How to avoid being fooled by a designer or The 8 ways that designers can trick you

How to avoid being fooled by a designer or The 8 ways that designers can trick you

How do designers deceive their clients? How can you avoid paying through the nose and be left holding the bag? How to choose a graphic designer to avoid a deceit?

Sometimes, designers prove to be uncooperative, and the job goes sideways. This article contains information about our friend’s galling experience and some stunning examples from the Internet that describe the most common ways that designers can deceive their clients. Read this – and learn from the experiences of others to avoid the mistakes other clients made!

At the end of the article is a short checklist you can use to find out whether designer you’re unfamiliar with is trustworthy or not.

Case No 1. When a designer disappears after the advance payment is made

When a designer disappears

When a designer disappears


A designer disappearing after receiving an advance payment is probably the most commonly encountered problem when working with designers – especially when you work with freelancers. The designer can either disappear completely with your money or palm you off with promises and drag the work out until you decline his services. In every case you’ll lose money, nerves and time. Here is a shining example:

Dmitriy Zhitomirsky [just_timonych]

Disappointing cooperation, the executor disappeared, didn’t answer messages. As a result, the deadline came and went. Thank you to the Safe Service Agreement, which helps to return the money in such cases.

Example of a comment about a designer who vanished

Evgeniy Neonov [Deedle]

Unfortunately, I failed to check Levas’s skills – he vanished, and the project had not been completed. After several days of a project delay Levas said there were technical problems with telecommunications in his region (it was me who contacted him!) and asked to extend the project for a few days. I showed understanding and gave him several more days. However, it was the last time we made contact. After that, Levas showed no sign of being alive for 2-3 weeks. Pity I wasted my time!

And one more. Link:

Roman Polisko

Hi, I have worked with various studios and designers – actually, I used to be a designer, I know how designers can cheat. The last case was in 2013. I prepared requirements specification, showed the samples I like. А man was with a good reputation on and other resources, but I hired him not via, but via, there I couldn’t leave a testimonial. I transferred 5000 RUB, he designed the first variant, which I didn’t like at all, as it was worse than his other works… I asked him to design another one, he let it all hang out. The money was transferred to his girlfriend, WebMoney. I felt something was wrong, but that guy had a lot of projects… I submitted the case to arbitration, WebMoney was blocked. Now I have no money and no design. Designers can cheat when they get pre-payment. Even working with great designers don’t guarantee you great results, so it’s necessary to work with a Safe Agreement… or when the designer values his reputation…

One more story we have received

How to choose a graphic designer to avoid such a situation:

1) Check the designer before making an order. The best way to check his reliability is to read comments from previous clients. The ideal situation is when one of your good friends recommends someone you can work with.

2) Do not pay for the complete work at once. Divide it into stages. Then your designer will be interested in completing the job and getting the promised amount of money. Even if you lose in this case, it would be just a portion of your money, and not all at once.

3) Ask the chosen designer whether he will be ready to return the advance payment in the event of non-performance. Discuss such situations in advance. Any promises, of course, may be empty. But you can drop those designers who refuse to return money under any circumstances.

4) When you work with freelancers, it’s better to be on the safe side and use special services for secure transactions; these are often offered by the freelance websites. Of course, you will have to pay for it, but the amount of money is much less than the amount you risk paying to a swindler.

Case No 2. When a designer passes someone else’s work off as his

When a designer passes someone else’s work off as his

When a designer passes someone else’s work off as his

Customers often forget to check the authorship of the designer’s work. What if the work in the portfolio belongs to a completely different person? You can easily fall into the trap of pseudo-designer who took over someone’s profile.

Irina Kustova, a marketing expert, shares her story about such kind of deception:

A well-known Petersburg estate agency decided to launch a commercial niche landing page for the owners of apartments. I worked as a marketing expert there and tried to find freelance designers. The budget was limited, and the requirements of the design were high, so I searched for freelancers up and down)) As a result, I found 5 designers to choose from. So the strongest received the requirements specification. His page on the freelance website was presented at a high level (a representative of a design company), his work looked super-professional, and he agreed to our budget! And then we started… When we agreed on the terms, he asked for the advance payment, transferred via webmoney. I felt there was something suspicious, but the amount of money was small and I didn’t want to lose that one and only “design guru” after a long search. Money was transferred, and I waited for the first mockup within the agreed-upon 3 days… Silence. I wrote to him and got more silence … I sent a letter to the company stated in the profile and received the answer: “We do not have any page on the We create cool landing pages, indeed, and we will happy to work with you. The price is this, the terms are that… ” The cost was 4 times higher!)) Here is the story. After that case, I realized you should economize wisely. Since that I do not try to find a great designer and pay him pennies.  

