Design Drama

documenting the delicate dance of design

Graphic Design Horror Stories – Part 1 January 11, 2010

There’s a new blog in town – check it, if you haven’t already. In a recent post, the author, posed the question to designers to cite their worst working experiences. I’ve had my share of crazy clients in over ten years as a designer – or at least entertaining stories. But, a little over a year ago a project entered my life, and nothing else has quite compared to that experience since. Now that time has passed, the trauma is not so fresh, and I can actually laugh about it now – and share it with the internet.

The Worst Client I Ever Had…

About 14 months ago, shortly before Christmas 2008 vacation, a project found me.

The Client: A musician, specifically a songwriter that had one mediocre “hit”, needed a new CD package for his latest recording. (It’s probably a very loose term to call his one song that made it a “hit” — the song’s title was altered and then recorded by one of the largest jam bands of all time (1970’s?) – but anytime I’ve asked someone if they’ve heard of this guy, I get blank stares.)

The way this landed in my lap? Basically, a friend enlisted my help, with the blessing of the musician. As I am a master of editorial layout, text formatting, type treatments, etc., my friend considered me to be much more up to the task than herself — her specialization lies more on the business side of things (manufacturing, etc) and she brought me on to complete the design work. She had already put in about 2 months gathering quotes on the specific nature of what the artist wanted to put together in terms of a very specialized package for the music. The time had come for the design to be put together. This is when I stepped into the cow pile.

What said musician wanted was this: Remember those old school albums where the cardboard encased the record, and slid into another sleeve? He wanted a similar thing, but in shrunken down CD size format. Inside the album was to be a 4/4 (color, on boths sides, for the layman), 9 panel insert (18 panels total), which would fold out to be a poster. The original concept for the poster was photography of the album recording sessions with all the text (lyrics, liner note, whatnot) interspersed around the photography, in varying sizes colors and types of fonts. The musician had also cited examples of other album design he liked. The one that sticks out is Brian Wilson’s “That Lucky Old Sun” — really colorful, bright, happy, lots going on.

In other words, I was going to really get to unleash some creativity here, right?
Wrong.

The first red flag came in viewing the photographs of the sessions. Word to the wise: if you ever have photos come across your desk of a musician’s child and/or dog wearing headphones in a recording session, run the other way. (FAST! — I mean, GIDDYUP!) Not only was I bombarded with this ridiculousness, but the photographs themselves looked like they’d been taken with a disposable camera bought at the Circle K (no color correction, cropping, etc) by a drunken crackhead. Also, there were about 200 photos to sort through. Oh, and each person that played on a specific song was to have their photograph placed beside said song in the final design. In a few cases there was only one photo of that musician, so that photo would be repeated about five times because the musician played on five songs. (Lovely).

The second red flag was we had to deal with the musician’s wife (half his age, at least) as he was supposedly still in session in the studio, (couldn’t be bothered with the design of his own album!) while she was at their home – in the mountains – in another state – with a lackluster internet signal. Of course, this was much more than he had (Apparently recording studios in Texas have not been outfitted with the internet – so he said).

Third red flag – we were the 3rd set of designers to take on this album design.

Despite, the photography drama, I dove in head first into the design of the project and was really excited about it. And what I came up with for the design was some of the better work I’d done in a long time, photography non-withstanding. The first proof was sent to his wife – who forwarded the files to him.

Everyone has played the game “telephone” as a kid. One person tells another person a story. That person tells the next person, etc. and at some point the story ends up being, far and wide, a totally different tale than originally told. That’s how the design instructions played out in this scenario. The musician would tell his wife what he wanted – his likes and dislikes. Then she’d sit on that information for a day and then both to call/email and would disseminate the info again to us. And it was always all wrong.

At this point, the instructions somehow morphed into this conversation:

Wife: “We want it to look like The Beatles “White Album”
Us: (silence) “ummmm, right. Ummmm, ok. Ummm, (silence) it’s white”
Wife: “yes, we know”
Us: (!?!?!?!?!?!?!)

Long story short, the wife related to us that she had no idea a whole other designer (me) was brought in on this project (I had sat in on every single telephone call as well as carried on countless email conversations with her regarding the design of the project). The musician and his wife decided to kill the project, but I ended up getting paid for my work anyway, as I insist on the payment ahead of time. (yay me!)

