Client not pleased with work

K, so I finally got the opportunity to design a product for the industry that I’m crazy about. Having never designed one of these products (but with a lot of experience using them,) there was a bit of learning curve. They’re complex.

Anyhow, I quoted $2000 per CAD model for each size. That’s pretty fair, IMO, considering the amount of work required. It took 4 CAD models to arrive at a finished size during the development of the product. They feel that they’ve spent $8000 and have nothing to show for it, but I say it’s part of the design process. Some things were missed during the first few versions, some information I didn’t have, etc.

So, basically, I have a client that’s unhappy. They’re going to use the design but want me to do the final version basically for free. It’s like a stab when they say they have nothing to show for it. Thoughts? I tried explaining that it’s all part of the design process. Nothing is flawless on the first go-around. Every version opened up dialogue and each following version got closer and closer to the final.

Always a tough situation to be in, but in the end it comes down to how much you value your relationship with the client. How much experience does this client have with the design process? In both instances I’ve had this issue, its been clients who are new to the process and who didn’t see value in design exploration or the leg work taken to get to the end result.

It sounds like there was a miscommunication in deliverables or I’m perhaps not understanding? The client assumed 2000 per product and you intended 2000 per revision? Regardless, if you want to keep this relationship and continue in this field of work, it seems like you should compromise on your side somewhat to make them happy, but don’t get screwed in the process. But I think its important to have a healthy discussion with the client and explain your POV but also clearly state that you want to continue working with them in the future, come to an agreement that makes both of you happy and treat as a learning experience for both parties- so in the future you can better plan and price your work together. It will be a loss in the short term for you but hopefully one that will be repaid in the future.

I worked for a guy who took it in the shorts on every project hoping to get more work from a client down the road, that rarely materialized.

You have to carefully guage how much work there is coming up for them, how many products do they produce - what is their lifecycle - what is their market like, have they obviously used ID in the past or just had the CADjockey do their appearances?

Or from your end, is this going to look great in your portfolio, or not how bad do you need money right now? How bad do you want into that industry…

It sounds like they expected to pay $2000 per size, and that’s it–so it was a communication problem.

I’d agree that rapid iterative prototypes are part of the design process, but conventional wisdom says that’s low-fi, cheap and fast. Sketches and hand made mockups, or maybe a 2D rendering. We all know CAD modeling is high-fidelity and an expensive medium to be working out the design in. Like me, they probably view CAD as the final documentation medium, not an iterative tool.

Did you keep your client in the loop at each iteration? Or were they surprised to learn you did so many? Or surprised they had to pay so much? (As the vendor, you need to keep them informed of the burn-rate.) Was there a “not to exceed” clause in the contract?

As for the final for free–Don’t feel burned–this was a communication problem. I think its fair if you want to keep them as a client–just don’t let it happen again!

Very good advice, fellas. Thanks. I’ll probably just do the final for free (gulp) and try explaining that the sketches and the CAD models were part of design exploration. It’s a new relationship that I’d like to see continue in the future as well as get my foot in the door for this particular industry.

Yup, sorry, but it sounds like the error is on you here. Of course without knowing the details of the project/contract/deliverables, etc. it’s hard to judge.

It does sound like you priced it per final model, but then have in fact charged them to rebuild it 4 times along the way (which without knowing the changes or geometry may or may not have been necessary. Then you are trying to bill them for each revision/model. If they were expecting a $2000 invoice and you are giving them a $8000 invoice (plus more for the final) I’d not surprised they are unhappy.

I guess the lesson here is to learn what you are quoting on and make the proposal very clear. hopefully it works out. If I were you I’d not only give them the final model for free but refund the $6000 you charged for the other model in you error.


How was the proposal written?

If it was specific about goal/objectives/deliverables and you have the obligatory “Changes in scope can be accommodated but will effect timing and cost.” phrase, I would be tempted to tell them to suck dirt. But since this is your first project with this client, I would probably cut them some slack. Be sure to objectively point out the change in scope verbally and I would write it on the final invoice. That way they know not to try it a second time.

The numbers I’ve used aren’t the real dollar amounts, just examples. In the end, we’re only talking about $800 either way.

In the end, they’ve really only had to pay me $3K for sketches and development of one size CAD model. That CAD model is the direct basis for the rest of the sizes, so the remaining models will only be $800 per. We had a RENshape model created to look at things in closer detail.

I do hope to continue working with them and have no doubt that there will be future projects. This part just sort of hurt my pride a bit because I feel like I’m a good designer and they perhaps don’t see that right now because of the costs associated.

Again, I’ll do the final one for free. It’s a TON of work but will be worth it in the end, even if I only have a good portfolio piece out of it.

Ok, now im completely confused. different numbers and now you say it wasn’t 4 different models…? anyhow, if it works out for you, that’s all that matters.


Sorry, I can see the confusion.

First, I did sketches. From there, we started on a CAD model to start hammering out details. That was the first “version.” From there, I went back and did more changes and more refinement to the CAD model. That was the second version. During this time, there was a lot of conversation and images being sent back and forth in order to get things dialed in. I’m preparing to do the final CAD model now that all the details have been ironed out. I guess they were expecting all of those CAD models to be rounded into one model price, whereas I see it as part of the development of the design. The CAD model I’m working on now will be a final size file and should be worth $800 alone, but I’m going to do it for free in order to get the relationship on good terms.

Thoughts? And thanks again for everyone posting…very helpful.

ah OK. Ya, normally unless you specify it, revisions are not different models and not price separately. there’s the sources of the confusion from the client’s perspective. guess it’s a good lesson to learn though if in the end they are happy and you have a good portfolio piece.


You are correct. They were expecting all of those CAD models to be rounded into one model price and it is part of the development of the design.

Was the goal was to design “X” and the final deliverable was CAD data? Typically for me, that program would have concept sketches, refinement of a chosen concept(s), which could be sketches or CAD and then finalization and delivery of the data. It seems they snuck in an extra refinement, that happens and again since this was your first project with them, I’d let it go. But it should be pointed out and have a very clear proposals in the future. If they want extra refinement steps, they should pay for them.

Hourly rate my man, with an estimate up front. They want to jerk you around then just remind them what it’ll cost. People make decisions faster when they know not making one will cost them. If you quote them a project price you basically give them free reign to sap your resources UNLESS you are very well known, trusted, and respected OR you can reign them in so they don’t waste your time. Lots of clients will take you for a ride on purpose, most are just oblivious to your time after they get a quote they think they own you until they get what they want, but they won’t know what they want until they see it, HA!

oh so true! be very aware of what you are not aware of, and make more clear. plan for the worst, and hope for the best right?

one thing designers commonly do is jump to conclusions, without concentrating on the design itself. when you concentrate on your design, use phases. 1 conceptual 2 concept development 3 preparation for production 4 prototype 5 production. remember also, there will be development and refinements for production. few designers can move to production in one fail swoop, if they can - they have a very good foothold in production. if you don’t have a very good foothold in production (ie walk onto any production floor and do everybody’s job, better than they can), plan to revise for production.

make sure you charge for every hour you work, or include these hours in every project you do. many ways to charge a client, there are.


was it stated in the design contract that the payment was going to be for each revision?