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?
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”
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)