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Client insisting on a bad design

Inside_out

Hi, 

This is my first post so go easy, I'm an experienced architect more than a few grey hairs, but fairly new to working for myself. 

I have a potential client who couldn't initially describe exactly what they wanted, so I undertook some initial draft designs for a small extension. 

Now they have come back insisting on this MS paint layout that they want, It technically works but I think that its a fundamentally bad design - my first proposal gave them everything they wanted but despite my best efforts they clearly while being undemanding and nice people to work with are also set in their views (I think they knew at the start exactly what they wanted but were just unable to show it until I sketch plans) and I will essentially just be drafting and running the project. 

They want a new bathroom with no windows and to brick up old windows which could have been left into this room, mad. Moreover they want remedial works which would involve path repairs to failed finishes etc. which I think are wrong and will fail in a short time. 

Should I take the project, and the money which is helpful but not critical. I can cover myself with letter of the finishes I think will fail. But as a new office I will be spending my time on a project that I will have no pride in, nor that I want to been associate with.

Thoughts.. 

 
Dec 2, 21 11:29 am

Sounds like you don't care much for the way the project is heading. Is this your only work right now? If you can cover your finances with other projects and/or you have other work coming in, I'd cut your losses, get paid for the work  you've already completed, and direct them towards a nice draftsperson. Don't waste time on projects you wouldn't want to show to future clients.

Dec 2, 21 11:45 am  · 
1  · 
RJ87

I'd take the opposite approach to this, not every project is a winner. If it's what they want, take their money with a smile. Just make sure it meets code & you're not liable. Don't diminish your income just because you wouldn't want to show it to future clients.

Dec 2, 21 2:44 pm  · 
1  · 

Yeah if you have no other options and you're starving for work. But if you have other projects that you'd be proud to display, then taking work you don't like only cuts the time you could be spending elsewhere. You attract the kind of work you take on, so if you're taking on work that you don't enjoy or aren't proud of, that's the kind of work you're likely to keep doing.

Dec 3, 21 12:05 pm  · 
1  · 
RJ87

I'd take on a mediocre project well before I was "starving" for work. As long as I can manage the extra work, I'll take the money.

Dec 6, 21 3:45 pm  · 
1  · 
s=r*(theta)

Same, Im in business to make money not be the great design gate keeper. Post the work you are proud of, cash the checks on the ones you're not. I've been in business for well over 2yrs now and have done anything from custom homes, multifamily, mixed use, shop drawings, drafting support for other architecture firms, did a site plan and routing for a food truck company....etc. Keeping the lights on is the most important thing

Dec 10, 21 11:29 am  · 
1  · 
archanonymous

Drop these clients while you still can. 

Maybe even issue a memorandum about the potential for finishes to fail and any code non-compliance the design would create - whatever will help back you up if they were to get really pissed off and try to recover the fees they have already paid.

Dec 2, 21 12:01 pm  · 
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proto

Explain to them the failures of the proposed project in a neutral but baldly frank manner -- don't give offense but don't hold back either. Presumably they hired you for your experience and knowledge, not your cad program. If they come round, great!

If they don't, you have an opportunity to not be a part of the project. Be helpful in guiding them to someone less expensive who can be the pen for them... & get out!

Dec 2, 21 12:12 pm  · 
3  · 
mightyaa

Meh... Welcome to owning a firm. Do what you can to sell them that you are the expert and this isn't a good idea (you'll get better at it over time); but some clients will always think they know best. 

Since you're starting off, you might not be in the position to walk away financially plus you might open yourself up to some liability (delay cost, etc. for replacing you). So just CYA, bang it out, cash the check and bury it deep in the archives. Then use it as a learning experience for down the road about how to choose clients. All firms have skeletons and projects they'd rather not have their name on.

Dec 2, 21 12:37 pm  · 
8  · 

Happy clients make good referrals. And don't forget the cardinal rule: the customer is always right. There are also contractor and other relations to be explored, all of which are essential in building your new practice. 

As to the window in the bath, find out what their concerns are and design a way to address them. You can sell them on ventilation, natural light, increased resale value, etc. Cover the window temporarily and have them experience a damp cave. If the still insist on removing it, refer to the cardinal rule.

Dec 2, 21 1:36 pm  · 
3  ·  1

The customer is not always right. I can think of at least a dozen instances where a client wanted to do something that would have not only gotten them sued but us as well.

Dec 2, 21 2:34 pm  · 
2  · 

People who don’t serve their customers will be out of business long before those who do. As for health and safety that does not apply to the OPs situation.

Dec 2, 21 4:05 pm  · 
3  · 
tduds

If I remember correctly, "The Customer is always right" originally promoted to the idea that companies should produce what people want to buy. It doesn't mean that the consultant needs to bend over to meet their every whim, no matter how naïve or misguided. Might be one of the most mis-applied idioms in the English language - and most frequently by shitty customers when they know they're wrong.

