Web Design Horror Stories

In the grand scheme of things every seasoned web designer has had an experience of a bad client, and will most certainly have there own horror story that will creep back into there minds from time to time. If you are one of the lucky ones yet to experience a client from hell, brace yourself, they are coming! You can’t avoid them, they are lurking in the deep recesses of the memories of every web designer they have already tarnished and scarred.

Of course there are good clients, and they outnumber the bad one 10 to 1, it isn’t them, those saintly people, that you will remember. It is those needy, clueless, ignorant, time-consuming and money-grabbing clients that you will sadly remember.

As time passes, you may look back on your own personal demon, sorry, client, and laugh about it, and chalk it up to as a learning curve. And if you are like the poor web designers below, you may feel brave enough to share your stories.

In this article we have collected the worst, or if you look at them in a different way, the funniest, web design horror stories and client quotes. Please, feel free to tell us about your own personal horror story or client quote in the comments below.

Web Standards Oblivion

The following is a story from Blake Scarbrough, a web designer based in Utah, about what can happen when others are oblivious to web standards.

A couple of months ago I designed a website for a new upstart company. The website was designed completely with valid XHTML and CSS. The client was happy and everything was grand when we finished our part. After the website was completed and running, a third party company was hired by the client to do some back-end website management for them.

To make a long story short, they wanted to host the website we designed and integrate it into their online software. This third party company, moved our files over to their server and a couple of weeks later to my abhorrence, this company had completely re-written the HTML—to bloated invalid table based HTML. Not only was it re-written with tables but the navigation was converted to images and javascript rollovers instead of the CSS list based navigation. All typographic headlines that were done with styles had been replaced with images. Several pages don’t render correctly in Mozilla. It made me sick, why would someone do that to such beautiful compliant code? I can only imagine it is due to their ignorance about standards based design and their lack of skill to understand it. (I also think they only use WYSIWYG applications to build their code which is probably contribute to the ignorance with HTML.) I emailed them and tried to explain to them why we use standards-based code and its benefits, but I have not yet received any response regarding why they re-wrote the code.

Read the rest of this horror story here »

Background Music in Web Design?

This horror story is from Lars Koudal.

Rarely, but increasingly often, a client asks for some background music playing while users navigate their homepage. It is annoying and puts a strain on the end-users computer.
These days the bandwidth is not the concern, as new technology has made streaming through Flash possible, and the music can start playing almost immediately. Starting the music by default is still obtrusive of the user-experience, and having to search for the off/pause-button within the first few seconds of visiting a homepage irritates the user from the beginning, and is a very bad beginning for users visiting the homepage.

On one occasion (this is years ago) a client insisted on putting music on his homepage for his visitors. It was so long ago that flash was not really wide-spread. Instead he opted (against the advice of my co-workers and me) to have it as a normal file. It is (was?) possible to integrate a music file into a sites using pure HTML coding, and this was what he asked for.

There were several problems with this. First of all, the music he asked to have on his homepage was 3+ minutes long, and to integrate it into the homepage, we had to use the .wav-format. The .wav-format is not know for giving small files, and to maintain a fairly decent sound-quality we had to use a pretty high quality setting.
This meant that we had two problems now. One, there was no option for the user to turn the music off, and we were gonna put a strain on the users bandwidth. (Back then, cable and DSL was not very wide-spread in Denmark nor in Scandinavia).

The client was happy, and chose to ignore the fact that the users could not turn off the music, I believe his exact reply were “Why would they want to?.”
About a month later he called us back and asked us to remove the music, he got a bill from his provider charging him for the obscene amount of extra MB of bandwidth his users were getting, bypassing his monthly allowed bandwidth by over 400% and that was very expensive back then.

He chose to ignore the information and guidance he received, and he got what he asked for.

Read the rest of this horror story here »

They should have known better!

This story is from Morten Ildal, a new media professional with more than 10 years of experience. He has been involved in a large range of projects for notable clients such as Magasin du Nord, TV3, Denmark’s Radio and many more. This is his horror story, but it isn’t about clients, its about project-leaders and CEO’s from the ad world, that perhaps should have know better.

