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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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

 

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.

 

Let’s talk about Customer Service February 12, 2009

Filed under: inspiration,jobs,marketing,method,opportunity — Beth D @ 4:43 pm
Tags: ,

I met up with a friend last night and we sat and talked over drinks about our respective design careers. My friend is experiencing a transition from a full time gig into freelance web design work and is doing very well for himself. I’m fairly busy as well with design, but took the initiative recently to get a part time job to get my credit cards out of my life.

We were talking and he made the remark about how he was impressed with my ability to segue into the world of dealing with the public – specifically in a fashion that he hadn’t expected as I’ve become so accustomed to working in a solitary manner.

I said this: “It’s all about customer service, whether you’re working in retail, wholesale, or hospitality — as long as you give your customers what they are paying for, treat them with respect and go the extra mile to make them happy, they will come back because you’ve given them a pleasant experience trading with you.”

And I think a lot of designers forget that maxim. Everybody wants to feel like they are appreciated.

There is a restaurant here in town that I used to frequent. I never really cared for the place – the food isn’t very good, and the staff is downright rude – I only really went because a few friends of mine like the place. I wrote the restaurant off around Thanksgiving because I just got sick of the attitude by the wait staff that they could care less about whether a customer is happy. The final straw came one Thursday night when the restaurant was not busy. A staffer walked past me 5 times before asking me for my order. It was so blatant that even the customer sitting next to me commented on the behavior. I decided then and there this would be the last time I darkened the door of the establishment, as there are too many restaurants in town who are happy to see people come in to spend their money and treat their customers with at least a modicum of hospitality.

The same is true for designers. Over the years, I’ve had clients tell me about their dealings with other designers and how “they were only interested in my money and the project never got done after they cashed the check.” This behavior is unacceptable, pure and simple. The bottom line is this: You have to care, you have to give your client attention and you have to provide the basic customer service that makes your client realize that you are going the extra mile to give them the best you possibly can.

If you don’t appreciate them, someone else will. And in this economy, people are looking for the most bang for their buck. Part of that bang is service with a smile and a “thank you” at the end.

 

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.

 

Must Read – Designing Thru The Recession January 11, 2009

If you’re a designer, especially freelance, go read this now