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Poll Results: Taking a Job You Think is a Stupid Business Idea

Published by Chris Coyier

  • Yes, I'd take it. - 68%  
  • No, I'd turn it down. - 32%  

The people who say they would take the job outnumber the people who would not by two to one.

There was a large and interesting conversation about this when the poll went up. Here are some excerpts of points I found interesting:

Everything has its price. Even “shut up and do it”. - Palusko

If you take shitty projects you will end up doing ALWAYS shitty projects. - Murid Rahhal

Attaching your name to something that could potentially be seen as a pile of steaming “something or other” can be detrimental. - Chandler

Don’t you think it’s a bit arrogant to assume that you, a designer, have the credibility, education and experience to qualify a client’s business venture as stupid? - Patrick

I honestly have a hard time focusing on a project that I don’t believe in. - Stephanie

If you ask a builder to build you an ugly shed with flaws (requested), would the builder refuse the work? - Russell Bishop

Do I need the money? Do I need this job for Portfolio reasons? - Rafael Camara

Are you kidding? I do it every day at my “day job”. - Gabe

Personally I feel like I'm in the "No" camp, but I definitely take to heart the arguments on both sides. I mostly just feel that if I can't get behind the idea and be excited about it, the work is going to suffer and then ultimately I do worse work that I'm less happy about. That's not a good place to be.

I'll get a new poll out later this week. I have a few ideas but if you have any as well let me know.


  1. Haha, I loved the quotes, and for myself, I would have to agree with the last one “I do it every day at my ‘day job.'” Working at a website company, mostly for small businesses, I get requests all the time for making new websites for junk ideas, though not being from this area myself, i guess I don’t understand that there IS a market for these strange things, and I have been proven wrong more than once.

    A good example is “Anything Joes” which is a small local shop where one guy sits and paints “kid related” things onto kids toys, ect. and resells them at a higher price. Low and behold, after 3 months, this guy has made well over $100,000…

    I learned that there is always someone somewhere willing to buy what you think is a “god awful idea.”

    I am a Graphic / Web Designer, and I have made plenty of “terrible” looking sites for clients who couldn’t have it any other way. I just tuck those under “will not mention” in my portfolio, haha.

    ~ Chris Johnson

    • ConCy
      Permalink to comment#

      I’m also in the Yes-camp but depending on few things.

      The ‘day job’ argument I agree with. In the company it’s not me who decided which clients we’re helping. They come to us, and we’ll deliver what they requested.

      As a freelancer I probebly wouldn’t do it, since it might leak through to the client that I don’t like it, since it’s me who does the direct communicatin with the client in a freelance environment.

      Also, in my freelance-website portfolio I certainly wouldn’t include a failed project. However, if it’s just personal taste and not a fail (yet) I would include it, cuase it does show off my skills and my creativity in the end result.

      In either cases, and I think this goes for everybody deep inside… If you really feel attracted to a certain vision it’s likely you’ll be more enthousiant about it and are likely to get cool ideas when standing under the shower and daily things etc..

      my 2c

  2. I think I would take the job since a) the economy sucks now and any job is money in your pocket and b) maybe you, as the designer or developer, might have some influence on the job. Most importantly, you get experience and your name out there. Do a good job on the “stupid” idea and someone with a “better” idea might just hook you up with a job.

    Besides, like Cabe said, I see that all the time in my “day job”. I have the luxury to pass on some of the bad ideas since we are only a 2 man development shop here, but that doesn’t always kill that idea since the requester can, if their department has the money, go out and have an outside firm do the job.

  3. Permalink to comment#

    I just noticed that ‘Business’ is spelt incorrectly.

  4. Bryan
    Permalink to comment#

    I wouldn’t take the job BECAUSE I do it every day at my day job! My freelance work is where I pick and choose. I also agree with the statement that it’s harder to focus on a job that you don’t believe in.

  5. WC
    Permalink to comment#

    My biggest issue with taking the job would be this:

    If I can’t see how it’s a good idea, how can I possibly implement it correctly?

    This actually happened at work the other day. I was assigned a task that I flat-out stated that I didn’t see how it was going to be useful. I coded everything exactly as I was asked. When the tester asked me for use cases, I couldn’t provide any, because I didn’t understand why it was a good idea. My boss provided one, that I and the tester disagreed with.

    It has now fully passed testing and launched… And I don’t think anyone has ever even considered using it.

    The majority of my job is stuff I understand and agree with, and saying ‘absolutely not’ is something that should only be rarely done in a steady job… But if it were a single job that was a commission, I’d have said ‘no’ instantly.

  6. Permalink to comment#

    It’s very easy to say “No I won’t take it” when you are flooded with jobs.

    If you have a lot of requests, you can decided what to accept and what you refuse. But for me, I’d take any.

  7. Permalink to comment#

    I don’t know if any poll about this has been done previously, but its good to ask just web design guys about their business: I work for a company, do my own business, works hourly or project-based prices and so on. (of course only on poll!) By this we can know how many web designers out there and how they do their job.