How to avoid such a situation:

1) Time pressure should alert you. All scammers use the fact that a decision must be made quickly. Take the time to explore Google Images to try to find the source of the work:

How to find the original image in Google Chrome

How to find the original image in Google Chrome

If the picture is found in various resources and the authorship belongs to different people, at least it should make you think.

2) If you like a studio’s portfolio, then it is better to look for contacts on the official site and not through other accounts in the freelance marketplaces. It is much more difficult to fake the website.

3) Do not hesitate to ask the designer to present his work. Find out which websites he designed and look who is identified as a developer in the footer. You can also ask the owner of the website about the designer. Previous customers not only will tell you the truth about the author, but also will share feedback about the work.

Case No 3. When the result does not match the quality of work in the portfolio

When the result does not match the quality of work in the portfolio

When the result does not match the quality of work in the portfolio

The portfolio is the pride of a designer. There you can find his best work, but you will not see all his masterpieces. So here you can face a situation where the result does not meet your expectations – you have seen work of high quality, but the mockup you receive has nothing in common with the examples that sold you in the first place.

Ruslan Volchkov, the head of a balcony repair company, shared his story about such a case:

I ordered a thematic landing page on a freelance marketplace. I really liked the designer’s work, and when got in contact with him I learned out that he lived while travelling around the world. I thought I had found what I needed! A man should be open-minded. He did his first mockup in a week. Then I saw it. That was harsh. I couldn’t even understand how a designer could design something like that! When I grumbled about it, he felt aggrieved)) What about my time? The person turned out to be irresponsible, did not take any comments… What’s more, I showed his mockup to the focus group, which burst into laughter. It was completely different from the work in portfolio! 

Example when the portfolio and real level of works differ

How to choose a graphic designer to avoid such a situation:

1) Ask the designer about his experience and study the portfolio. If you see just a couple of works from a designer who claims to have years of experience, it is likely that he has selected the best. Do not take them as a model of his typical work. Always consider the average quality of the designer’s work.

2) Ask the designer to present recent works, and study as much as possible the layouts to understand the average quality of his work.

Case No 4. When a designer passes the order to other contractors

It often happens, especially when you negotiate with a famous designer. He has a lot of orders, but he is short on time. So he passes your order to his apprentices or other contractors. This is nothing criminal. It is better to delegate a task than do it in a hurry. The problem here is that the quality sometimes gets worse.

Leonid, the chief of a construction equipment rental company, describes the same situation:

I will skip the name of the company, as we still cooperate. Now things run smoothly, but an unpleasant aftertaste remains. Three years ago they were the coolest guys involved in Internet promotion. I was tricked by the name and thought I would reach the top with them. I liked the way the audit was carried out (100 pages!!!), and signed an agreement for six months. When the time for the first reports came, we faced difficulties. It seemed that the project had been done by students. Probably I wasn’t their richest client, but that wasn’t a reason to disregard me. I wrote a letter to the CEO, and justified my resentment about the substitution. They didn’t admit the truth, but the next time I communicated with completely different people via e-mail (who had the same signature)! But even the writing style was different. It was unpleasant, as I worried and my confidence was weakened. 

An example of a situation where the work is done by a student, but you are unaware of it.

How to avoid such a situation:

1) It is better to discuss this question at the very beginning. If you like a particular designer, you should agree with him that he will work on your project. Always ask them to keep you informed of any reassignments and control the progress of the work.

2) If you initially do not like how the designer works, it is better say so at once. Maybe you will need to discuss the designer’s style of work once again. Sometimes, it is extremely difficult for a client to find a common language with the contractor. That is why it is much better to cooperate with a design studio, where a team of specialists works. For example, if we have a similar situation, we choose another designer. Usually, the client is satisfied because the other designer can evaluate the job from a new angle and add some new ideas.

Читай также:  Two killer tests you should conduct before accepting a landing page

Designers can also suffer from the unsuccessful delegation of tasks. Here’s an example:

I passed her the project, as I had no time for it. Transferred 50% advance payment to webmoney. She seemed to be a responsible girl. Interior visualization, 120 m., requirements specification was precise enough, the terms were discussed, delivery within 8 days. In 7 days, nothing was ready. For a month she fed me with empty hopes, I lost the client, got no pictures, no refund. As a result: no client, no money, nerves damaged. 

The other side of delegation: designers also cry.


Case No 5. When a designer performs a task irresponsibly and violates the terms

Orders for designers are unpredictable and unstable. Sometimes they have nothing to do; sometimes they are overloaded with orders. That’s why designers often agree to meet one deadline, but eventually they realize that they have overestimated their abilities. And then there are at least two possible scenarios. Variant one: a designer manages to meet the dates and completes the task overnight, but the job was supposed to be done within weeks. The quality in this case will certainly be poor. Variant two: a designer promises you he’ll deliver tomorrow, then drags on and gets on your nerves.