Dec 2, 21 4:13 pm  · 
2  · 
monosierra

Agree - probably better re-phrased as "Respect and understand the client's goal, and provide the best professional services to achieve this goal". Exceptions being if the goal will have detrimental consequences that far outweigh any benefits. In that case, the onus is on the architect to inform the client of this. If the act of achieving said goal violates laws or professional conduct, then the professional service provider should inform the client accordingly and reject the job.

Dec 2, 21 4:55 pm  · 
1  · 

Miles - serving your customers and adhering to the idiom of 'the customer is always right' are two different things.  

I suppose I could be wrong in my views.  Then again I've been practicing under the view that I serve my customers and 'customer is NOT always right' for the last 19 years.  I've been successful thus far . . . 

Dec 3, 21 10:39 am  · 
 · 
tintt

Chad says, "I'm done with Sergio. He treats me like a ragdoll"

Dec 3, 21 8:40 pm  · 
 · 
gibbost

A couple things.  First, your perception is reality.  They've hired you to draft their bad ideas.  They've been thinking thru this bad idea for months and have a MS Paint drawing to prove it.

I recommend the book 'Unconscious Branding'.  It speaks to the idea of artfully convincing a client that the good idea was always theirs to begin with.  Our brain doesn’t always clearly differentiate between something real and something imagined.  You need to cleverly determine a path forward that allows their bad ideas to be transformed into good.  A real judo-mind-fuck.  Best of luck!

Dec 2, 21 3:16 pm  · 
3  · 
x-jla

It takes a bunch of these compromised bathrooms before you get into a position where you can screen clients to your liking.  Some projects will be for the magazines, some for the bank account, some for the referrals.  Only about 3-5% of my work is something that wasn’t  compromised by bad Client design demands.  It’s just the nature of the game.  

Dec 2, 21 10:13 pm  · 
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x-jla

Sounds nothing like what most design professionals experience. If you did what I suggested 10 years ago, the Astoria Goonies tours, your screen name would be ‘’RichRick’ by now.

Dec 3, 21 5:32 pm  · 
2  · 
Inside_out

Thanks for all the suggestions, 

I think in my situation I do think along the lines of having a happy client putting out tenders etc. its all making connections which is good. But I think that the design they want is so compromised that a. they will realise when they see it, then its my problem. 

(I did some 3d for free to try and show that issues, their lack of change based on images showing two dark windowless internal rooms is what flagged to me that they wont change their views)  

And b. I don't even want my name on the public documents which might normally be a good way of getting work in the area, sure they might even personally recommend me but if any of their friends come and see it finished in my mind or even on plan they will be like hell no I'm not using this guy. 

I think what makes me really not like it is that one of them clearly is dictating what they want and I know that despite my kind words to say this or that isn't a good idea and explain clearly is not good they go away think about it and come back saying nope we want that, with half of it being what I think are dodgy details and the last thing I need is some PI claim in the future the time in that would cost me way more. 

To close, I think since I have done all this work pretty fast I will cut my losses short. 

Just as a ps to the comment on the fees / cost etc. this I think is part of the issue, they are insisting on a compromised design to save a few bucks here and there. Perhaps because I said exactly how much I thought it would cost. 

Dec 3, 21 4:43 am  · 
5  · 

I abandonded architecture for art. The main difference is I'm not married to projects (clients) for a couple of years. If someone likes my work they can buy it. If not, thanks for stopping by.

Good for you to have the self-knowledge and clarity to move accordingly. 

Dec 3, 21 10:15 am  · 
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reallynotmyname

@ Inside out: Sounds like a good plan of action for you. Sorry that rcz1001 latched onto this thread!   Consider referring the difficult client to them.

Dec 3, 21 2:45 pm  · 
2  · 
geezertect

This has problem client written all over it  It's a chicken shit remodel job. Not worth the brain damage. Move on.

Dec 4, 21 10:26 pm  · 
2  · 

a good decision, I think. Somewhat counterintuitively we have found we get more respect and better clients when we walk away from work that is not in line with what we think is good and/or worth doing.

Dec 6, 21 8:31 am  · 
1  · 
James Bragg

> I think is part of the issue, they are insisting on a compromised design to save a few bucks here and there.

Sounds like this is the typical client who wants to value engineer their own project not knowing what they're doing.

What inevitably happens in this case is that they end up not liking the end result (despite you have told them so from the start) and resent you for having accepted in the first place. Classic.

I would drop them if I were you.

Dec 8, 21 4:34 am  · 
1  · 
geezertect

And then they will re-value engineer your fee and you'll lose money on the job. Rotten clients start to smell early in the process.