Our CEO and a Art director once asked me if I could make a nice animated intro with 3d and stuff for a new tv-show our sister company just finished to shoot and was almost finished editing. My answer of course was yes.

I had been working there for a year, I watched with amusement as the CEO and the AD held meetings for several weeks without consulting me. One day I was called into the meeting room where they both, with anticipation, described their idea for the intro.

It involved live shots, cameras flying into pictures within books and with a lot of 3d and compositing. A dream come true for anyone working with 3d and motion graphics. When they where finished with the presentation they looked at me with joy and asked what my impression was.

As I like to be honest i told them i thought it was a brilliant intro and it would look stunning. Then the AD said “Well we expect you to have it done in three days.”
The rendering of the 3d alone, five years ago, would have taken longer than the three days that they stated. So after I pulled out all of my diplomatic skills and gently told them it wasn’t possible within that timeframe – they looked disappointed. They then realized they spent all of the time on meetings and with tears in their eyes asked me what I could do in three days.

So Ive ended up working around the clock on a animating graphics in Adobe After Effects and we ended up with usable intro. But no 3d or real stunning stuff…

Read the rest of this horror story here »

Three Warning Signs of a Nightmare Client (and why we sometimes don’t heed them)

This story is from a forum thread on Webmaster World, it is an analysis of the top three warning signs of a nightmare client on web design.
Being able to turn away business is a little intimidating at first. It seems counterintuitive to growing your company. But, it’s just the opposite. Turning away BAD business, and there is most definitely bad business in this field, frees up your time to market yourself to and design for quality clients.

Once upon a time, I received the “three warning signs” from a potential client all in the first sentence: “I don’t have much money, I need my site up and running a.s.a.p., and my current web design company won’t return my calls.

Hmmmm…why, I ask you, did some benevolent light-bulb go off in my head – the toxic urge to help someone in need, perhaps – and not the glaring warning flares? I don’t know. I took the bait. We met, I agreed to slash my rates, get it done in 30 days, and thus began a relationship with a client that, because of their micromanaging and nitpickiness, ended up diluting my hourly rate to about minimum wage.

I learned early on how to spot the warning signs of a nightmare client. It just took me a little while to figure out how to say “no..” Early on, I am sure that the desire to grow my business was at the heart of the acquiescence, even in spite of that feeling of dread you feel when you are about to execute the contract. Now, with plenty of work from corporate clients, many of whom refuse to micromanage because they have jobs to attend to, I can be a lot more picky.

“I need to do this as cheap as possible”

Usually, this comes out in their first inquiry. If I track the nightmare clients’ profile, I can definitely trace this comment to usually the very first phone call. In fact, it’s interesting how many of the potential clients who made this statement from the outset would ultimately either stand me up, or cancel the first consultation before we ever got off the ground.

“I need your best price” This certainly sends up the red flags now. Not because clients who insist on a fair and equitable price are inherently nightmare clients, but, clients who begin with this as their foundation, those who are price-driven, ultimately don’t understand value. They ask “what will you do for me?” instead of “what will my website do for me?.

“I need it yesterday”

A tight time constraint is not, in and of itself, a problem. In fact, a number of my better clients have been somewhat urgent about a launch date. But taken in concert with bullet point #1, this becomes indicative of a client who has no understanding of or regard for the process. They think you are sitting at home with nothing else to work on other than their $1000 site. Usually, all other aspects of their business, project, etc are equally in disarray. They are close to closing down, and their website is a last ditch effort to generate business, and so on.

This type of frenetic urgency is interesting, in that, usually, these people are the nitpickiest clients of all – critiquing every font, gradient, and crop. Wanting it done over and over until the picture they saw in their head begins to take shape, or, more likely, until it begins to look like their friend’s website, which is what they wanted it to look like all along, but were afraid to say so.

