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Clients from Hell

A few words with one of the secretive figures behind the client horror story blog

by Jacob Resneck
on 07 September 2011

Web designers, those anonymous talents who help make sense of the sheer volume of white noise out there, are the unsung heroes of the digital age. The transition for many businesses is rarely seamless though—irrational behavior coupled with an unhealthy dose of old-fashioned racism is expressed by many of these Clients from Hell.

Consider this one:

Client: I want more ethnic people, I feel as if there are too many "white" people.
Me: I see only one picture with Caucasian people in it—you want them gone?
Client: Maybe you could just give them a tan? Or make them more "thuggish?"

Or another:

"I got this email once from some lawyer in Nigeria and when I opened it and clicked the link, the same email was sent to everyone in my contact list. I thought, hey, this is a pretty smart and simple marketing technique. When I send out this email to the 4,000 people, I want it to automatically forward to everyone in their contact list. Can you have this done for me by tomorrow?"

The Clients from Hell blog has been cataloguing these types of exchanges since 2009 and came out with a book late last year, offering a humorous form of therapy for the tech community and a rare inside look at the petty and downright insane requests to which they are often subjected.

Cool Hunting tracked down "Vincent," a web designer in the 18-25 demographic, who is part of the shadowy team of disgruntled designers that have been running the site and recently published a 150-page book.

Cool Hunting: Which anecdotes do you find the most disturbing? Most amusing?

Vincent: The only anecdotes I find truly perturbing, actually, are the ones where the person who's sent it (the "me" speaker) is jeering and maligning someone for not knowing something they couldn't have possibly known. That's not the spirit of jest, y'know. When it comes to poking fun at someone for being technologically ignorant, the tone ought to be spoofy, if not just a bit frustrated. When it comes to the real slimy characters, the ones we hear about who casually employ misogyny and racism as business models, those are the guys that you can really sink your teeth into—they deserve it.

CH: How did the Clients from Hell communities develop?

V: The way most communities develop. We settled around a body of water, or some other lush, food-bearing area and proceeded to erect houses and practice agriculture, until the crop-yield became sufficient enough that we could support guilds and artists, forms of governments, kleptocracies at first and then monarchies and then democracies. Then we abused that democracy and sold our interests to foreign investors and got mixed up in a few wars. ;)

Do you see different patterns in different countries and regions?

It's mostly American, Canadian and English submissions, I think, with some Aussies peppered in. I always love getting submissions from people whose first language is clearly NOT English. Their delivery and word choice is incredibly awkward, but you can tell that they find what they're saying really funny!

What kind of submissions are unpublishable and can you describe why?

Ha ha, well the aforementioned submissions where the English is horrid but the emphasis is still punchy (e.g. "And then he ask me make Sunday work for only same prices!!!") are generally unpublishable. And we get a surprising amount of submissions where someone has clearly read one of our earlier posts and has a very similar story, so they send that. We can't publish the same joke twice, though, I feel like telling them.

As a design professional, is the relationship getting better, worse, or does it remain the same?

I'd imagine that as the generation that grew up alongside computers begins to grow up and take over companies, that the client/designer dynamic will be less of a comedy of misunderstandings.

What effect—if any—do you think the CFH phenomenon has had on your profession?

Very little. The people that ought to be learning from it aren't, unfortunately, the ones reading it.

How long do you reckon the CFH site will continue? Is their a clear goal aside from making a mint?

As long as there are fresh injustices or some fresh ignorance at which we can laugh or roll our eyes, there will be a CFH. If, one day, all the client relationships everywhere magically become harmonious and right, then we'll retire it.

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