Misadventures In Design

On the whole, I’ve enjoyed almost everyone I’ve had to collaborate with. The best of times come when there’s the balance of a co-worker or client letting me “do my thing,” AND giving me stringent guidelines and earnest feedback. I liken it to being a racer, standing on the gas and wrestling with the steering wheel as much as you like, but having to stay on the track and deal with the conditions. In both cases, when it’s really on, and YOU are really on, you don’t so much sense it through sight or sound or body as you do a “feeling.” There’s something instinctive that they tap into that you simply know.

That’s NOT what this post is about; it’s about the opposite.

Whenever I’ve felt frustrated about design — and I mean really and truly frustrated — it’s been when trying to work with folks who don’t “get it.” I don’t mean the lesser anxiety of “writer’s block” or similar attempts to break through the usual issues inherent in good design because that comes with the territory. That would be like reaching a difficult spot on a mountain climb, or — back to racing — overcoming a difficult curve or outsmarting an opponent. No, what I’m talking about would be like someone hanging onto your leg while climbing, or throwing stuff at your car while driving.

Nobody recent came to mind for this — everyone I’ve worked with lately have been true daisies — but for some reason I recalled an old boss, an overbearing blowhard, excellent in underestimating what he didn’t know, and absolutely as smart. As the appointed curator for all branding and marketing assets, I’d often have to meet with him over copy, which was fine because I’d draw upon what I knew about SEO at the time, and it never seemed to please him.

“Just write it,” I’d say, “and I’ll make it look good.”

Big mistake. He always wanted to place the company logo in “read-through,” and he never understood why that was bad. I merely inherited the corporate brand and style guide, but I read and understood it; it was remarkably simple, and the first “deformation” to avoid was read-through with text. However, he’s the one who commissioned the rebranding only a few years prior, but didn’t want to respect it.

“It’s MY company and MY logo,” he would say. “I can do what I want with it.”

And so he did… or, I did at his command. When I produced a media handout that looked like a kindergartener had stickered their homework with our logo, the CEO called me into his office. After explaining what the owner ordered me to do, I called up the PDF of the branding guide and my original document without the read-throughs. Apparently, there was a meeting, and while the read-throughs stopped, it seemed as if the owner subsequently wanted to violate each deformation of the logo, one at a time, in order.

Anyway, I think my point is that, like any other professional, there should be some trust in your graphic designer. Malpractice and complications aside, you expect your doctor or mechanic to do the right thing by your body or vehicle. Likewise, when you present my work on your behalf, I want you to succeed and have folks ask where you got it done.

So, if we tell you something that runs counter to what you’re thinking, by all means, ask about it. Yes, it could simply be different thinking; “I guess I just prefer a different color.” However, if that difference is crucial enough that we’d tell you not to do it — “That color isn’t in your logo’s palette” — please respect some of the foundations that will contribute to good design.