Jul 25, 2008

Design Batting Average.

Design is like baseball. Each project is an at bat and in the process of an at bat you may foul off a few pitches, you may get walked, you may ground out, or fly out, you may get a single, a double, a triple, or even a home run. But you may also strike out. Either by swinging and missing a pitch, or you get called out looking at a pitch as it goes flying by you into the catchers mitt.

No one wants to strike out. We all make a purposeful effort to succeed, but in the end it just doesn't work out the way you had hoped and you go back to the dugout and sit down knowing you'll get another attempt at it again soon.

Baseball is all about stats. The key statistic regarding at bats is of course the "Batting Average." The higher the average, the better the player, the better the player the more hits they'll get and more hits mean less strikeouts. That said someone only has to succeed 3 out of 10 at bats and they're considered an all-star. Yet in design that type of creative batting average would be looked upon as marginal at best.

Let me tell you about a recent at bat I had. And like an umpire you can make the call in regards to my performance.

Polar bear concept 1.

I started this project off like any other logo identity project. I am pretty methodical in terms of my creative process and the first stage of my process is research and collecting of information so I can create from an informed approach and develop appropriate solutions. Since we're talking baseball analogies I like to develop a good game plan.

Polar bear concept 2. (Modified Motif)

The client filled out my creative brief and I started to create my concepts. The topic of refrigeration brings up classic metaphors yet I wanted to capitalize on these in my own stylized approach.

Polar bear concept 3.

My thought on this option was to create a badge or sticker approach. They install in a broad range of locations and this would work well as a leave behind branding on all the installed units.

Polar bear concept 4. (Modified Motif)

On this project I felt a character based logo would be a good solution, so most of what I presented in my first group of logos were character driven. I arrived at this decision after auditing about 50 competitors logos. I also ran this by the client before I started building my concepts out too.

Penguin concept 1.

I've never done a Penguin logo before. That said I've never done a Polar Bear logo either. Unlike the Polar Bear I wanted this logo option to be extremely iconic and the forms of a penguin lend themselves to that approach.

A secondary nod to refrigeration in this option is the horizontal version which I intended to resemble the stereotypical shape of a thermostat. I wanted it to be a subtle attribute and not overt.

Penguin concept 2.

Still playing off the iconic penguin I work it into the letter form of an "A" since the company name is "Advanced."

Corporate approach 1.

I wanted to show a few options that weren't character driven. This was one of them.

Corporate approach 2.

On this one I decided to play up the concept of "Air." I also decided to use a badge approach with customized letterforms.

I was happy with these options and presented them to the client with my rationale for each explained. The client said they'd show the concepts to the their board and get back to me.

As soon as I heard the word "Board" I had a bad feeling. No mention of a board approval was ever brought up until now. I knew at this point that more than likely I'd be doing more explorations.

Whether it's a Board, Committee, Team or any other name given to a group of individuals who'll critique art it almost always results in a graphic train wreck. Marketing people love this type of approach because it allows them to play art director. You get a hundred ignorant opinions flying around that rarely result in a good direction.

What you do tend to get more times than not is a request to see more ideas and additional information not provided before you started designing because they've decided to either change the rules of engagement or their mind.

Such was the case with this project. The client said "The board loved your ideas. They thought they were very professional. But..."

The only word worse then "Board" is "But." What comes after "But" is never anything you want to hear and this was no exception.

The board had now decided they wanted a more corporate approach. A mark that was not integrated with the type. They explained their desire to see some form of "Crystals" but didn't want "Ice Crystals." They also explained their new found penchant for hexagons as well and asked if I could do something with that shape?

Corporate, Crystals and Hexagons oh my! I had struck out in my first design at bat.

None of this new criteria was explained in my creative brief and was outside the scope of the original agreement so I informed them I'd have to charge an additional fee above and beyond my quote since this new criteria was not provided up front. They agreed.

So even though I was a bit bummed that my Polar Bears and Penguins would now go into deep freeze I still held hope knowing I had another at bat coming on this project.

I choked up on the lumber and continued.

Crystal Concept 1.

