Tell Me About a Time You Dealt with a "Stupid Client"


hen building a design team, one of the most important things to focus on is not ability, stature, or experience — it’s personality type.

After all, you’re going to be working with the people you hire for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for many years to come — it’s essential to make sure that culturally they’re a great fit. Are they going to be someone you can rely on, someone you trust to have your back at every turn? After all, agency life is tough. There are long days, long weeks, and on occasion long weekends, you want to make sure you’re hiring a team you’d want to be in a fox hole with.

In my experience, the worst thing that can happen to a team is negativity. Negativity spreads through a team like termites through a tree, and quickly destroys morale. There are of course times where we become frustrated, annoyed, maybe even angry — which is perfectly okay, understandable, and a healthy thing. This is a stark contrast however, from a consistent stream of negativity.

After considering the above, it’s clear that a good portion of our interview process should be focussed on cultural fit — in particular, I like to ask a few questions in our initial phone interview that begin to probe around this topic. One of these questions is “Tell me about a time you’ve dealt with a stupid client” — yes, it’s a leading question. Milton Glasser is quoted as saying “There are three responses to design: ‘Yes’, ‘No’, and ‘Wow’…”, and the same is true with this question.

The three paths

The absolute best answer (or “wow”) would be for them to respond with something along the lines of: I actually believe there is no such thing as a stupid client. As designers, we are the experts in our industry, and it’s on our shoulders to guide them through the process. If there are crossed wires occurring, it’s on me to improve my communication and resolve it.

The acceptable answer (or “yes”) would be for them to calmly and reasonably reflect on the experience, something along the lines of: I once worked with someone who was incredibly frustrating — they continuously wanted to be involved in the design process and felt the need to change things all the time. Looking back, I realise why, and how I could have made my process more inclusive to establish a stronger end result.

The red flag answer (or “no”) would be a response filled with annoyance or anger that’s still very raw, something along the lines of: I worked with this one guy that was totally unreasonable. They wouldn’t stop changing things for absolutely no reason, they completely ruined the design and made it impossible for me to continue. I basically just did as they asked to get rid of them.

Why does this matter?

Here at New Lion, we’re not a typical design agency. We work with idea stage founders who are often very green to the product development cycle — they don’t understand wireframing, or the process of iteration and feedback loops. Not only is it on us to guide them through this process, but we also teach them about the process so that they can continue to build their company once they leave the nest of New Lion. So, inherently, it’s important to build a team that are already at least sympathetic and actively looking to guide and help clients.

Is that the end of the road?

No, of course not. Our interview process involves many stages and factors to ensure we get a strong fit — if you stumble at one hurdle, there’s no reason you can’t clear the others. We take a very holistic approach to vetting candidates, as we want to make sure it’s a strong fit for you, and for us.