  8. Permalink to comment#

    I don’t care about the business idea. I just want to skill up.

    Sometimes, stupid ideas are interesting in development point of view. Unless it’s against my principles, like “spam business” etc.

  9. Jillian
    Permalink to comment#

    Interesting findings, although I’m not too surprised. I think I agree most with Patrick’s comment – just as we all complain that they have no right to tell US what qualifies as good web design and practices, we probably have no right deciding for them what is a good business idea and what is not – within reason.

  10. Permalink to comment#

    I have a quote lying around here somewhere. It goes something like, “On the contrary, implementing a poor solution obstructs the search for a good solution.”

    I think there are degrees of unwieldy and stupid. Sometimes a color scheme is intended, by the site owner, to be garish and eye-catching in a manner similar to a brick and mortar solution. On the other hand is someone that doesn’t see the harm in spam, fraud, and bait and switch.

    I am willing to explain my objections and let the client choose on most things. On serious issues – something that would get the site banned, shut down, or commit criminal offense, I will explain why I won’t go along with that aspect of things.

    Mike Shepherd in “Kris Longknife: Resolute” (sf novel), states, “Didn’t your mother tell you that a girl’s mettle is determined by the dates she walks home from, not when she rides home?” I think this goes for business and life, too. If you would live an honest and honorable life, you have to be have boundaries of your own.

  11. For me, the answer is likely no.

    The problem is that if the idea is stupid, then there’s a good chance the person who came up with it has little to no idea what they’re doing. Because the fact is, a savvy person can take a seemingly stupid idea and turn it into a good one. But the knucklehead will take a stupid idea and present the stupid idea thinking it’s a good idea.

    I’ve had this on more than one occasion, where the client’s idea was terrible. I could have said yes to make a quick buck, but there is simply no way the idea would pan out.

  12. Permalink to comment#

    I know this has been discussed at length in the comments for the poll, but I cannot resist throwing my thoughts in. For me it would come down to a combination of things. If it seems to be a bad idea but it pays fairly and the client has their stuff together, then I’ll probably take it. If the client is aloof, wants too much for too little and doesn’t care about design quality then I’d politely decline. A client who has there stuff together, might just know something I don’t and who am I to question when they are putting their money on the line. An aloof client will be aloof through the entire, frustrating process.

    I suppose if the poll question was phrased as “Would you take a job that you think is a Stupid Business Idea but it pays fairly” then that would be much more difficult to answer. If it was “Would you take a job that you know with absolute certainty is a stupid business idea” I’d decline.

  13. Permalink to comment#

    If it’s a matter of moral values, than answer is no, of course. If it’s a matter of business vision, I don’t see why not.

    “If you take shitty projects you will end up doing ALWAYS shitty projects. – Murid Rahhal”

    Strongly (but respectfully) disagree. Shitty jobs (or projects) are a very common beginning for later success.

  14. I thinks “I honestly have a hard time focusing on a project that I don’t believe in. – Stephanie” was the most honest, and the lest pretentious. If I take a project that doesn’t excite me, it normally suffers in some way.

  15. From past experience and bad jobs I would say no. If I did feel the idea was bad I would get my self in trouble before the end of the project…

  16. As I always say… it’s not your problem if it is a dumb idea or not, they’re hiring you do to a specific job (design, develop a website depending on the case/person), and you don’t need to worry about the success of the idea.

    We just need to make sure the project is not some idea that goes against all common moral values like, child porn, or something like that.

    Sometimes when we try to do things outside our tasks, is when we end up angry when we’re not supposed to.

    Hope my thoughts make sense.

  17. It really depends, if it is a bad business idea I would try to understand why the client thinks it’s the worlds greatest.

    If it is a bad design (design or development) I would like the client to understand why it is bad (and not neutral).

    If he insist I will help him with the best of my knowledge even though it might not be the most idealistic vision…

    When he sells/makes/distributes things I can not find myself in or disagree with I will ofcourse reject

  18. Even stupid business ideas succeed sometimes. It usually doesn’t take long to find out one way or the other, and if it succeeds, I’ve learned something.

  19. Permalink to comment#

    My dilemma is that I’m okay with taking jobs that you “kick ass” designers won’t take because I’m trying to build up my experience.

    BUT, just today a design “re-build” fell into my lap and the ONE THING the owner demands is that his cheesy FLASH intro where some girl comes out automatically and basically tells you the same thing the website says in text, has to stay! I gave him probably a 100 reasons why it needs to go and he won’t budge. Now I’m wondering if the site is worth doing . . . certainly would note make it into my portfolio, so why do it right? The business plan is actually a good one but the customer’s taste is in question. Any advice?

    • Josh
      Permalink to comment#

      I would ask him to make a deal with you. Once the project is done the way he wants it, have him email or ask 25 people he respected. And simple ask them to go to the website and answer the question: “Keep the intro, or lose it?” If 25 people honestly want to keep it, then who knows, maybe it’s one of those weird things that designers don’t think works but people like. I’d maybe link to a page that doesn’t include the intro, or just use a screenshot in the portfolio.

