6 Ways to Avoid Being a PITA Client or How to Win a Project with KV Design

Many of us are familiar with the project management triangle. You get two on the triangle and the third suffers (e.g., you want it cheap and fast, quality suffers; you want it top-notch by tomorrow, cost goes up). My entire business operates by this triangle. (Apparently so does every contractor I hire to fix something on my house.)

After working on a particularly rocky and frustrating project this past year, I now have a new triangle. This isn’t a project management triangle, but an evaluation triangle. It determines whether I will take on a project or client. (And it always assumes I have time, because if I don’t, then the triangle doesn’t even matter, it has to be no. I’m not going to deliver someone else a crummy project because I am busy.)


Like the project management triangle, if the client wins two of the three sides, then yes, I’ll take it on. What’s the PITA factor? If you don’t already know, PITA means Pain in the Ass. Let’s face it, lots of projects fail the PITA test. The client needs hand-holding at every step, there are a million revisions on a 3 revision contract, there are 400 emails when one would do (do I need to keep going with examples?).

Money is obvious – I will overlook your proclivity to PITA if I have a financial incentive.

Creative satisfaction is more personal. Does it present a really cool or interesting creative challenge? Is it something I’ve always wanted to do? Will this project be good for my portfolio? Note again your position on the triangle, if you are great to work with, and this is a super cool project but has no budget, I’m in; if you raise a bunch of red flags and don’t have money, there’s not enough creative freedom in the world that would encourage me do it.

I came up with my new triangle after being asked to take on a project that I just knew on a gut level I didn’t want. Then I realized it failed all three tests, total PITA, not a lot of money, and not particularly challenging or interesting. Rejected.

Is it possible to avoid the PITA pitfall? Of course! And since I’ve always wanted to create a listicle, here’s how:

6 Ways to Avoid Being a PITA Client

  1. Have a point person on a project. Make sure that point person is authorized to make decisions and gets consensus from all relevant parties before giving feedback.
  2. Don’t solve the problem for me. Designers have this running joke about clients asking to make the logo bigger. In reality, clients need to clearly identify the problem and let the designer creatively solve it. So in our “make it bigger” scenario, the client would identify the real problem (e.g., the branding isn’t prominent enough, the copy is stronger than the images, etc.), and the designer might find a more clever way to push a brand forward without always making the logo bigger (e.g., using more of a certain color, reducing the headline size, etc.). Oh, and while we are on the subject, watch this hilarious video about this exact issue… http://www.makemylogobiggercream.com/).
  3. Consolidate feedback and send at one time. Don’t send an email or pick up the phone every time you have an idea, thought or suggestion. It becomes challenging to amass all that into one solid round of feedback. Also, I get hundreds of email messages a day, so it’s very easy for small items and ideas to get lost.
  4. Build temporal flexibility into your initial project plan. Try to stick to your own schedule, and if you can’t, don’t ask the designer to make up for it. It’s hard for us when we are allotted a certain amount of time, and then the feedback loop goes on longer than planned. If you’ve built in a little cushion, everyone wins.
  5. Beware of scope creep. I am a nice person and often will do a couple of extra rounds of feedback without charging, but please respect me when you start asking me for extra pieces, like a web ad or a one sheet. Everything takes time and I make an effort to produce everything at a high quality, even the little things you might think of as throwaways.
  6. Be nice. Seriously, that goes a long way.

If you’ve got all that covered, you are just one side away from a KV Design triangle win!