The Relationship is Over, and It Isn't Your Fault

Every designer and design firm has experienced it.  The moment when you know a client is no longer going to remain a client and there is a ‘parting of the ways’.  The reasons are many (maybe infinite), and often the separation is mutual, hopefully polite and without ill feelings on either side.  After all, many times, it’s for the best on both sides.

But not always.  Sometimes the cutoff is abrupt, without much notice and punctuated with some, not-so-pleasant, e-mails.  In the past, I tormented myself over the thankfully rare times this happened, and genuinely puzzled over the why, when and how. 

In one example case, a very long-time (over 20 years) client of mine decided to stop providing me with the necessary updated credit-card information needed to keep his website running.  After two months of begging for that information he finally sent me an email the day before the site was scheduled to go down saying he would not provide that information and he planned on contacting the host site and handling the updated information himself.  A week later the site went down.  My follow-up emails and one phone call to him went unanswered.  Nearly a year later, I received a letter from his lawyer claiming I was at fault for my client’s site going down.  Since I kept copious records, I was able to set the lawyer straight (in a four-page letter) and never heard anything more.  I also suggested he work on his tone—the lawyer’s letter was unnecessarily rude.

My point?  You are not always going to know the how, when and why.  This was five years ago, and I still have no idea why that client did what he did.  It made no sense then, and makes no sense now.  It cost that client plenty.

On the subject of cost, I have finally arrived at the central point of my article.  Sometimes when clients part ways with their designer, they do something REALLY dumb.  They throw out everything the designer did—logos, collateral, signage, etc.-- and start over.  It’s childish.  I had one long-term client (over 8 years) do this even though he had years of equity in his logo, collateral, website, etc.  If I had to guess the value of that equity, I would say it totaled into the tens of thousands of dollars—seriously.  Today, his new logo is one of those mindless “swoopy” blue and green things that we see so much of nowadays.  I have no idea what the new logo cost him, but my feeling is, he paid too much for it.

Sidebar note—I have no idea why that client parted ways either.  One day, he started sending me ultra right-wing politically-charged and highly insulting email messages (he knew my political leanings because we discussed politics from time to time—didn’t seem like a bad thing to do at the time—WRONG, it was).  I replied to his email messages, saying that the emails did not relate to business and he needed to please stop.  He stopped alright.  Late that evening, he sent me a text message on my cellphone that used a long string of colorful language that included something about his uncle and a long stick--yeah, I have no idea either.  I didn’t reply to that and we never talked again.  I put his files in archive and that was that.

I guess my point with this article is, we designers can commiserate together on stuff like this because we sure as heck are not going to stop clients (who we dearly love) from being weird, stupid and childish, especially in these tough economic times (which has a LOT to do with this).  I hated seeing that client take thousands of dollars and chuck that money out the window simply because he was mad at me for some unknown reason—oh, I’m sure he rationalized the heck out of his costly decision. 

This client, rather than seeing his identity as a reflection of him and his business (which it was), instead saw me and therefore had to get rid it.  A parallel I can draw here is, if fans suddenly hate an actor because he did something they disagreed with in his personal life, they will stop watching the movies even if they liked his films.  This is a huge reason I avoid learning anything about the personal lives of celebrities.  If I could go back in time and change my history with that second client, I would have avoided discussing anything not related to work.  Unfortunately, that probably would have only delayed the inevitable.  The cynic in me speaks.

Have a great day.