To be completely honest I had no idea why they wanted crystals? The client spent about ten minutes explaining to me how ice crystals were actually a bad thing in refrigeration. So I had questioned the wisdom of pursuing crystals as a graphic language on this project but they insisted.

This is the type of direction you get from a committee.

Crystal Concept 2.

At this point I wasn't feeling too confident in my work but kept working out as many crystal inspired directions as I could. "After all they were paying for it." I told myself several times.

Crystal Concept 3.

Maybe they realize a new growth demographic in the "New Age" movement in regards to refrigeration? Bad designer, get back to work and stop questioning authority.

Hexagon Concept 1.

Hexagons-O-Plenty! See how clever I am, I made them stack to form the letter "A."

Hexagon Concept 2.

The client asked if I could make the hexagon shapes interconnect in some way to relay how they can network systems.

Repeat to self: I am not an extension of my clients arm, I am a creative person.

A Simple Approach.

At this point I was a bit frustrated with this project. I decided to put a donut ring on my conceptual bat and take some practice swings to loosen up. I had to hit this next one good. A frozen rope if you will. The pitch looked like a beach ball as the idea popped into my head so I worked out this last concept and included it with the new batch of logo designs to send off.

Fast forward three weeks and I finally get a truncated email from the client explaining the board loved the new directions, but (Our friendly word making it's second appearance in this project) has decided to shelf the logo project because they have other things they need to focus on right now instead. They asked me to bill for the work done.

I doubt they'll return so I billed them my full rate since I did everything short of the final art.

I had high hopes for my second at bat on this project but once it again it looks like I struck out? It's times like these I feel like I am in a creative slump or should be sent back down to the minors. But since I am a player manager in this written analogy I at lease don't need to fear being released.

Original Logo.

The above is the companies actual logo at the time of the original post. Whether or not it went through board approval I have no idea?

The Final Board Approved Logo Solution.

It's been about seven months since the original post and someone notified me of the final logo this company settled on. Can't say it surprises me at all based on their comments while working with them myself. They got exactly what they wanted I guess.

I thought I had some good ideas going, felt like I was hitting the ball well in batting pratice and would get a hit with one of the options but in the end I struck out twice and thus my design batting average has suffered.

Not sure what I could have done differently? Is there such a thing as design steroids? Perhaps a Barry Bonds filter for my drawing application? (OK, so I fouled out with those jokes.)

I do know I'll have other at bats soon so I am not too worried. How ever part of me thinks this board threw me some spitballs.

At the very least I have a cool Polar Bear and Penguin logo in my design line up now and if the opportunity arises I'll definitely do some creative pinch hitting with them.

Much like the boys of summer, my main motivation is the love of the game.


mave said...

jeezus h, this is the stuff of nightmares. truly a perfect example of why I hate design as a career. it's the only industry where the work and project outcomes of a highly skilled, sophisticated expert are directed and decided upon by people who have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about the features, technical requirements or skillset for the success of the project.

my deepest condolences. thanks for sharing this idealest of examples of this phenomenon in action. it will serve as a talking point for me for years to come, I'm sure.

Dave said...

Great post, Von. It's good to know that even those who have terrific talent still hit the corporate buzz-saw.

I suspect that if the normal routines follow, the polar bears and penguins will be adorning many H&AC company vans in the future. ;-) Slap 'em with suits, baby!

I ran into something similar recently. It was for an engineering company. That have this weak, poorly spaced, garish Galliard Italic logo now that they apparently LOVE. Our company came up with no less than 10 good solutions, including 3 or 4 of my own. These were the first ones I thought had a real shot at being used as a company logo (I have a couple of product logos out there - but even those have been bastardized. But each was really different, I thought really well executed, well thought out and even bore in mind potential ad campaigns that could be drawn from it. Similarly, despite being strong solutions, I struck out, too.

Good thing was that the owners of my company really liked what I did and said they would definitely have put them in the portfolio if the company had used them, but they don't want to put something that hasn't actually been used in there. :-(

So anyway, thanks for sharing that strikeouts happen, even in the majors.


Jeope said...

Holy shit, Von, the variations. Like you say, at least they're solutions in the bank now.

Hearing the word "Board" makes me want to pick up a board and... well, I've said too much.