My friend that brought the project to me and I had cocktails last month and the project came up in conversation. We scoured the internet for the final result. We came up with nothing. No surprise there.

(I googled him again, as I wrote this post. His website is currently down – as it’s “under construction” – I can only imagine his internet presence being handled by the 723rd web designer… all the while trying to communicate thru the wife again… from some lone, internetless studio in TX)

 

In Which I Discuss The Conversations with Two Designer Friends About The Economy June 5, 2009

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. Maybe it’s the rain – maybe, whatever – of course it is. But more so I think it’s got a lot to do with the economy. I’ve had several conversations with friends this week. Mini-therapy phone sessions as I call them, and although it’s good to have a support system of wonderful friends that understand the way one feels, sometimes I feel like a broken record.

I talked to a local designer friend yesterday. We’re trying to do better about getting into the same room together – to cook, to laugh, to just be. We shared a meal about three weeks ago at her house, which was lovely, and we’re planning on a social outing next week.

Anyway, in the past few times we’ve talked in depth about the state of the economy, she said the same thing as two other designers: I paraphrase, but it was something to the effect of “I’m ready to quit design” or “I want/need to find some other profession in order to generate money other than being a designer.”

This hurts my heart.

Maybe it’s painful because she expressed and articulated out loud the thoughts running through my head as of late.

The first person I heard say this thru the Depression of ’09 (and don’t kid yourself, it IS a depression) was my best male friend, a landscape architect. He was a casualty in the second round of layoffs at his firm in Atlanta. Months of stress had been endured and as he was on the phone with me, verbally going thru the five stages of grief, he just said it: “I want to quit, I don’t love being a designer anymore!”

Remember the Sex and the City episode where Charlotte says something about needing to be taken care of by a man and Carrie writes in her column that Charlotte’s words were the sentence that single women over 30 dare not speak. The same thing applies here.

I asked my landscape architect friend this: “is it design that you hate, the job situation you endured or is it the headache that comes along with the whole ball of wax?” and he said “oh, I LOVE design, I always will. BUT it’s the constant issue of being beaten up by clients that I find exhausting.” I understood exactly what he was saying.

In the last post here, I embedded a file about how it would be if what we go through as designers was translated into real life bleeding into other occupations. Is it ludicrous? Absolutely! But it’s also pretty crazy that more often than not when negotiating a price for a project vs. the amount of work it will take to complete a design to the client’s vision, I am asked more and more often to give my work away for free. And after a while it wears on a person.

Back to the phone conversation with my local friend the designer, she expressed the same frustration and even said that she was ready to quit, but didn’t know what else she could do. The fact is, it can be hard to make a living now as a designer, for these very reasons. And she’s dealing with clients that don’t pay – a dragon I’ve yet to have to attempt to slay, thankfully enough!

I love design. I live and breathe it. But because of the economy, I’ve had to rely on the part time job I initially took to pay off credit card debt in order to live. And actually I don’t hate it. As design can be a very isolated endeavor, getting out in the public can actually lighten my mood and get my mind off the state of things in my primary business. As for gaining happiness through art, I watercolor a lot more now. Maybe I need to do something in which I can exert total control for an art medium.

I realize everyone is having a hard time now. I guess I just needed to put that out there. Design is work. And just because something looks like it took “five minutes”, it didn’t. That’s because as designers, we put lots of research, effort, thought and hours into our work.

 

The Vendor / Client Relationship – In “Real World” Situations May 27, 2009

 

Designing a Garden – If I Can Do This, So Can You! May 25, 2009

Filed under: Around the Garden,artistic angst,I'm jazzed,inspiration,method — missbethd @ 6:18 am

I’m not sure if I’ve discussed my whole other life as a frustrated gardener here before, and I don’t have the patience to sit and dig around for past discussions. The long and short of it, history wise, is a bit of that whole “I’m turning into my grandparents/parents” thing. When I was a kid, my grandparents had a huge backyard, and every spring they planted a garden. A gigantic garden, actually. I have very early memories of this spring ritual where the tiller was brought out, and I would be given a handful of seeds to place in the holes along the furrows. I clearly remember being fascinated by the sharks teeth that my brother and I would find in the freshly dug soil – being 5 hours from the MS coast, this was odd, but if one looks at the history of the planet, it stand to reason they’d be there, as this area of the United States was once covered in water, millions of years ago.

