3 Lessons Learned From An Unethical Client


I have debated about writing this post for quite some time. On my way home from work one day, I saw KingLong Lighting’s ads with design elements that they copied from me on every lamppost. That is when I finally decided to share this story because it is the only way I can turn this into a positive learning experience for myself and for other designers alike.

Here is the story…

About a year ago, the general manager, Ms X of KingLong Lighting 琪朗灯饰 – a well-established lighting company, got in touch with me about redesigning their company logo. Senqiu Lighting recommended me to her. Excited about the opportunity, I naively jumped on board. After I got a short brief and history on the company from Ms X, I spent the next 4 weeks researching, sketching and solidify a few design directions for the next meeting.

Our 2nd meeting didn’t go so well. Ms X didn’t like my designs nor did it match KingLong’s image according to her. I wasn’t about to give up so early so I squeezed as much info and comments as I can out of Ms X hoping that it would help me when I get back to the drawing board. At that moment, I have given her a project estimate but failed to have the contract signed. I kindly and firmly communicated to Ms X that KingLong should not use or reference any of my designs unless they compensate me for my service. She agreed. I was worried because I was showing her my work without a signed contract or a deposit.

I showed her another round of designs in our 3rd meeting 2 weeks later. Ms X liked the new designs. She thought we could make it work with some fine-tuning. I was delighted to hear that from her. She told me she would follow up with me after meeting with her boss about the designs. I never got any call back from Ms X. I reach out to her a few more times with no answer so I decided that this was a dead-beat project.

A few months went by and this event became a distant memory but then KingLong posted a series of new advertisements across the entire town. They were posted on the rail station, street lampposts and on highway t-billboards. Shocking to see, they used a background pattern design that was very similar to what I presented to them during our meetings. So below are 3 things that I have learn from this experience.

1. Have a project management system in place and stick with it.

I was naïve. Since KingLong is a big and established company, I thought I could trust the people working for them. So instead of preparing a project/cost proposal and getting a deposit first, I went straight to work with the assumption that I can get the deposit and signed contract later on. Do not make the same mistake. If you have a system in place that works for you, stick with it no matter how big or small your client is.

2. It is not your problem until you get paid.

Your client may tell you that the project is very important and very urgent and that you should start working on it right away. Don’t! Take care of the contract and the deposit first. Don’t feel guilty for not doing any work before the contact is signed and payments are settled. If your client were serious about work, they wouldn’t have any problem signing the contract nor giving you a deposit in a timely fashion.

3. Deal directly with the company owner whenever possible.

Decrease the possibility of some internal personal taking credit for your designs by dealing directly with the company owner. If the company owner decided to cheat you, tough luck!

To be fair, maybe KingLong Lighting wasn’t the unethical client. For all I know, I only dealt with their GM, Ms X. I never presented my designs to her boss directly so maybe she took the credit for my work since she was responsibly for ads. Maybe that is why their new ad design is so similar to mine. I hope I am wrong but if not, shame on Ms X for being unethical!

June 5th, 2013 | Blog | 7240 Views | 1 Comment ›

One comment »

  1. June 6th, 2013

    ZHU says:

    Experience is the best teacher~~

Leave a comment * Required fields.


  • "Sure someone else could have created a greater logo redesign for EME Lighting but I was sold on Tim’s diligence & reliability plus I love our new logo! It is fresh, symbolic of who we are while staying in line with our brand intention."

    - Bill Lee
    CEO of EME Lighting
  • "Tim is a trustworthy and effective designer. He redesigned the entire visual identity system for my company & I am extremely pleased with it. As the CEO of a company with over 3000 employees, I would recommend Timmy to anyone looking to have some serious design work done."

    - Tony Ou
    CEO of Senqiu Lighting
  • "Tim effectively designed my website and newsletter. What impressed me the most was his ability to create the images, style and design I was looking for. I highly recommend him if you are looking for someone reliable, flexible and talented."

    - Christine M.
    Owner of Acupuncturebody
  • "Tim has a great personality that makes him a pleasure to work with. He is focused, hard working & always has an attention to details. He has great curiosity and constantly strives to learn & develop himself taking his work to the next level"

    - Slava S.
    Director of Creative Services at STV
  • "Tim conceptualized original ideas & executed the design brilliantly. He always made sure the highest technical & design standards were met. I could always count on him to translate the client vision into reality."

    - Linda G.
    VP Biz Dev. at Real Estate Arts
  • "Tim is a highly talented designer. He has excellent technology skills, amazing dedication & terrific interpersonal abilities."

    - Michael S.
    AD at Real Estate Arts
  • "Timmy is a very talented designer, he is passionate and reliable, his work is always creative & on time. He’s a good person with lots of energy, which makes him a pleasure to work with."

    - Jess L.
    AD at Sudler & Hennessey
  • "Timmy got a great system for helping you figure out what you want, need & putting those ideas down into a tangible product. He has done 3 sites for me already & anyone I have recommended him to has called me back to thank me."

    - Vahram S.
    Owner of Brooklyn Body