Chris Harrison said...

Your concepts looked amazing... It sucks when things shift to "Design by Committee"... Honestly, the original logo was most likely designed by someone either on or related to someone on the "board".

There's no accounting for good taste. At least they paid you for your efforts.

Jared Fitch said...

Oh Von... I hurt for you.

DBC as I like to call it (Design by Committee) (or is it Chimps?) is the arch enemy of creativity. It never ceases to amaze me how willing people are to hire a proven expert in a given field, then persist in trying to control their expertise.

If a man had a tumor in his abdomen, he would find the best surgeon around and have him operate on it. He would look at his track record. He would talk to past patients. He would research his background, etc. Then he would let the doctor do his d-word job.

It is unfathomable to think of this man having localized anesthetic for the procedure, so he could be awake the entire time and talk the surgeon through it... tell him what he wants done... how he thinks it would be better to suture using this or that method. INSANE.

The analogy might be a little extreme, and I might be a little sensitive to your plight... but the idea of a company--who obviously has NO success in the creativity department--giving an award-winning, highly sought-after, creative professional advice about their work has always been crazy to me.

I'm all for working "together" to come up with solutions that both can enjoy and feel like they can get behind and push. But there comes a time when a SMART company run by smart business people will let a professional do the job that none of them are qualified to do.

Would they hover over their IT consultant as he wired up their network? Actually, some of these guys probably would.

It's hard to hit a home run when the pitcher decides to throw a ping pong ball, a rubber hose, then a frozen turkey at you... instead of a baseball. They never really wanted to see how good of a hitter you were. They only wanted to pay for the opportunity to watch you swing.

IMO... this is your best one... http://www.floatingbanana.com/artbackwash/AD3.gif

Brad said...

Gosh, I know how you feel.

Warren said...

Not sure what I could have done differently?

Based on the approved logo design, the only thing you could have done differently was be the teenaged nephew of the CEO.

Or, possibly, his teenaged paramour.

Madphill said...

I wish this were the extreme and not the norm. I feel for you buddy. This crap happens to all of us.

Here's what you do now; take that art and change the name to their competitor and sell it to them at a "discounted" rate. haha.

At least you billed and they paid. I've seen the same story a million times EXCEPT the client rolled out without paying.

-Phillip M

jen said...

oh, sadness. I love it that you included the existing "logo."

May ice crystals form in all of their freezers.

Anonymous said...

von, I so appreciate this post! it's nice to know that super experienced and successful people strike out too! in my (so far) short design career of two years I have already experienced the 'design by committee'and it felt really terrible. question: what do you have in your contract that prevents them from going ahead and using any part of the designs that you presented? - lisa

Jean Kelleher said...

I love how you managed to get the penguin to turn into a letter form, great manipulation. It's too bad that the board didn't appreciate the friendly animals and went for something colder... pun intended. The actual logo is a disappointment after seeing your concepts.

Janet said...

Wow. If none of the designs you presented here appealed to them, I don't think anything will. I feel your pain as I've dealt with this many times. I love these ideas and I love the character ideas. I hope they're able to live somewhere besides your harddrive someday.

Mauricio Cosío said...

You're a nice guy for not making fun of their actual logo, man.

Keep on batting!

Brad Thomas said...

Great post Von. Thanks for sharing your design process and the realities of getting blindsided by a "DBC". This is just one more instance that further proves a camel is a horse designed by committee.


Stephen said...

Wonderfully horrible story. It's sad how many of us this happens to. I have a question. I work for a new design company that didn't have a good "creative brief" when I came on. Do you know of some good resources I can get a hold of to come up with one?

Graham Rees said...

That the Vonster gets hit with this crap is like watching Superman bleed. It's wroooooong!!!!!

Mate, respect and thanks for being vulnerable. Do NOT take their criticism personally. I hope you billed them for every minute!!

BTW, I'm from Sydney, Australia. We think you rock down here too.

Vonster said...

Superman? (Rolls eyes) Is that kind of like Germany's fascination with the Hoff? I look horrible in tights BTW.

I am just a designer like everyone else. This kryptonitic type of client unfortunately is a universal scourge for all of us to lament over I am sorry to say.