Anyway, being a person who sits at a computer all day, I had to find an outlet for the other part of my brain. I guess the most lo-fi way of solving this issues is to dig in the dirt. I was talking gardening with someone the other day – someone who doesn’t share this love – and I had to explain what the draw was for me. To the best of my ability on the analyzation of the hobby – because this IS a hobby until I get paid for it – I figure it’s this: Every single time I plant something, I expect it to be a colossal failure. But most of the time, 99.9% of the time, I am pleasantly surprised and it’s like a series of miracles when something sprouts or blooms. It’s the closest thing I’ve experienced to giving birth, I suppose, as I am taking part in creating a life.

I started my own personal digging in the dirt thing about 7 years ago, while living in an apartment. I started with cherry tomatoes, dill, and basil in containers. That went well, so when I moved to a house with a yard, I decided to branch out. The house I currently live in had a modest flower bed. It contained what was limited to a modest amount of plants, the only two of which I can identify being phlox and lambs ear.

I decided to give things a go 3 years back and added some seedum I had in a pot that I acquired from my great-aunt’s garden. That went well – of course, you can’t kill the stuff. Two years ago, a house was built next door, and one of the workers generously gave me another variety of seedum to plant after we had talked about the flower bed – I placed it near my existing seedum. As I have a love of freshly cut herbs from the garden for my cooking, I added basil, oregano and chives – the chives were transplanted from a pot – I had started those from seed about 7 years back in my early endeavors with container gardening. Amazingly enough, they come back each year in early February, and survive thru the strange early spring snows we seem to get here in Nashville.

Last year, I got serious about the gardening project – as serious as one can get with a modest flower bed – then I put my mind to expanding things. I annexed the flower bed to run the length of the walkway to my patio – and planted hollyhock, bee balm and rose campion that I received from a friend. While planting these, a neighbor stopped by and said he had some purple canna, and asked if I wanted them. You can probably guess what my answer was. I also received four moulin rouge sunflowers from the same friend that gave me the hollyhock. I planted those and was very pleased with the result. They’re not mammoth sunflowers like most people imagine, but they got to around 4 feet in height and were beautiful. A deep maroon on the front side, with striated leaves of maroon and bright yellow on the back side. Watching them sway in the wind made me intensely happy.

The hollyhocks actually bloomed last year – they usually rock on 2nd – and the cannas and bee balm were lovely as well – the added bonus of the bee balm was the attraction of many bumblebees that pollenated the flowers and plants.

Spring forward to this year. I saved all of my seeds last year – hollyhock, rose campion, moulin rouge sunflower, etc. I filed them away in the paper bags that I take away from the local farmers market in my neighborhood. I started the seeds early, for example, with the moulin rouge sunflowers and transplanted the seedlings into the ground about a month back. I had 25 total early on, but am down to 10 at the moment as something seems to be breaking them off. Oh, I had to dig another flower bed out to accommodate the plants I wanted to set out. In that flower bed, I put 2 angel trumpet, the 25 moulin rouge sunflower, 15 gladiolas and a few tomato plants I started from seed – those are a bit of a buzzkill now, as they are 2″ tall and seem to be stalled at that size. I’m hoping they continue a growing trend.

I also have a love of the dollar store. My local one happened to have gladiolas bulbs – 15 to a package – for $3.50. I figured “why not” and purchased the bulbs, set them out & they are now bursting forth from the newly dug flower bed.

As I share an ongoing conversation over at Aunt B’s regarding gardening, she has gone on and on about Bate’s Nursery here in town. And recently, another friend, Bradley, told me about the wonders of Bates and this past Saturday sent me an invite to travel that way to look around at plants. I accepted the offer and was not disappointed. At Bates, I purchased 2 heirloom tomato plants – one being the black variety, a basil plant, as mine grown from seed seems to be stuck on pause, and 4 acorn squash plants – I meant to buy crook neck squash, but I figured I’d try this variety and make the most of my mistaken purchase. Regarding the black tomato plants – my neighbor had been given some of these last year from one of the workers on the house & I tried them and fell into instant love. I’d never seen or heard of them prior. After the trip to Bates, I promptly placed it into the soil and trusted the rain trend would take care of the rest. So far so good, as there are three blooms on that tomato plant.

