Annica Lydenberg & Co. Present the 10 Commandments for Clients
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Annica Lydenberg and how did she get here?
I have been freelancing for 15 years - it wasn’t by choice at first but I certainly made the most of it. I designed a lot of Flash websites in the early 00s that was a thing, but eventually I got sick of websites and wanted to learn hand lettering. I enrolled in the Type @ Cooper program in order to get a proper typographic education and I did a great deal of personal projects to get more relevant pieces in my portfolio. Personal projects both when I was getting started, and still today, have always driven the kind of client work I get.
What was the impetus behind building “The 10 Commandments for Clients”?
One of the big things I’ve been focusing on is bringing more honesty into my work, making personal work that is relatable and will hopefully make someone feel less alone. Of course, I relate to the plight of the freelance designer; we’ve all been there through those terrible client moments. So after having written these maybe 7 or 8 years ago I finally moved forward by inviting 10 other badass lettering artists to execute their favorite one. This made it even more of an act of solidarity with others.
Throughout your career, have nearly all of these commandments been broken by your clients at one point or another?
Yes, absolutely. And none of them only once… I literally had a client who tried to tell me she showed a packaging concept to a focus group. Upon asking questions about the demographics of the focus group, she finally admitted she had just shown her mother.
Do you think it’s ever wise for creatives, either young or well-established, to do work for free? And if so, is that strictly something that the creative should offer, as opposed to the client?
A friend told me recently something that I thought was fascinating; they said the world was made up of ‘askers’ and ‘guessers’. ‘Askers’ just ask for whatever it is that they want with no concern given and ‘guessers’ only ask when they are nearly certain the answer will be yes. As a result ‘guessers’ have a hard time saying no because they fear it was presumed they would, in fact, say yes; ‘askers’ are well aware that no is an acceptable answer. I am a ‘guesser’ and it pains me to say no to people and I have often resented being put in a position where I need to do so. But you practice it and it gets MUCH easier.
All you can do is educate yourself, know your worth, realize your actions impact your peers and don’t be scared to say no. But ultimately only you can make the call. There are other ways a job can have value.
Do you have any advice for creatives to make it even easier for clients to follow these rules?
Be clear from the beginning. Always make sure your expectations are communicated early on and also be sure your client is doing the same for you. I ask a LOT of questions at the beginning of a job and always state what is typical in terms of work process, payment process, and where the job begins and ends. Also, don’t ignore red flags. Sometimes it’s best to walk away.
Aside from creating “The 10 Commandments for Clients,” what can creatives do to look out for one another and make sure their peers are being treated fairly?
The best thing we can do is listen to one another and help each other see what we are allowing in our lives. In figuring out how to treat ourselves fairly as individuals it makes it so much easier to demand the same of our clients. I find great value in these conversations.
by Annica Lydenberg
I’ve been a freelance designer for well over a decade and have worked with many clients. These relationships have been varied: some phenomenal, some functional, and a few… failures. In thinking about what makes some more successful than others it is clear to me that, just as with any relationship, the rules you establish at the beginning can be very hard to change later. As a freelance designer, you are your only advocate. Be clear about your rules, communicate well, and communicate often.
The 10 Commandments below, adapted for Clients, will provide the much-needed guidelines which, if followed, will make all of you the exceptional Clients we know you can be. The ultimate goal is always to have a relationship of mutual respect for one another’s time, skills and knowledge.
These struggles are not unique to my path as a designer so I reached out to ten of the most talented freelance designers and lettering artists I know to each select and illustrate one commandment. These are people that I believe work carefully, deliberately and deliver the best work a Client could ask for.
– 1 – Thou Shalt Have No Other Designer But Me
Dear Clients, When we work hard and give you lovely design files, please do not change them without us. Do not pass them off to your cousin’s roommate for future updates or hire a different illustrator to emulate the style we developed for you.
– 2 – Thou Shall Not Covet Design Done On Spec
Dear Clients, We would never ask you to do work for free. All work, including treatments, sketches, mockups, and concepts have value. No one goes to a bakery, asks for a custom made cake, and then says they’d like to eat it before they decide if they want to pay for it.
– 3 – Thou Shall Not Use the Word ‘Exposure’ In Vain
Dear Clients, As it turns out, “exposure” does not pay our rent and we cannot use “increased followers” to buy coffee or to cover health insurance. This is not an acceptable form of compensation and we both know it.
– 4 – Respect the Weekend and Keep It Holy
Dear Clients, No Monday deadlines. As freelancers, it is often expected that we
never stop working, but please respect that we, too, would like to be off the clock on
– 5 – Thou Shalt Not Use Opposing Adjectives to Describe thy Project
Dear Clients, Do not set us up for failure. Please be clear about your values, your mission, and who your audience is. Do not ask us to make something for you that is both “whimsical” and “edgy” at the same time. This isn’t a thing.
– 6 – Honor thy Designer’s Expertise So thy Project May Be Pure and Wise
Dear Clients, When giving feedback, avoid giving design direction. This is why you hired us; it is what we do, and we are good at it. Instead try to speak to ways in which the design isn’t fulfilling its ultimate aim and we will fix it.
– 7– Thou Shall Not Request Work Be Completed “Yesterday, hahaha!”
Dear Clients, Unless you can send us the project request “Last month, hahaha!” then this is not helpful. And it isn’t funny. If you want to be funny please send a good dog meme, and then give a timeline that reflects reality.
– 8 – Provide Final Content That Is Final
Dear Clients, Whenever possible please do not change the name of your company after we finish your logo, please do not rewrite your copy after we’ve done your lettering. These are not changes they are a redesign. When a redesign is unavoidable, please expect to compensate accordingly.
– 9 – Hold Sacred All Invoices to 30 Days
Dear Clients, Surely if we can get your project done on time, you can write a check in 30 days. Just saying.
– 10 – Thou Shall Not Consult With thy Neighbor’s Wife for Design Feedback
Dear Clients, Random opinions and personal preferences alone are not useful. Unless your neighbor’s wife is a designer who sat in on our meetings and read the brief then we don’t want to hear it. If you feel a focus group is necessary then let’s do that together. But your mom is not a focus group.