In regards to creative briefs I prefer "Fruit of the Loom." Seriously though, I derived mine from others I found available from larger firms online or ones I worked with before. I took what I thought was the best info from each and bred my own.

Josh said...

Great posting. I recently finished a project with a "board" and had some similar challenges, though it wasn't nearly as extreme. It really goes to show that it takes a client with taste and vision to create our best work. Personally, I loved your polar bear logo.

Gerry Shaw said...

Hi Von,

I too totally feel for you in this. It has happened to me especially in dealing with startup businesses, and not for profits.

One question, do you fear any reprisal from the company for your writeup? While they may not check your blog themselves, I have avoided identifying customers in my blogging for fear that someone would find my post while searching for the company and let the officers of the company know about it. I guess I just hate taking chances.... Your thoughts?

Vonster said...


All though it might be painful to read, nothing I said was slanderous or attacking. Maybe a touch sarcastic I suppose.

In my opinion they just have too many people involved and will never find a well crafted solution if that doesn't change.

So if my blog post in some way helps them realize that great. If they just get offended than they probably have bigger issues to deal with.

They were nice enough to deal with and unlike some clients I've had paid for everything in a very timely manner, but in the end nothing I did was good enough for them?

Live and learn.


Vonster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
IZZOMAC said...

From my experience this is a Base On Ball. You didn’t get hit by the pitch. You did everything right. You may not have ever got a good pitch to hit. I know you fouled a few off and it felt like you were getting close to connecting. From the stand we all can see that you’ve got the stuff that has kept you in the big leagues this long. The fans still ooh and ah, even when you swing and miss. But you didn’t strike out. You played it smart. You went up to the plate batting .350 and you finished the day just the same.

Perhaps they just weren’t ready for a new logo. Perhaps they realized that they didn’t have the budget to implement. In the corporate world it could have been that there was never buy-in from the board to begin with.

My only concern would be your future logo clients. I wouldn’t want to be the subject of your blog in anything less than a successful case study.

Scotty said...

I love all of your concepts but especially the polar bear.
How you kept your cool with these people and kept your creative motivation is a mystery to me but it's a feather in your cap Von.

I'm so glad you posted this to your blog but the jewel in the crown is that you showed their current logo at the end.
That was priceless:)

Jon Osmond said...

I'm just listening to the Freelance Radio podcast and had to check this out. *Wow* I love all of these...what a lost opportunity for Advanced...

Cheryl Anderson said...

Oh Dear God! *sighs* The final logo was an inside job I bet. Son, daughter, nephew.... I think what happened was that they didn't really know what they wanted.

But hey, they paid for the work you had done thus far, so that's really all that matters. ^_^.

Happy Designing!

Patrick said...

Really? Are you serious? They prefer their 12 year old photoshop piece of crap over those? That is just common stupidity among business, if it isn't broke don't fix it. I personally like the second one with the polar bear looking down A LOT. That is just a good solid design.

Dr. Bronzp said...

i think you presented them with just too many choices. looking at their website, which looks web 0.1 i must say that your logo design would not have fit into that kind of outdated look as well. maybe they are too backwards to could accept a fresher look. take it cool, it is just a logo ;-)

Vonster said...

Dr. Bronzp,

Their site was also changing too. It's not what is or was currently up when I first posted this to my blog.

But that may indeed be part of the reason in that a site should follow a logo and branding not vice versa.

Josh (musarter) said...

First off I agree with your design related comments. I also feel your pain. That kind of situation is so frustrating.

Your round one designs were exceptional. I would say, it is not you it is them; They must have terrible taste and/or not know what they want. I cannot work with people who have no idea what they want; it is a recipe for disaster or a strike out.

They desperatelly need to change their logo. There current one is obviously supper low-budget and many clients will recognize it as being hideous. No one wins with the current outcome.

Christy said...

