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)

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

 

In Which I Respond to A Craigslist Ad on My Blog February 11, 2009

I’ve been surfing through Craigslist again & I read this little gem this morning: (I’ve bolded my favorite part)

Book designer (XXXXXXX, TN)
Date: 2009-02-11, 9:07AM CST

We are a progressive, up-and-coming book publisher located in the XXXXXXX, Tennessee area. We are showing steady growth this year, and find ourselves in need of a book designer with the following characteristics/qualities:

– Applicant must be familiar/knowledgeable/preferably expert at InDesign software. A knowledge of Quark would be beneficial as well. You will be designing the interiors of books. You will also be given the opportunity to design covers as well.

– A knowledge of Photoshop/Illustrator is a plus, a big plus. You should be able to edit photos and illustrations for use in hardcover/paperback books.

– You should be knowledgeable about of the book industry – how books are produced, distributed, marketed and purchased. You should know what an endpaper is; you should know a mass market paperback from a trade paperback. You must know that (bookstore name redacted) is not a country western duo.

– You will be designing the interior of books – layout, font selection, rules, styles, parts of a book, type, etc. You should be able to provide us with a few samples of your work that is similar in nature.

– You should be able to work at an acceptable rate of speed. Not sloppy fast, but reasonably quickly with an emphasis on quality. We often have deadlines. You must be able to meet them.

– You must not be a flake. You must respond to emails within one day, preferably sooner. You must be available. Projects must be done on time. Always. No exceptions at all. Again, we work on deadlines.

– You must be able to send/store large files easily and securely. You must be able to send files in a PC format. You should be bondable. You must be comfortable handling copyrighted material. You must not lose the material that we give you. You must take this seriously, very seriously. Our authors depend on us.

– You may be asked to correspond with authors directly. You should be able to do so in English, using proper grammar and sentence structure. Some of our authors are rather well-known, and since you will represent us, your writing skills must be up to snuff. You must copy us on all emails. You must know how to correspond with people in a timely and professional manner.

– It would be a plus if you can design book covers, and can provide samples of same.

Benefits:

– In return we can offer little pay [at present], but lots of opportunity for the future. We are growing, and expect to be around for a long, long time.

– You can work out of your home. After all, it’s probably all ready set up as a studio,so you are most comfortable and productive there. No reason to upset the creative boat.

Our emphasis is on quality, beauty, and content. You will be encouraged to learn all you can to keep your skill set fine tuned. Staying ahead of the pack is what it is all about.

Hope to hear from some qualified candidates soon,

(name redacted)

* Location: XXXXXXX TN
* Compensation: Contract per job
* Telecommuting is ok.
* This is a contract job.
* Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
* Please, no phone calls about this job!
* Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

Did you hear a bang earlier? That wasn’t the weather, it was my head exploding.

Look, I get it – we’re in a financial crisis, and everyone is looking to get the maximum amount of work/stuff, etc for a good price. But to write a laundry list of tasks and then have the, for lack of a better word, BALLS to say “we can offer little pay” – well, all I can think is “no wonder they’ve apparently worked with flakes before – ONLY A FLAKE would answer this ad — you’d have to be crazy to sign up for this!” I mean really… why not, when writing this job description, Mr Job Poster, didn’t you say “Cure Cancer” and “Solve Middle East Peace”?

Oh, one of my favorite parts of this ad is how the job poster even went as far as to throw the “celebrity angle” in there in the sentence: Some of our authors are rather well-known. Yawn – Still doesn’t make me want to bite. This makes me realize that only the well-known author and the publisher will make any money even though the designer will be doing the grand majority of the work to make the book marketable to the average customer — after all, we’re the ones that make a book jump off the shelf and grab a consumer’s eye. And in my experience in design, the more cooks you have in the kitchen, so to speak, the more work there is to be done. And the project takes even longer to complete — for the same amount of money, usually.

I’ve looked around at other postings for jobs in other categories other than “art/media/design” and I never seem to find this low-balling fascination when people post jobs in other professions. The reason we chose to be creative is we like to create. Most of us are damn good at it. And, while we might have gotten used to the term “starving artist”, no one is striving to be one. And honestly, I can go work at the mall for more money than this joker is probably offering – AND when I leave the job at the mall they won’t call/email me around the clock – NOR will they expect me to do MORE and MORE work for the same amount of money. That’s almost always the case when a designer low-balls him/herself.