“My current web designer won’t call me back”

I have seen and heard many variants on this theme. Sometime it’s couched in secrecy, i.e. “our last company we just had a…well, it just didn’t work out”; sometimes overt, to-wit: “the web design company I hired dropped me” or “says they won’t do my site because they don’t agree with my content.


Now, this is much different that the client who breaks with their existing web design company because truly, they are getting bad service, or perhaps they entered into a relationship with a fledgling designer who either got in over their head or evaporated before they ever got off the ground, but you can definitely tell the difference.
This is the client who, by the tone and description of their “falling out” is clearly suspect, and it’s very soon apparent that the reason they had a falling out is because they were pouring scope creep into their relationship by the truckload, micromanaging, changing their minds, and diluting the value of the already whittled-down price way past the point of tolerant.

Read the rest of this post here »

“I Would Like a Website”

I am sure many web designers have had clients like this:

Caution! Six Warning Signs Of A Bad Client

Sometimes, you have to say no to incoming work. No, I haven’t lost my mind. Yes, I know the state of the economy. And yes, I know how hard it can be, especially during a recession, to find design work when it seems like everyone is cutting back, tightening up and sucking in.

By Alyssa Gregory, read more here: Caution! Six Warning Signs Of A Bad Client ».

20 signs you don’t want that web design project

Most clients are good clients, and some clients are great clients. But some jobs are just never going to work out well. Herewith, a few indicators that a project may be headed to the toilet.

By Jeffrey Zeldman, read more here: 20 signs you don’t want that web design project »

10 Warning Signs of a Bad Client

Designers need to design and bills have to be paid, but all work is not good work. In fact, some potential jobs (and potential clients) can cost you. Here are six warning signs that you may have a bad client lurking.

By Matthew Griffin, read more here: 10 Warning Signs of a Bad Client »

How Do You Know You’re Working With A Bad Client?

While it’s best to weed out bad clients before a contract is signed and the project begins, often times it doesn’t happen that way. I recently shed the weight, stress and hassle of a “bad client”, so I want to share that experience and five warning signs of a client you should avoid at all costs.

So how do you identify a bad client?

By Rick Whittington, read more here: How Do You Know You’re Working With A Bad Client? »

10 Tips For Communicating With A Difficult Client

As a web designer you are bound and determined to at one point and time come across a troublesome client. There are know-it-all clients, the low-tech clients, the day-late clients, and many more. No matter what their nature may be they exist and seem to come by all too often. Learning how to communicate with these clients can immensely change the outcome of your day-to-day productivity as well as your overall success.

By Shay Howe, read more here: 10 Tips For Communicating With A Difficult Client »

10 Types of Bad Clients and How To Avoid Them

Over the years, I have noticed that most bad clients seem to fall into certain common patterns. In this post, I share those patterns with you. Keep in mind that none of these bad client types are specific to any one client that I’ve ever worked with. Rather, these examples are a generalization of the many different characteristics a bad client can take. Personally, I rarely ever have to deal with a bad client in my business, and I’ll explain how you too can avoid them in this article.

By Laura Spencer, read more here: 10 Types of Bad Clients and How To Avoid Them »

7 Common Design Mistakes That Clients Love (and how to fight back)

From flash intros, to logo theft, to information overload, clients often ask a design team to do a lot of stuff that’s just plain wrong. Here are 7 of the most common mistakes clients might ask you to make — and how to talk some sense into them.

By Peter Alexander, read more here: 7 Common Design Mistakes That Clients Love (and how to fight back) »

Web Design Bad Client Quotes

Below you will find a collection of random, yet oh-so-familiar true quotes from web design clients:

Please follow original instructions. we don’t want this page to look tricked out or computer generated…

Our web site doesn’t load if I turn javascript off … please fix this.

I want our side bar to look exactly like amazon’s. oh, here i am gonna send it to you, just use it…and then maybe make it kinda pastel, i hear that’s the new thing now, to make things look feminine.

Can you guys make it more like a power-point presentation, you know, with the sliding text stuff and all?.