The logo that is on their website (current I just looked) is well, horrible. Honestly I can not even relate the odd rectangles to well, not even a blower fan blade. Very sad. I hit this very 'wall' once as an on-staff web designer asked to step in and 'assist' marketing with a new brand identity. The ultimate choice was one the marketing intern design via an online logo generation piece of software. It looked a lot like this logo. But they were also the same board who wanted the logo "bigger" on every website they owned so I was not surprised. This one is a no brainer and you shouldn't feel bad at all. Oh, and they paid you, which I am actually very surprised by. The approved logo says differently to me.

Terry said...

Are you serious? THAT'S what they ended up with? But that's exactly what happens with design-by-committee projects---what starts out as a thoughtful, great looking design is dumbed down down to something so uninspired, unrecognizable, and possibly not even something you want to claim! And that's the part that just stabs you in the heart...

But hey, at least you got paid, and still came out with some cool work for your portfolio. Screw the fact that it wasn't used---that's the client's problem!

BTW Von, I really enjoy your commentary on the Freelance Radio podcast!

Vonster said...


The final logo in the post is what they have at the moment of this post. They decided to keep that instead of moving forward with a re-branding?

They were nice enough about everything it's just dissapointing for obvious reasons.

Thanks for the Freelanceswitch comment. It's a fun podcast to be part off. I listen to them but I always get irritated with my own voice. Ugh.

Tom Parsons said...

When this happens to me (design by committee) my first reaction is a stream of expletives (muttered to myself, of course) followed by intense apathy and disinterest in the project at hand.

Hard to be cordial and smile in situations like this but what are you gonna do?

Thanks for posting that Von...

kirsten said...

I would love to be able to show this entry to prospective clients and point out the good and bad, the what-not-to-dos and why etc.

But I know – and you all know – that there are loads of clients and committees where it just wouldn't register. Or they wouldn't believe they would be that kind of client.

*sigh* we feel your pain.


Saucy Britches said...

As I read this post I found myself tensing up and by the end I had a ball of burning frustration in my throat and this isn't even MY project. I know exactly how you feel, and it's the main reason why sometimes I have to go play Rock Band Drums for two hours to get out all my aggression.

Sahoni Tigerpaw said...

Mahalo for sharing your this logo design experience - how wonderful that you've turned something "disappointing" into something beautiful and helpful to others! You've reminded me that it is often not the final output that is the "work of art" but the entire project as a whole :)
Aloha to you!

yoko said...

Hi Von, I came across your Blog thru google images search. I am making a logo for my brother, incorporating a penguin and wanted to see what was already out there, as to avoid making something really cliche/ corny? (Not saying your logos fell into that category by any means).

Your logos, I thought, were all very "Fresh", it's really a shame they did not go with any of them.

I was very curious to see what they are currently using, so I googled the company name.

Have you seen their updated logo? It is out-of-this-world. Very...... detailed. It is the shape of that crystal /snowflake that they wanted, but the center looks like a small "planet Earth" and connecting the crystals are little networking arrows....???

At least, that is what it looks like to me--- I was kind of at a loss for words when I saw it.

Check it out :0o


Jeremiah said...

I hate when people go with the ugliest possible option. I thought most of your designs were very clean, classy, & would scale well. I'm a fan of everything prior to the hexagon concepts & I think those are fine but they just don't fit with what the company does to me.

Do people have no taste or do I have warped sense of what looks nice? It seems like the more curly cues (and glitter) the better for the average joe - puke.

Ever consider offering your penguin for use promoting Linux open source software under a attribution license of some sort? Your logo is way better looking than the bloated penguin that is used half the time.

Mitch said...

I feel for you Von. It reminds me of a talk that Debbie Millman did. Her firm, Sterling Brands, was working with a corporate client that wanted a "drastic rebrand".

Sterling provided many options of just that, entirely different and new directions of their look. Each revision seemed to incorporate something from the old look.

After many revisions and conversations, they discovered that "drastic rebrand" meant something entirely different to the client. All they -really- wanted was a new shade of blue.

The new question; how much change are you really looking for?

star-momma said...

This frightens me, I won't lie... but it's always fascinating to see how someone else deals with going through that. Some days you want to tear your hair out and swear and... well, some days you *do* that. But this is a great entry on how to just move on - even when the client makes some really bad calls.

Houston said...

Think of the traffic they've probably gotten from this post. They just might think their new logo is working!