Here’s a true story:

Review on freelancer Sophie_B

Frankly speaking, I have never met with such absolute neglect. I created the project, cut a take, chose the designer, as we had already worked together. The task was to be done within 8 days. On day 5 I contacted her, asking not to drag it out, to send me the sketches I could suggest necessary improvements. Okay. Then silence. The day before the end of the project, I asked, “Are you ready?” The answer: “In process.” I got 15% of the task carried out. And I saw it had been done in haste. Question to designer: What have you been doing all this time? Why is there no respect for me and my time? If you want to lose clients and spoil your reputation, you will succeed in that. Bogdanka April

Example of a designer dragging the work out.


How to avoid such a situation:

1) Always have time in reserve. A good rule is to multiply the promised term by Pi 🙂 Designers promise a week? Have 3 weeks up your sleeve, without telling the designer. Then you will not worry about missing the terms, it’s the designer’s problem.

2) Before assigning the task, discuss it with several designers. A newbie can promise everything fast, but he can see only the tip of the iceberg. An experienced designer will see all the pitfalls and offer a more accurate estimate of the time, since he knows what he may encounter while doing the work. It is up to you to decide, but it is better to have more time in reserve.

3) Always try to monitor the stages of the work. Be involved in the project. If a designer has to choose more urgent work, the priority will be given to the project he is reminded of.

4) Choose the studios. If a studio designer cannot make the time for your job, he can always count on his employee who already knows the style and the level of his colleague. Moreover, the load is distributed proportionally in the studio.

Case No 6. When a designer increases the cost of his work

The client usually is unaware of the amount of work that a job may require. And some dishonest designers will try to benefit from that. Before the advance payment is made, they agree on one sum of money, then overprice it in any possible way. Some “sudden circumstances” occur and the customer is asked to compensate for them. You have nothing to do but to pay. The work has started, the money has been paid.

Here is one of such case from the Internet:

Review on freelancer demon_ir4ik_xd

Completely dissatisfied with the given freelancer. The task was to design a floating menu… A designer agreed, but then increased the cost from 200 UAH to 300 UAH. I accepted that, but the menu was done to lay me off. I asked her to do the work properly and got the answer that my site was awfully constructed and she needed more money. I paid 200 UAH, I thought to arouse her conscience… In the end, I found another executor who completed the task for 100 UAH without any problems. I do not recommend this freelancer. Very unpleasant experience! Vladimir Ivanov

Example of the fee increasing after the advance payment is made. Source:

How to avoid such a situation:

1) Write technical design assignment as precisely as possible, then the designer will be initially able to calculate the cost of the work 

2) If the cost increases due to your whims, then it is fine. What is not prescribed in requirements specification is to be paid separately. So consider the requirements specification in detail.

3) When a designer weasels out by trying to make you understand that his work costs more, he is likely to have miscalculated the volume of work. It is his fault. The conscientious contractor will not demand money for his mistakes.

Case No 7. When a designer sells your work

Many beginners use free stock photos and fonts from various databases on the Internet in their design and then it turns out that such images and fonts have been stolen. Well, the most dishonest designers can even use someone’s template, add a couple of strokes and pass it off as his own. Do not be surprised if one day you see your logo or icon, slightly modified, on sale. Here is an explanation of the excessively low prices charged by some designers.

The worst thing in this situation is that you will be accused of stealing the template, not the designer. And then you will have to appear in court, in a suit launched by the real copyright holder.

In confirmation of these words, here are two true stories:

Alex Pavlenko


I placed an order for website design with a Ukrainian studio. Everything went well, we cooperated several times. A few years later, I received a notification from Pingram about the illegal usage of a stock picture. The fine was about a thousand dollars. They told, that no matter contractors attracted, I am responsible. I wrote to the studio, they answered to forward all complaints to them. Then I got another letter that I have copyright problems.


I ordered a logo, got several variants, chose one. Then some changes were made according to my comments. Later I saw the same logo in different colors on the stock photo sites. Dude didn’t admit stealing. Just said she didn’t post on stocks and she worked on it. I saw several variants, But the price was strangely low.

Example of getting in trouble when stolen material is used in design.

How to avoid such a situation:

1) Now everyone knows that you cannot use a picture from a Google search or stock agencies, even if you remove the watermarks. But many consider fonts to be a free product. In vain.

Initially, agree with the designer that all fonts used in design can be taken only from Google Fonts. It is better to buy all necessary pictures and graphics from a stock photo site on your own and only then give them to a designer.