Well, I don’t think we really want it to look too much like a Web site. You know what I mean?.

I checked with a friend and they said there definitely IS a rainbow effect in photoshop, why did you tell us there wasn’t one?.

more fonts. use more fonts!”
“ummm… how many do you want?”
“how many do you have?

I just don’t understand why this Flash cost so much. I mean, I can do the same kind of animations in PowerPoint. Why can’t we do something like in PowerPoint. It seems pretty simple to me.

We want a website that can play DVD quality video, but we don’t want to use streaming video and the load time must be zero.

less creativity, bigger pictures.

I saw your flash and html demos and the 3d commercial that you prepared, firstly,”I should say I dont believe that web design is a form of art”,and what you create is a kind of “bad art.”You shouldn’t create those, our agency will inform you about design, just use the instructions which will come from them, and create the site… Isn’t that what the web designer is for?

Dude, I got you a CD of clip art. Let’s make this site look dope!.

What is so complicated? I can understand all this! Let me do it, do you really think it is that complicated? It seems pretty easy to me.

Can you do it like in the Matrix…you know with numbers, zeros and ones, and glowing light, like in the Matrix, you know.

…why don’t you use more of that purple and green together?.

Please move the buttons to the top right hand side as one of my friends who uses the internet a lot says they will look better there.

We want it to be black, but could you not make it so dark?

The fact that this logo is creative and interesting is exactly what is wrong with it.

Why do we have all this blank space here, what can we do to fill it up.

Can you make it work in Netscape?

I’m not to sure about that “sign-in” button. Could you please make me 50 of them so that I can choose.

Can you add a frog, just jumping around the page. That’s bound to get people coming back to our site”.

From a client responding to a prototype with ‘lorem ipsum’ text on it:
“Why’s the site written in Spanish? The partners are definitely going to want to know what that’s about!”

View the source and read more web client quotes here »

Make the Logo Bigger!

I am sure everyone has had a client that demanded this: Make the Logo Bigger! Awesome.

Design Coding Rap

Perhaps you should show every potential web client this video, it may help to put things into context and save you a lot of future agony.

Do you have a web design horror story?

We would love to hear about your own bad experiences with clients, please share them with everyone by leaving a comment below.


  • Eaa

    I was at a
    Facial salon when I strike up a conversation with the boss who told me about
    the problems that she is experiencing with her current Freelancer. Initially, I
    thought that the current Freelancer was the nightmare as we have all heard
    about Freelancers being unprofessional. I introduced myself as a website
    designer and she requested that I do up her website for her. And I accepted the job (Which I
    shouldn’t have)

    It was only when I first started working with her when I realized that it was
    SHE who was the nightmare. When I send her designs based on her questionnaire,
    she told me that was not the look that she is looking for. She showed me her competitor’s
    website and requested that I copy it – Exactly the way that it is. I informed
    her of the copyright issues and offered to do up another design.

    I send her
    the designs and that’s when the nightmare started. She called me and started
    screaming into my ears that she does not need a designer! Because she can
    design it on her own since I am not able to meet her expectations. Do note that
    she called and screamed into my ears 4 times. Being green, I was easy to be
    pushed over and she knew that and took advantage of it. I caved in and designed
    according to her instructions but using different elements so that it will not
    infringe on copyright. She was happy with it.

    With the approval of the home page, we continued with the design for the
    remaining pages. She called and told me that I did not place the elements on
    the design like how she wanted it to be. I told her that she could either tell
    me over the phone or write it via email. No way, she said. The design has been
    dragging on too long. She wants to sit down with the designer to complete the
    website within a day.

    Thus, I set
    up a meeting between her and the designer. The designer is my friend and I
    actually had to pay for the time he sat down with the client out of my own
    pocket. Never have I experience a Client sitting in front of me and instructing
    me and my friend where to place the elements. Not only does it create
    additional stress (With the client watching like a hawk), but I felt very
    insulted with her pinpointing where to place each and every single element on
    the website.