Dec 8, 21 10:03 am  · 
1  · 
reallynotmyname

Consider having the clients sign a limitation of liability clause that you can add to their contract with you.   Explain to them your reservations about what they have asked you to do and have them agree to only being able to collect a small amount of money if they ever decide to come after you for errors and omissions.  

If you don't already, you should try to get a limitation of liability clause in all of your contracts.  Especially if you are doing lots of small residential alterations.  The more homeowners you do work for, the higher the odds of some of them being litigious stinkers who will drag you into a legal dispute.

Dec 3, 21 9:33 am  · 
 · 

Rick, you really need to stop giving advice considering you're not a practicing architect.

Dec 3, 21 12:02 pm  · 
4  · 
reallynotmyname

For a more factual and reasoned discussion of the issue, try here

https://www.aia.org/articles/6075794-protect-yourself-consider-a-limitation-of-

Dec 3, 21 1:19 pm  · 
 · 

Rick, the point is - you are not a practicing architect. You have not been in this situation, nor are you even remotely qualified to be giving out legal advice . The appropriate answer is "consult your lawyer".

Dec 3, 21 5:21 pm  · 
3  · 

Just stop, Rick. Just. Stop.

Dec 4, 21 10:54 am  · 
4  · 
On the fence

Bad designs exist all over the place.  As an architect you should lead them to a better design but at the end of the day, you have been hired to provide for the health safety and welfare of your client.  Which does not mean you should ignore their wishes just because you feel the design is bad.

Dec 6, 21 9:40 am  · 
1  · 
shellarchitect

everyone should note that Limitation of Liability documents are very dubious.  They may offer protection from the current client, but there are many other possible victims who could bring a lawsuit.  

Dec 6, 21 4:05 pm  · 
1  · 
reallynotmyname

Our insurance carrier seems to think they are good enough to give us a discount based on the percentage of contracts we enter into that incorporate a limitation of liability. YMMV.

Dec 6, 21 4:53 pm  · 
 · 
proto

re: "dubious"

sort of like a ski ticket where you acknowledge the risks involved...sure, you can litigate that, but there is a significant step involved for the person who agrees to the limited liability clause: acknowledgement of those terms up front. Especially useful for projects up thru permitting...once you get to construction the exposure changes for the designer re: liability

Dec 7, 21 1:00 pm  · 
1  · 
whistler

Don't take projects for cash flow,  fire the client and tactfully agree to disagree, be professional about it. You just don't have to bad work and chances are it will be a cheap build and you'll have you r name on it and likely you'll liable for it too!

Not hard to walk away from that dumpster fire!


Dec 6, 21 8:58 pm  · 
4  · 
bowling_ball

If you've got employees, cash flow is pretty darn important.

Dec 6, 21 10:19 pm  · 
2  · 
whistler

I have been through very similar situations earlier in my career and can speak from experience ( and I do have many employees ). What I learned was that bad clients, with bad ideas, makes for bad situations and bad business. I have since chosen to not grow the firm beyond a comfortable size that I don't have to take every project and if you speak with many architects who run or ran their own firms it's a common theme about what they would do differently.... and I asked! Another perspective you may not have had the pleasure of isBeing taken to court and sitting through that shit changes you very quickly

Dec 7, 21 12:50 pm  · 
6  · 
axonapoplectic

Bad clients also make quality employees not want to work for you.

Dec 8, 21 11:29 am  · 
5  · 
whistler

That is so true, bad vibe in the office is a real killer for motivation ( as are lawsuits ) people want to be inspired in this industry. Having Charlie Munger is not who you want coming through your front door and I can bet the Architect who signs and seals the drawings for that dorm building of his is holding his nose while he accepts the check for the work!

Dec 8, 21 2:58 pm  · 
3  · 

In regard to taking work for cash flow, that can be a necessity if you want to stay in business, especially if you have an office and staff to maintain.

Dec 10, 21 12:09 pm  · 
1  · 
whistler

Dude read the notes above! The want to stay in business is an absolute necessity but design your office business tactics and client strategies so you don't have to take the Charlie Munger's of the world. Be smart about your approach. I could easily have grown my practice to much greater lengths but at what cost, pumping out shitty designs and managing a staff of CAD monkeys. Sorry that was never my objective and shouldn't be if you have to take poor clients that insist on bad ideas. You are only as good as your last project and if it's shit you won't stay in business for very long. We don't do any marketing, its all word of mouth and repeat clients who obviously like what we do and still get new clients based on something they liked in an older project from years earlier. This isn't rocket science and I don't run some high brow big A architectural firm. Modest size firm that has more work than we can handle, my goals are met and objectives of staying business seem to have been achieved and then some.

Dec 10, 21 8:39 pm  · 
4  · 

I wasn’t arguing the point, I was just pointing out economic reality. My old man said it comes down to a choice between eating and sleeping.

Dec 12, 21 3:03 pm  · 
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