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?

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)


Archiving your work – the Old Skool Way January 12, 2009

Most of my friends know that I can be a bit of a pack-rat. It’s a trait I got from my family – so I got it honest. But as of late, I’ve been purging around here – cleaning out closets, going through boxes and just simplifying in general around here. I filled 3 laundry baskets of with clothes, separated computer cords to take to the Goodwill – hopefully someone can use those, and about 87 cosmetic bags from the freebies from Clinique. I even found a Syquest drive from 1997 – the discs are only good for use as coasters at this point – Remember when 280 MB was a huge amount of storage?

Anyway, in a box in the back of my closet, I found a box with stuff from college. Inside, I found slides and photo negatives of stuff I’d done in Drawing I & II and Design I & II. Somehow, back then I had a wise professor that had the foresight to have us take our artwork to have it photographed for posterity. I gasped when I found this stuff. Immediately I began scanning the photos to put them in my archives of work.

I don’t know how stuff is done now – that is, if having work photographed is still the norm as I’ve been out of school for a little over ten years. But, to all design students out there, take your stuff and have photos taken. Or do it yourself. Don’t just rely on a hard drive or a disc to store your stuff. Have hard copies – slides or negatives – of your stuff. You never know when a hard drive will die on you – or fires or natural disasters – I have a friend who lost all her photos in Katrina, for example.

I am so thankful someone told me “Take it & have it photographed” – who knew?


Gee, I’m honored August 6, 2008

Cumberland River view - Nashville TN

I posted the above photo to my Flickr account recently, a photo collage of images of the Nashville Riverfront.

I was very excited to learn the photo was chosen for Nashvillest’s “Photo of the Day” on Monday.


A Public Service Announcement July 29, 2008

I’ve written on this blog a few times about my love affair/addiction to Flickr, a photo sharing/upload service.

Although I still find the site to be wonderful, as all things on the internet, a few screwed up people ruin things for the rest of us.

Without further rambling, I’ll direct you to Newscoma’s first hand account of her experience with the perverts that surf the web.

Click HERE for more info


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.


Flickr is my new crack April 4, 2008

This past Christmas, I received a digital camera as a gift. It’s just a point and shoot, but I’ve fallen in love all over again with photography. I find myself taking photos of all sorts of things, and carry my camera everywhere to document everyday stuff that I encounter.

A friend had told me about Flickr years ago. And I thought it was cool and all that, but prior to owning a digital camera, I had no use for it.

Things have changed.

I am completely addicted. When I’m taking photos now, I can’t wait to get home to upload the photos — and can spend hours labeling, geotagging and adding them to sets. I’m an organizational person anyway, but this taps into a whole new side of the obsessive compulsive nature of mine to document and itemize.

The other great thing I’ve found about Flickr is that I can view art from all over the world – there are so many amazingly talented people out there, creating art for art’s sake. Photographers, graphic designers, even people who just do the artwork as a hobby. And it’s super exciting to me when I get a comment from someone on a photo or an illustration from all the way around the world. I really dig the sense of community that Flickr has brought to me. I’ve found myself at times completely devoid of any artistic creativity – a case of “design block” – and I login to Flickr and I’m suddenly cured and inspired to create again.

Finally, I love Flickr because I am able to safely stash away my photos. I watched a childhood friend’s home burn a few years ago. And I remember her saying at some point “I have no photos of me as a baby now – they are gone” — that really hit home with me. I don’t ever want to be that person, who loses memories forever. In an age where we rely on technology, it’s good to have a failsafe when it comes to archiving photos. Most people, when asked the question “what would you save in a fire”, always say “photo albums.” I’ve also known 3 people in the past 6 months to have their hard drives crap out on them. One, in a complete panic, popped in on my iChat asking me “what do i do?” — he thought he had lost ALL of his travel photos from 3 or more trips to Europe. And a company wanted $800+ to retrieve them. Flickr is the perfect solution.

Back up your stuff, people.


Photoshop Express – a FREE web version of Photoshop March 27, 2008

THIS is badass — Adobe Systems, the fine folks who brought us Photoshop, have just launched a basic version of the popular photo editing software online for FREE.

From the Associated Press:
“While Photoshop is designed for trained professionals, Adobe says Photoshop Express, which it launched in a “beta” test version, is easier to learn. User comments will be taken into account for future upgrades.

Photoshop Express will be completely Web-based so consumers can use it with any type of computer, operating system and browser. And, once they register, users can get to their accounts from different computers.”

I haven’t tried this out, and probably won’t as I already own the full version of Photoshop and am an unabashed and unapologetic Flickr fanatic. But lots of people will have a whole new world open up for them, as Photoshop is a monster. There is truly no other software that compares to it.  Of course this is Adobe hoping users will upsize to their $99 Photoshop Elements (or whatever it’s called) version. However, it’s damn good marketing and good for Adobe’s Feng Sui. But the real winners will be all those people who want to edit and tweak their photos for free & for that reason, I think this is fantastic news.

And anyone who tries it out ; I’d love to know the thoughts on the capabilities.