    Naturally, I
    decided to give up. It was not worth the amount of time and effort that I have
    to put in for the website. The project has already dragged on for 7 months and
    I was only charging her $1,100 for the entire website. This translates into
    $157 per month, $5 per day. I called her up and told her in the most polite way
    possible that I would not be able to continue on with this project as I am making a loss
    on this project. However, I am glad to refund her deposit. She started
    screaming at me and told me that she will sue me if I do drop her. As a student
    designer, when I heard the word ‘sue’, I was petrified. I found myself with no
    choice but to continue on with her.

    Finally, the
    design was approved (After much going back and forth) and was sent for coding.
    Again, there were issues with the coding. As hers was an eCommerce website, she
    sent me all her products (which was a few hundred) and requested that I upload it
    onto her website. I told her that uploading of products will be an additional
    charge. Again, she started screaming at me. She told me that I should have told
    her this in the beginning of the project and not at the end of the project.
    This time, I stood my ground and told her that there is no free lunch in this
    world. However, I did upload some products (not all) to shut her gap up.

    When it was
    time for her to make payment, she requested to give a post-dated cheaque. Fine,
    I thought. It was only till the end of the month. Lo and behold. During this
    period, she nitpicked on everything possible. From the browser refreshing
    (something we can’t control) to the navigation menu, it really drove me crazy.
    If it was a fault that the developer created, I would have gladly solved it on
    her behalf. But it was issues such as ‘Why do the entire page turn white when
    the browser refresh?’ How do you expect me to solve that? Like seriously?

    If I have a
    gun, I would put three shots into her brains. Bang. Bang. Bang. But the thought of prison stopped
    me. Next time, Im interviewing my clients before working with them. Even if business is bad, I would not
    pick up another nightmare client. Once is enough. Twice? I might really commit

  • Paidlancer

    If all that is needed is to upload pictures, why not do it yourself ? No offence, but it sounds like the person you hired is going through scope creep. If you said “build me this design in wordpress” then hes done that. If you said “build me this design in wordpress, and than I want you to upload photos, put them on the site, as well as build out any missing elements” than he has not.

    This is where contracts should of came into play, as I imagine you stated the first one, and you got exactly what you asked for. I feel bad for you, I do, but you always need to be clear on what your expectations are, and the fact that your designer, is acting like their doing you a favour may be because they are.

    Your statements, that you could “learn web design in a month,” “its only wordpress,” and that you “designed everything, all they have to do is drop images” shows how little you respect the industry, and how little you actually know about it. You stating how over budget you are has no bearing, on anything,  I never walk into a hotel, rent a room, than complain about the hotel because the costs of their services were more than I budgeted for, that would be stupid.

    As for condescending emails ………. you usually only get those if your a nuisance client that fails to recognize when what their asking for goes beyond the scope of work agreement, when the client gets rude, or when the client has a disrespectful attitude.

    You asked for a design for a theme be implemented into wordpress, now you want a full site developed, there’s a large difference there.

  • Nancy Hastings-Trew

    I took on the Client from Hell two years ago. It had all the typical earmarks of a bad client relationship from the get-go – no money to spend, needed it yesterday and I had to save him because his business was failing, his old developer wouldn’t contact him – all the classic red flags. But he was recommended by an acquaintance of my husband’s, I needed the work so I said what the hell. Of course he turned into a time-sucking nit-picking creep and though he did mostly pay on time, made me re-do so much of my work and caused me so much stress I thought I was going insane. Finally after almost two years working on two websites for him, I ditched him. What a relief. But it’s what happened next that was the total nightmare.

    For a while he was good about paying installments on his final invoice, but the payments started getting smaller and further apart until he just wouldn’t pay the last hundred bucks. He asked me to fix a small issue on the site right after I fired him, I was happy to do it just to get him off my back. Three days later he’s asking dumb questions about how to use his CMS. Then he blames me for the server going off line (like that’s my responsibility.) Then he asks me to add some function to his CMS that he thinks it should have had all along after a year and a half, but by then he’s already cut off my FTP access. Then he whined about having to look for a new company, even though I repeatedly told him it wasn’t my problem and to stop contacting me. Finally I stop hearing from him – or so I thought.

