point of view. I wasn’t kidding about the ADHD thing – I will literally forget new purchases if they’re not sitting directly in my line of vision, so I think my relationship with decorating is more atypical than most. Everyone deserves to feel cozy and celebrated in their space and I definitely understand how decorating plays an important role in doing that!

  17. Whitecircle*

    Our design agency has a term for this – “Scope Creep”. Each project only allows 3 revisions. As the client, and a Marketing Manager, I find it really useful as it restricts back and forth with our company’s directors.

  18. merida*

    The first question on design work is interesting! What about when the graphic designer is in-house at a larger company, and the clients are internal (ie other departments)?

    I work in marketing as a liaison between a designer and internal clients and we have this problem often… people don’t know what they want or do know but don’t know how to communicate it, or they have tons of philosophical debates and changes to the content so we end up doing round after round of copy edits rather than design edits. This is the second industry in six years where I’ve been in this kind of role working with a designer – and the issues with revisions and clients are the same everywhere. Boundaries are harder when we don’t have a black and white contract to fall back on. I’m still not sure how to navigate it.

    1. VC*

      I also have this issue as an in-house designer.

      It’s possible to do some of Allison’s recommendation with business rules instead of contract language — for example, the Graphic Design ticket form notes that a requested deadline gets you up to three rounds of proofs, and further proofs may result in your deadline being pushed out. On my team, if a project gets to the third round of proof, I’ll often schedule a meeting with the client to clarify the project goals/concept/whatever. Obvs this all requires your managers / department heads to have your back in enforcing those policies, and it doesn’t work when a VIP gets into the mix, but we thankfully don’t have too many of those.

      There’s also an amount of internal training and client management that goes on — the art director has every-so-often sessions to teach people how to write well-defined requests, gather assets, set project timelines, etc.

  19. Raida*

    Standard practise – have a set number of revisions.
    Charge for revisions beyond that.
    Put it in the contract.
    Go over that explicitly with the Clients.

    THEN have a good record of decisions made, written communication about decisions from the Client.
    AND clearly state when there will be no more revisions left – not “that will cost money as per the contract” but rather “Sure thing, so that will be changing this from the horizontal blue to a portrait pink and white concept, with just the one revision left for changes needed after that.”

    AND clearly state that ‘requests’ are Revisions, clearly state when and how much the Revisions are. No wiggle room for confusion with your clients!

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      I just ran into this with an agency a few months ago. Company had a rebrand that happened in the middle of my project. It was the first round of changes, so they were able to incorporate the new design, but at that time they clearly stated that any additional changes would “add to the scope of the project.”

  20. Doesn't celebrate Xmas, shocker I know*

    “There’s no reason she can’t decorate her cubicle however she wants, assuming it’s not offensive in some way” OR involves music, animatronics, anything disruptive to coworkers.

    And honestly, the kind of person who decorates for Christmas _before Halloween_? Definitely a non-zero chance their decor is disruptive to others because they’ve lost all sense of boundaries around that holiday.

  21. Katelyn*

    I had a coworker who celebrated Half-Christmas, June 25th. She had a little tree she put up for the day at her desk. She gave presents.

    1. allathian*

      Awww! That’s kind of sweet, actually.

      One of my coworkers is a huge Christmas fan, to the point that she has a Christmas room in her house that’s decorated year round. It doubles as her office. Normally she uses a neutral background for our Teams meetings, but last December she was really happy to be able to show it to all of us.

      But even she waits until the first Sunday in Advent has passed before decorating her desk at work. (We’re hybrid now and were hybrid even before the term existed.)

  22. Dawn*

    I’m absolutely not in the design industry so take this with a grain of salt, but very frequently with unreasonable customers I have to say, “Our options are A or B, which one would you like me to do?” and that general sort of attitude towards customers who don’t actually know what they want really tends to cut down on the time we spend running around in circles.

  23. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    I was a designer for many years, both internally and externally. It’s very frustrating when you have clients who can’t make up their minds, don’t know what they want, or only know what they don’t want after they see it. If they are your client, you can put this into your contract, that they get X number of revisions for this price. Anything extra will be billed in hourly increments.

    You might want to check out the GraphicArtistsGuild dot com for some good pricing and ethical guidelines.

    If your “clients” are internal departments, the task is much more difficult because they’re not paying you for revisions and it can run you ragged. I would still try to state a policy of 3 revisions max before tabling the project or going back to the drawing board entirely. I’ve worked for people who insisted we redo a website every single day for three months straight. It was the worst summer of my life.

  24. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    I knew just from the title that this would be a designer! I do get the same to a certain extent as a creative freelancer, but at least as a translator, I can tell my clients that since their English is not good enough to do the translation themselves, it’s not good enough to criticise my text either. (Which is not true since they usually know their subject matter much better than me, but it does apply to idiomatic expression and grammar)

    The limit on the number of revisions is a great idea.
    Another strategy I like is to purposely leave some silly little error, typically an outlandish typo, that they’ll be sure to notice. When your job is to correct the mistakes, but you don’t find any, you sometimes start picking on things that are purely subjective (nonetheless instead of nevertheless for example). So correcting my outlandish typo reassures them, that they are indeed contributing to putting out a good text, and that they didn’t just go to sleep half-way through. The lack of other mistakes simply means that I did a good job.

  25. Anon for This*

    If your birthday is in October, I think you have to expect to see Halloween decorations up. However, November is for Thanksgiving. You take down the Halloween decorations and put up the ones for Thanksgiving on or about November 1st. After Thanksgiving, you decorate for the December/January holidays.

    I find it kind of overbearing for someone to decorate a common area for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I also wouldn’t be surprised if that same person did not include any decorations for the other holidays that occur around the same time of year.

Comments are closed.