2) To protect yourself from unpleasant consequences, stipulate in the contract with the contractor that the designer must agree to use only licensed materials. Let all the lawsuits, if anything, be borne by the dishonest designer. In any case, this contract section will discourage him to use stolen materials.

Case No 8. When a designer reveals the secrets of the project before release

 When a designer reveals the secrets of the project before release

When a designer reveals the secrets of the project before release

If a designer talks a lot, it will cause substantial losses for the company.

All information in the advertising industry, and especially in the development of computer games, is kept secret until the release date. And when the secret model appears on the ‘net, it may be made not by the rivals. It was the designer who just wanted to add the work to his portfolio.

For example, the news about how the designer of Nokia spilled the beans about a new smartphone to bloggers: “The Concept Phones blog posted information about the development by Nokia, which has been suffering losses recently, of a smartphone previously called Lumia X. The rumors leaked from a Johnny who ‘works as a designer at Nokia’. He shared an image of the new gadget with Concept Phones and told about its supposed functions. writes about this.” (Source:

And another similar story:

Developer lets out GTA V release in October

Alex O’Dwyer, a character animator in Rockstar North studio who is involved in the development of Grand Theft Auto V, put the release date of the game in his CV. If it was not a joke and the Scottish company does not revise the dates, GTA V for PlayStation 3, Xbox 306 and PC will be launched in October 2012, although according to previous information the release was due in May 2013.

How a developer spilled the beans about the GTA V release date.


How to avoid such a situation:

Discuss the level of project secrecy with the designer and the possible consequences of his loose tongue. Sign an NDA. It is better to work with those who value their reputation.

Life hack: These “leaks” can be used to generate buzz around the release of your product. Think: is the information about the prototype of new iPhone models ever “lost” by chance?

And now the promised bonus – A checklist to decide whether a designer is trustworthy or not. It will help you to get the answer to the question of how to choose a graphic designer to avoid deceit.

Checklist For a New Designer

(Click to get it)

You have learned the 8 most common methods of deception used by dishonest designers. In practice, you can face many other situations which are difficult to predict. You should be guided by experience and common sense. Work with proven designers, clearly describe the requirements specification, and play it safe. Do not chase low prices and short terms.



  • Christy 14.02.2017 Reply

    “A designer disappearing after receiving an advance payment is probably the most commonly encountered problem when working with designers – especially when you work with freelancers.”

    Seriously?? “especially when working with freelancers”??? So most freelancers are just crooks then. Wow. I understand that there are scammers in any field, but you need to rethink your wording throughout this article. This really sucked and was offensive to the freelance designers out there working our asses off to make clients happy — without disappearing. Ugh. You’re so on my list.

    • Benjamin 17.02.2017 Reply

      I agree with you. I have been a freelacer for over 10 years and i have never disappeared with anyone’s money.

  • Emmanuel Lemor 25.02.2017 Reply

    Christy, I can understand your reaction but as a consultant that has worked with Small Businesses on both coasts of the U.S. for over 15+ years, I can not tell you HOW many times that has happened to Small Business Owners (S.B.O.).. Sure, you could say it’s their fault, but it’s not really, the fault lies on the deceptiveness of the Freelancer.

    So many SBOs are really good at whatever is their craft: running a bakery, running an small accounting practice, being a hairdresser etc etc, but when it comes to either technology or web, they just don’t know anything and it is SO easy for them to be fooled/tricked/scammed by people who obviously can throw lots of fancy words at them… and who ‘look’ like they know – because when they show you their portfolio [even if sometimes it’s not even their own], you go wow, nice stuff… even sometimes even when the site looks good, they are horribly built in terms of structure/user-flow, SEO, or lots of Console Errors, or whatever other things aren’t obvious especially to a SBO that just doesn’t know the industry… and if they don’t get tricked in those ways, they often do on the price… :/ How often I have seen a 6 page basic portfolio [non-responsive site back 5 or so years ago], being quoted at $ 2,500-$3,500+ :/

    So, while the author could have used perhaps gentler wording, at the same time, we are all way too sensitive these days especially in the U.S. – a country which avoids ‘hurting people’s feelings so much that we can’t be direct with each other’ — being a bit abrupt at least gets people to notice…

  • trendoffice 14.03.2017 Reply

    I suggest that you publish together with this article another one, showing designers how to deal with cleints that refuse to pay the final payment. I have had an experience with a client who wanted to pay me all after finishing the project. But how can this stimulate me to work and to be sure that I will be paid?

    • rudni4ok 16.03.2017 Reply

      Yes, you are right. Designers have opposite king of problem. This article is for clients. Maybe sometime we will write similar article for designers.

Leave a Reply