    A couple of months ago, after he’s hired a new company, he tells me I’ve neglected to supply him with the Dreamweaver templates which the new company says they need to remove my link and credit. I supply the files, which wouldn’t have been his property anyway, ask him to please leave the link intact and remind him he owes me $100. He does promise to pay and of course, doesn’t. The link goes away and I figure that’s that.

    Next thing I hear, a month later he’s sending ME an invoice for $480 for “advertising” for leaving my links up on his two websites. Naturally I dispute this and immediately send his account to collections since he’s being a total jerk. Then he starts telling me the website doesn’t work and he’s refusing to pay – AND he’s going to send HIS invoice to collections (hah hah.) It turns out his site was hacked that very week – somehow fitting, but not my concern. I stop answering his emails and figure that’s that.

    But wait there’s more – two days ago he sends me ANOTHER invoice billing me for the work to remove my link AND for the work the new company did to restore his files after his site was hacked – somehow he thinks that was through my omission and I should pay for it. I tell him that nothing that happened on the server once he removed my FTP access was any of my responsibility.

    I finally cry Uncle and tell him I won’t pursue the $100 he owes me, since it seemed that was what he was angling for all along. He kept saying that there “was a way” to resolve the issue without going to collections but never actually said what that arrangement would be. If he’d just asked reasonably I would probably have deducted the
    cost of removing my links from his balance, but he never actually
    suggested that as a solution. So no, he’s insisted on turning this into a gargantuan freaking drama instead.

    He maintains there are still “issues” on the website that are my responsibility, so it looks like he’s planning to bill me for any work the new company does for him, and he still wants me to pay the phoney advertising bill – “Because advertising is expensive and I would never have allowed you to leave your link on my websites without my permission”. And “Why you didn’t immediately remove your links the day you fired me is beyond my comprehension.”

    After all that, after reasonably pointing out that neither of us was going to get anywhere with collections, I told him to cut his losses and walk away as I have done, he tells ME I’m being unreasonable and to stop bothering HIM and to “stop my nonsense”. It’s like the old “Rubber and Glue” chant we used to say as kids.

    I’m hoping that now he’s asked ME to stop answering his emails that he will actually stop harassing me, but frankly I’ve got post traumatic stress right now and I’m afraid to open my email, because I’ve got a feeling the emails and demands will not stop coming from him and it’s going to be a one way correspondence with me as whipping girl.

    I’ve got to get a lawyer involved with this, I think.

  • ianhaneyit

    I need bit of advice if ok on here, I did a website for a client selling domestic appliances, the products were all being imported from the clients supplier csv file so was all updated automatically. I did the website but admit I made a fault with the checkout/payment processor, they told me to use direct version and so it caused the checkout to not work for a month but got it fixed, then there was a issue with the import and it was not adding new products or updating existing products instantly and images that were added manually were being overwritten by the import when it ran each hour. Because the import was also importing discontinued products, a order was made for a discontinued product and the client had to offer a customer another appliance which cost the client £200 more(I am not sure why he just didn’t refund the customer). All the issues have been fixed now and have had it confirmed by another developer that there was bugs with the import module, but the client has said last Wednesday he wants £1600 back due to wasted money being paid out for SEO, PPC and Facebook advertising but the site itself only cost £850. The client said if the money is not in his account by midday last Wednesday then he would instruct his solicitor to take me to small claims for £16,854 which includes total losses and payments made. The site has been live since 17th March this year. Just seeing where do I stand. There is no contract or nothing. I feel on my part the checkout/payment processor integration was my fault even being told by the payment processor to use the direct version and no one being able to checkout for a month which have been advised to only refund the client a month’s worth of compensation which would total £10 as the import issue was not preventing orders from being made. Sorry if this does not really belong here but thought would see if can get advice. I have now stopped all contact with the client now as been advised to legally.