In the new flower bed, which is mostly an amalgam of flowers and veggies, I popped in some pole beans as well — nothing quite like fresh pole beans from a garden — I planted those around a week and a half ago and they’re currently about 2 inches in height. Tomorrow I plan on running string around the two trellis posts in order to give them something to run up. Hopefully their growth won’t affect the dahlia that is planted nearby to infuse some color into the surroundings. I also have a hot pepper plant, given to me by my brother, and it’s already yielded a single pepper that I picked to put into a salad in the future.

The friend that gave me the bean seed told me that his have not come up yet and I’m not sure about the whole “why” answer to the question. The only thing I can figure is this — I have a TON of worms in the new flower bed, thereby – as far as I can tell – enriching the soil with nitrogen and all the other stuff worm poo provides. I have 4 bean plants that are loving life right now and that makes me very happy.

So, that’s the gardening update as of late. I need to get out and weed, but figure I can do a little at a time, as the rain is still hanging around Nashville and the surrounding area. Stay tuned, I might even put some photos of the progress here.

 

A How To Guide: Credit Card Confetti April 14, 2009

ccconfetti

Supplies:

One Pair of Scissors
Twenty Seven x Infinity parts rage
Three credit cards
One champagne flute

Instructions:

Allow scissors to meet plastic credit cards, apply liberally

- Put champagne flute on desk where bills are paid.
– Stare at it daily as you pay down your credit card bills with money earned
by taking every extra job you can find and putting every penny into a savings
account specifically opened to build the money to pay off these soul sucking
devices.
– when all debt is paid off, in full, empty champagne glass of all credit card confetti, pour a liberal amount of champagne* into glass and drink until champagne magnum is empty.

Prep time: varies
Card cut up process: 3 cards, 30 minutes

Suggested music:
“You Make Me Sick” - Pink
“Money” – Pink Floyd
“9 to 5″ – Dolly Parton
“Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)” – Pet Shop Boys
“She Works Hard For The Money” - Donna Summer
“Money Changes Everything” – Cyndi Lauper
“Taxman” – The Beatles

*champagne should be paid for with COLD HARD CASH<

 

MacGuyvering Seedlings – Designing a Cheap Solution April 7, 2009

If you know me, you’re aware of what a tree-hugger I can be. I can’t stand the thought of throwing anything in the trash. I’m also frugal.

I’m also a frustrated gardener. Oh, and I like to MacGuyver things.

This year, I decided to try growing tomatoes from seed. I’ve never done it before and just thought I’d give it a shot. The little guys are doing well.

img_0302

I’ve seen those little terrarium things that are sold and have never bought one, but had a stroke of genius last night as to how I could finagle my own. I save my plastics (#1 & #2 are picked up by Nashville Metro) — all other labeled numbers of plastics and glass have to be taken to a recycling pick up center. I’d eaten a few take out salads and had saved the containers and they were in the pile. I was gathering my recycling and it struck me that these could be used in the same fashion – to grow seedlings. So, I popped my basil in one as a test and it’s working like a charm.

img_02982

The only issue here is they aren’t very deep, but I’ll solve that issue by transplanting them into styrofoam cups and empty half & half cartons I’ve saved.

Nothing goes to waste around here.

 

Indulge me as I play “What if?” February 18, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creativity and careers and all sorts of stuff that falls into and around those two categories.

I don’t know if I can properly put down my words on the epiphany I had regarding all of this, but I’m going to try.

For what’s been rattling around in my brain I’ll use, for example, Bill Gates and Leonardo Da Vinci – both masters in their fields of work and study – Gates with revolutionizing computers and Da Vinci revolutionizing art. Both found their niche in life rather early, which allowed them to excel in their respective fields.

By the same token, I know far too many people who slog through daily life at a job they absolutely abhor. These people are basically “making the doughnuts,” for lack of a better word.

But what if we have all these potential Bill Gates’ and Leonardo Da Vinci’s out there, but our greatest potential minds are not working in the field in which they would really shine and change the world? We’re in the midst of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. And we have supposed great economists working on the problem But, humour me here – what if the truly greatest financial mind is a plumber working in a factory BUT he doesn’t KNOW he’s a great financial mind because he’s never put forth the effort or ever had the opportunity (financially, etc) to exercise that part of his brain?

I realize the world is imperfect and we need plumbers and all those people that do various jobs to make our world run smoothly. I guess I’m being a little PollyAnna-ish here, but I’ve thought about this a lot lately and had to put it down and out into the world.

 

 
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