So, to all you job posters out there, with the audacity to write, well, a book of qualifications and job responsibilities like the one above, here’s a newsflash: most reputable designers have a little thing called “self-respect” and we’ve all met your kind before. You are a joke to us. Stories about you become the “worst client ever contest” of storytelling at our cocktail hours. And we’re not flakes either — but people like you, Mr Job Poster, make us so mad that we turn flaky… of course, what you call flaky is what we call “being compensated for the hard work we put forth for piss poor pay.”

After all, the job poster said it himself: Staying ahead of the pack is what it is all about. I suggest all designers stay ahead of the pack by steering clear of “jobs” like this.

UPDATE
The job has been reposted, and now the compensation reads “$100-$300” per book. Seeing as my minimum hourly rate is $75 per hour, I think I’ll pass. I’ve designed brochures for more money.

 

A Little Education about Spec Work / Design Contests January 10, 2009

Every once in a while, I’ll peck around on job listings (cough, Craigslist) and see what’s going on out there. And every once in a while, when things get slow and a project sounds like it has some potential to warrant my time and energy, I’ll even send a response.

This week, I sent a reply to a job listing. It’s for a publication. I attached my resume’ and other information to an email and hoped for the best. I heard nothing, until last night.

I got a reply from the job poster around 7 pm. He apologized for not getting back to me sooner and expressed interest in the type of design I do. Then, here’s the kicker, he asked me to go to the MySpace page for his publication (cough, myspace is dead), view some existing mock ups and create a mock up of my own with supplied photos – so he could see “what my style is.” He even asked “could you throw something together?”

I decided not to reply at that moment. I was a little too hot under the collar. I needed to sleep on it.

This morning, I crafted my reply in a text edit document, tweaked the wording to tone things down, and when it was just right, I hit “send.”

In a nutshell, I told him this:

– I don’t conduct my business in this manner.
– what is being proposed is “spec work” – often disguised as a design contest
– I have over 10 years of experience as a graphic designer, listed the reputable clients I’ve done work for, and told him I would be happy to provide samples of my work so he could “see what my style is”
– what he is asking for is unprofessional as well as unethical

I also linked this website for further reading and education and threw in this for good measure

As designers, not just in my area, but everywhere, we need to put a stop to this. I don’t care what level of the career one is at. Spec work is not only bad for one designer, it is detrimental to all. Do not do it. And educate the client on why this is unacceptable.

A person wouldn’t go to Kroger, Whole Foods and Publix, buy a steak at each and tell the cashier “I’m going to take this steak home, cook it – and if I like your’s best, I’ll come back and pay you for it.”

Design is no different.

 

Communication Breakdown & Other Fun Stuff… December 17, 2008

I’ve had a bad project experience that stems from a lack of communication with a client. And I was going to write a post about this sort of thing, but it turns out, someone else already has

A designer is only as good as the communication being put forth from the client. As much as it would ease our minds and make our work easier, we aren’t mind readers.

 

I love Craigslist. And I hate Craigslist. October 20, 2008

I think I wrote a post a while back about how every couple of weeks, I click on Craigslist to see what’s going on in the job market.

I saw this posting today:

I need someone to draw/create a one frame cartoon or animated picture that can will be approximately 3″ x 4″. The job pays $50.00 and your resume should be a Sunday cartoon type sample of your choice of human character. i.e. Send a sample and I will choose the style that I like. I will pick one person on Friday Oct., 24th.
At that time I will send to you the subject around which the drawing will be based.

* Location: XXXXXXX
* Compensation: $50.00

Posts like these are laughable and irritating to me.

Why?

Ok, say you go to grocery stores A, B & C. You get a steak from each, telling the cashier at each grocery store “I’m going to take your steak home. I’m going to cook it & eat it, and if I decide your steak is best, I will pay you for it, but not your regular price, I only want to pay $2.”

They’d laugh in your face.

That’s how I feel about postings like this.

This is insulting.