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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Must Read – Designing Thru The Recession January 11, 2009

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

 

“Objectified” + my theory of how the PT Cruiser design was born January 10, 2009

Filed under: artists,fonts,HA!,I'm jazzed,time waster — Beth D @ 7:50 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

There’s a new movie coming out by Gary Hustwit – he’s the guy that did “Helvetica” – the new film is titled “Objectified” and the trailer was sent to me this week. Looks great, can’t wait to see it. Click here for the trailer.

I was en route somewhere the other day, with my friend the Film Producer* in the car, and we found ourselves beside a PT Cruiser in traffic. The Producer started this complete diatribe about what a piece of crap car the thing is. I’ve never driven one – never even been in one for that matter – but a few months back, The Producer & her significant other, The Austrian*, had car issues – days dragged on and they found themselves in the possession of a rental PT Cruiser. But not just any PT Cruiser – this was a turquoise blue PT Cruiser. And not only was the outside turquoise blue, the interior was as well. It burned my eyes. I was ashamed to have it parked in my driveway. The color is not found in nature, UNLESS there is some undiscovered bird somewhere in the Amazon that has this particular shade of metallic speckled clear-coat somewhere on it’s body.

At that moment, sitting in traffic, en route to I forget where, the theory of the design of the PT Cruiser was born:

Whoever designed the thing is a ZZ Top fan — Like the #1 fan of ZZ Top – the President of the Fan Club. I imagine “Legs” was blaring as the sketches and clay forms were made, his crazy ZZ Top-esque beard flying in all directions.

Remember the ZZ Top videos from the ’80s? They all involve what I dubbed the “ZZ Top Mobile” – some lady in a miniskirt (leopard print was involved as well as pleather) was in distress at her job selling shoes and viola! The men of ZZ Top appeared in their ZZ Top Mobile – it rolls up, cue the close ups of the side, front and rims of the thing – the details of the car were always highlighted in the videos. Then, they tossed some schmo the keys as they got out, and the keychain – in the shape of the “ZZ” blinged in another close up. And by the end of the video, all was right in the world. They were like rock n’ roll Texas superheros – perhaps their beards and keyring were their superpowers? And, of course, they got the girl, a blonde in the leopard print and miniskirt in the end – after a makeover, of course.

Long story short, the PT Cruiser is the poor man’s ZZ Top mobile.

That is precisely what the guy that designed the PT Cruiser was going for. Except, he didn’t realize two things:

1) men won’t drive it – too girly (even gay men won’t even drive it!)
2) women would drive it – and what this designer failed to realize is this: the women of the ’80s had grown up and they were now middle aged moms driving his version of the ZZ Top Mobile – taking their kids to soccer practice. Not very rock n’ roll at all.

Since MTV won’t let you truly imbed a video, I’m not linking to their website. Seek out their videos on other sites if you haven’t seen them and need a refresher course.

* the neighbors

 

I will survive July 15, 2008

I’ve had one of those weird Mondays. It always happens on Monday – it’s either a wild Monday or a dead one. And today is one of those dead Monday’s that give me the blues.

Last week was completely crazy. I wrapped up two jobs that were both fun and challenging. And maybe that’s why I have the Monday blues. I’ve come off a design high and I guess this is how a crack-head feels after a good score and buzz. I have a lot of friends in the same field as I, and when we talk about these moments, we laugh and say “feast or famine!!!!” Luckily, I’ve been on the feast train lately, while many of my friends and colleagues have been on the famine bus as of late. But, no matter what side of the fence we’re on, there’s always that underlying fear of “oh crap, what if the phone doesn’t ring?” or “what if that’s it for the year?” I’ve had to explain many times to people in other “safe” professions that “even if I made $10,000 in one month, I’d still squirrel it away in fear that no work would come in for a year!”

I’m being completely silly because I know that I’ll survive no matter what. I was raised with a tight work ethic and have done everything from interior design to painting rooms of houses, to being a personal assistant to production work.

I had a really fulfilling conversation a few nights ago with a friend and her long-term friend, both of whom have worked for over 40 combined years in the film biz in LA. It was really interesting to hear them talk, over dinner and drinks prior to a movie. Currently, their industry is facing a strike — similar to the writer’s strike of a few months back, but now it’s the actors union that faces shutdown. The industry is tense currently in LA — or at least everyone is holding their breath in preparations for a worse case scenario. Anyway, what I took away from their conversation is that no matter what, if you do good work and build great relationships with people, you will survive the tough times.

So, back to my freak out about my Monday blues. When these moods strike, I usually gravitate to the type of work I call “making my own shoes” — which is a play on words regarding “The cobblers children have no shoes” — in these situations, I tend to focus and work on my own stuff — my own marketing materials, and in this case today, I went back to archiving my own photos from childhood. That work always challenges me in the areas of photo retouching. Some of these photos have terrible exposure and it really makes me brush up on making something great from something lackluster. I really dig doing my own stuff… somehow it centers me. And even though the freakouts start the madness of my own production work, I’m thankful for the time to focus on the little tasks that make me happy.