Jul 14, 2006

A Day in the Life of a Designer.

Recently on a design forum the topic of how a designer should deal with clients who like to play art director came up. I've given this topic much thought over the past decade and I'll be honest, I haven't always made the right decision. One of those unfortunate times was when I drew an unflattering caricature of a marketing director and put it on her desk. Even-though she wished to fire me she didn't have the power to do so. Not smart. Thankfully I handle such situations better now. LOL

In general I think the whole process is a balance.

Sure I've had clients who were knobs and I told them to take a hike in no certain terms and you know what they really got pissed at me. Saying stuff like "You're willing to turn down the money?" or "I can't believe you won't do this?" I try to explain to them my reasoning but it never sinks in with them. Paramount in their mindset is their own opinion and because of that I know the design will suffer so it's not worth the trouble.

Other clients who on the surface seem to be a pain I can see past their ignorance and realize some upfront pain is worth the potential that lay beneath.

Lets face it commercial art isn't fine art. Sure I think it's critical for a designer to have a passion and let that fuel his creative pursuits but those creative pursuits need to accomplish a commercial end. If the art changes and tweaks are not moving it towards that end objective and is just a non-designer playing art director then a designer needs to step up and give a well reasoned response as to why that shouldn't be done. If the party insists then you make it clear that project failure is on their head and decide if it's best to drop them or ask them to find another creative to assist them.

At speaking engagements I often tell a story about my time at Upper Deck where a weasel marketing director tried to play art director on a logo job. I submitted a tenth anniversary logo to him and what I got back in return sent me over the edge. I was about to call him up and tell him how much of a dork he was and then realized the best way to do this was to do exactly what he requested.

Long story short here is how it played out:

This is the logo I submitted originally. They whined that it didn't have the 'Upper Deck' logo in it even-though it says 'Upper Deck' and even-though it goes on product with the logo already on it. Redundant is marketings middle name.

At this point I am still playing nice. Fine here is your crappy logo.

I get back to my office and find this on my desk. What the? 400%? This guy is a uber knob. Why I ought to go Keith on them! @#$%! But wait I have an idea...

...Instead I did exactly what was requested. I executed (Pardon the pun) his well thought out art direction and left the print out on his desk and went to lunch.

He got really pissed at me and called me up and told me so. In a nut-shell I said "I did exactly what you asked for." He responded "That isn't what I meant." I said "I can't read your mind and maybe you shouldn't play art director." In the end he got the message and the logo came out decent.

Doesn't always work but you should always try to defend good design and if in the process you can make marketing weasels squirm all the better.

PS: I ran across this post on 'Speak Up' that had a great song on it called 'Make the Logo Bigger.' Too funny.


mbc said...

Very inspiring! Loved your story.

Calvin Lee said...

That is so funny Von.

Calvin Lee said...

That is so funny Von.

Dani Nordin said...

Good story, Von. I've had more than my fair share of clients like that myself, and I've generally been pretty good at dealing with them, but I hadn't thought about just doing what they ask and showing them how awful it was.

Jeope said...

Outside of the "______ buried in the backyard" story, this is my all-time favourite Glitschka-ism.

I defend all the time here. People think I'm a brat, but I've won many, many arguments in the name of design.

Gabrielle said...

OMG I laughed when I read this.

I can't imagine why any client would ask you to change your work, surely it would inevitably mean a step down in quality.

Diana said...

How true... sometimes you have to waste a bit of time but the lesson comes across pretty well.

theape said...

Great story, nice logo. :)

devon said...

lol!!! :D

Nicci said...

This is a good story. I think the best position to be in is to be able to choose which clients you want to work with. Unfortunately, not all of us have that luxury.

People mostly just want to be heard and they want to put their stamp on things. The most frustrating is when you play this game and then they still end up picking their ugly design simply because they suggested it. At that point, I ask them to take my name off it and it never sees the light of day in terms of my portfolio.

Jared said...

Good thing your boss did not see the add for make my logo bigger cream! He probably would have bough stock in the company.


alterna180 said...

when i read this and saw your 400% upper deck logo, i burst into laughter which gave me a nosebleed. i was still laughing in the bathroom as i was trying to control it.

great story, thanks for making my day.

avenjaleh said...

I'm a tattoo artist, and we get the same kinds of clients, thinking they know what makes a good design. This is great, thanks for sticking to your guns, it's inspiring!

Anonymous said...

Why didn't you start with the Upper Deck logo since you knew that was important to the client?

It's like you painted yourself into a corner doing what you wanted to do instead of what was needed and then you whined and fought about it.

It could have worked a million different ways ... it's not about you - it's about the product.

Start with the logo - not your ego.

Vonster said...


Your assumptions are incorrect.

If you want to hear the story in context and in my own words than listen to this presentation.

I followed the criteria given me up front, the problem was that marketing changed the rules of engagement after the fact.