Never work with children or animals

Every good design project has a few common factors set up from the outset to lead to its success. The bigger the project, the more important these factors are.

Sometimes, the client doesn’t know all these things when the engagement starts, that's fine. Designers will often grumble about their clients or stakeholders not bringing this information to the table, but as a designer, it’s a your job to work them out with the client. How are they supposed to know? You're the expert.


With that said, Zoe Grace Delprado is the worst client I have ever had.



Born on the 19th of April 2017, she threw all of the rules out of the window from the very first meeting.

So here are some of the most important things that designers should establish at the outset of the project, and how much of all this grief was definitely Zoe’s fault and not mine.


Clear objectives

If you don’t know WHY the projects being done, you can’t make informed design decisions. Instead the best you can do is guess at what the client would like, but often that's not the same things as what will make the project a success.

Why are we doing this?

Why AM I doing this? Why is SHE? This is literally 'what is the meaning of life’ stuff here, and I could not get a clear answer out of her tiny gurgling mouth no matter what I said. Some projects feel like they’re being done just for the sake of it, but this one takes the cake.


Hidden requirements

Every project has boundaries, aside from just time and budget. These can sometimes be challenging to pick at, and it's why most projects have a dedicated discover phase, to hunt them out. Sometimes this can be things that the design has to accommodate, like technical platforms. Other times, this can be things that will help move a project forward internally, like stakeholder presentations or documented rationales.

What do you need along the way?

90 mL 6 times a day? 120 mL, 4 times a day? Make up your damn mind. The requirements changed literally every day, with no warning. I Could not get clear indication from her about what she’d even be expecting the next day, we just had to keep winging it.


Agreed upon deadline

Everyone would love everything to be done tomorrow, but all good projects are grounded in a realistic deadline. Having all the time in the world can be just as much of a trap too, with things just dragging on.

When do you need it done by?

It was impossible to get a sense of the final deadline for this project, just some vague promise of 18 years. Not that I believe that now having seen other people in a similar position. Worse, the working hours seems to change every day, often demanding deliverables in the middle of the night. We just couldn’t get in sync no matter what we tried. I’ve heard from others that this gets better over time but I see no evidence of that yet.


Defined stakeholders

It’s not uncommon for everyone in an organisation to have an opinion on a project, but not only is it true that too many cooks can spoil the broth, but the time spent listening to everyones opinions can really blow out timings. Additionally, time often needs to be spent “playing politics” helping the main clients push back on distractions. Having a good solid list of everyone who matters, agreed to at the beginning, can make all the difference. Don’t forget to work out how you’ll get feedback from everyone and when they’re expected to give input as well.

Who can give input on this project?

In the 9 month gestation phase of this project, we were lead to believe that we’d just be working with Zoe herself. But since the project has actually kicked off, we’ve discovered that not only does every single human adult turn have an opinion on how we should run things, but every opinion is contradictory. Some of them can be quite nasty with their feedback too.


A Budget

Should go without saying, but in reality this topic is complicated. Many stakeholders really do need to kick tires early on to find out whether or not a project should even be done. As designers, it really helps in the long run to set clear expectations about what can be expected for different amounts of money. Mike Monteiro has a good write up on this.

How much money is set aside for this project?


On the other hand, I'm pretty proud of the work that we're doing. The client's bowel movement output is up 20%, and she is in the top 10% for head circumference. That's good right? I guess I’m looking forward to seeing the results, whatever they may be.

Matthew Delprado