  20. Dathan Nicholson
    Permalink to comment#

    I say no, don’t do it. I once built an ecommerce website for a farmer and his wife who had dreams of selling their art projects. The site costed a lot and was beautifully constructed (if I may say so myself) but it didn’t get many vistors and got very few sales. About a year later they took it off the web… The site was a major financial loss for them. From then on, as a web developer, if I don’t think the site will succeed, I will suggest other ways to use available services rather then put down a lot of money for their own website.

  21. Josh
    Permalink to comment#

    I was in the “Yes” camp.

    First off, if anyone has ever watched shows like Top Chef, you begin to see that while no one would get any real use out of making an appetizer from junk food machines, it says something about your skill when you can make a refined, good product out of junk.

    I feel that at least for me, it’s a challenge of my skill. I draw the line in terms of personal morals, but as the first poster said you’d never think a guy painting stuff on existing finished stuff and make a huge profit, but there you go.

    And in my life, I’ve had ideas that have been good and bad. Some people have told me to my face my idea was dumb, and yet it worked out and that person had to eat their words. So I have a hard time saying that I’m an expert at enough things in life to know what’s going to be successful and what’s not.

    What I will do is use every bit of knowledge and skill to give the client every shot at making his/her idea work, the rest is up to them.

  22. ConCy
    Permalink to comment#

    Might want to include the end amount of voters at the time the 68/32% was done.

    I believe at time of reading this article it was:
    Total Voters: 5,678

  23. “You can’t polish a turd.”

    I think that if you need to eat and there’s no alternatives, just do it… but be careful.

    If you think you’ve got options, I’d invest your time into those options instead… but still be careful :)

  24. I haven’t been in many situations like this as I’m still a student, however one of the main problems I tend to find in people with bad business ideas is their lack of appreciation for skills that don’t just involve drawing and coding.

    We as designers are not just people that make things look pretty, we’re consultants in a sense, advising on best practices from our experience, especially if the business is completely web-based, yet in my short ‘career’ it seems that a lot of clients will fail to accept your stance on the basis that it’s ‘my business and you’re hired by me to do it how I want’.

  25. Permalink to comment#

    Great article! I’m also on the “Yes” side, but this is not only for projects. Sometimes the client makes non-sense requests like “Can this logo font be Comic Sans?”. And you have to choose whether you just do it, or you convince him it’s an awfull idea.

  26. Permalink to comment#

    The only people who say no are people who haven’t been hungry in a while.

    Hop on down off you high horse and remember that sometimes some of us need to get paid.

    By the way the footer for this site is great.

  27. It’s not the shitty projects, it’s a nice project where they tell how to do it while they don’t have the experience and knowledge..

    e.g.: I HAD TO build a full flash site with intro, with cms etc.. and they were surprised that this took more time, effort, that bits from the first xhtml/css/jquery version couldn’t simply be dragged in etc..

    Lots and lots of wrong decisions on titles, sizes, seo, etc.. and then your job, which you try do your best, becomes a “do what we say, do it wrong” and this hard work (cause you’re not used to it), is time lost (cause you’re not proud of it) and it feels like working with your hands tied and your knowledge is totally wasted cause nobody listens… frustrating.


  28. Permalink to comment#

    “If you ask a builder to build you an ugly shed with flaws (requested), would the builder refuse the work? – Russell Bishop”

    I’d just like to point out that this is irrelevant. Accurate comparisons here would designer vs architect, or builder vs psd2xhtml

    So the answer is yes, both a designer and an archtect would turn down a poor client concept.
    And no, neither a builder nor the guys at psd2xhtml would turn down a job because of a poor client concept.

    • Josh
      Permalink to comment#

      Well… I think in many cases we’re making too broad of a statement here.

      Building codes prevent poor structures from going up, so the builder doesn’t have to refuse that work.

      But build that is within code, that the builder thinks looks dumb, would not turn down that kind of work (trust me, I use to work for one of the larger builders in my town)… we just make fun of you behind your back :)

  29. I voted for ‘Yes’… but good to see so many interesting quotes you chose from all the comments..

  30. I’m in “NO” camp, simple I don’t want to loose my time on stupid project and ideas, waste of my time, even for money… Call me exocentric, but I have too save my grey cells for something better :)

    Especially when client don’t have a clue about web design and color taste, and forcing his shitty idea and concept…


  31. some nice quotes lol

  32. Permalink to comment#

    I would take the job. Simply because there were a lot many business ideas seemingly stupid but worked like a charm!

  33. steve-0
    Permalink to comment#

    I think the question is probably too black and white. For the majority of projects it may no be clear if the idea is truly bad or not. And often its just a matter of taste or opinion–one person’s dumb idea can be another’s gold mine. When it comes down to it, success is often determined by the quality of the execution, not the idea itself (there aren’t too many truly original ideas around these days). That’s where the designer comes in. Great execution goes really far toward creating a great experience.

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