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Speak Up: Screw-Ups

All we seem to talk about on Speak Up is how to do this right, and that way, etc. It makes sense, since one of the purpose of the site is to share and learn from each other’s experience and mistakes.

So on that thought, let’s step off our collective high horse for a minute, and admit that we’re all human. I want to hear stories about your biggest design screw-up, mistake, and faux pas. The more embarrassing and damaging, the better.

Dig deep into the inner reaches of your memory, and unblock your most shameful stories and share it with us. Come on, it’ll be good therapy — and extremely entertaining.

(Vendor and client screw-ups would be good too.)

+ See also Low Points

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PUBLISHED ON May.23.2003 BY Tan
jonsel’s comment is:

Don't ever print an 8 color (4/c + 4 spot) standards book on a 2-color digital press. Learned that 6 years ago. Not only was the quality just not up to par, the cost per piece was ridiculous.

To make this job even more screwy, the printer failed to correct something for which I had given them instructions (a website address...), so they had to reprint the cover (in all it's 8-color non-glory).

Tan, don't think you're dirty laundry's not getting aired. C'mon. Out with it.

On May.23.2003 at 10:43 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Well, since I do mostly web work these days, screw-ups aren't really a big deal. Change the site. Fixed. (Of course, that means the project is never finished... ;o)

My biggest screw up with as project I worked on as an intern at 3M. It was my 'big' project I got to work on and pretty much everything that could go wrong, did, culminating in the experience of walking in one morning and seeing a pallette of materials stacked above my head in this really bright 3M 'pink'.

Thankfully, using the wrong ink on the project wasn't my fault, but it really hurt to see that much paper/printing getting dumped into the dumpster.

I did loose a client for a partnering company once when I completely failed to either hear or note the wishes of one particular person in wanting me to rip off a site they really liked.

This was one of those 'out of the blue' clients that walked in off the street. Since then, I've found that *any* client that walks in off the street is trouble. ;o)

On May.23.2003 at 10:49 AM
Arturo’s comment is:

While I’m thinking about some of my All-time greatest Screw-ups, I wanted to share this: I work in a newspaper; they are wonderful places to make BIG TIME mistakes ;) Here we have a wall called "the wall of shame" were we put the little and not-so-little errata we find every now and then, it started very informally and suddenly we realize, the best way to really correct an error was to accept it in a good sport manner, even joke about it, error is an incredible learning experience, if you face it professionally... a motto here “Errors are bad but is worst when you don’t realize you are making them”

On May.23.2003 at 10:50 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, I'll help start things off.

Years ago, Airborne Express was one of my biggest clients. I was working on a large collateral product campaign for them -- and we had a huge coordination meeting that involved 4 print reps, 3 product managers, a head corporate vp, and my direct client, the vp of marketing communications. Counting my team, their team, etc -- I bet there were 15 people around the conference table, all jabbering about this and that, and trying to impress one another. Blah, blah, blah...

But at one point during the meeting, my client asked if I could send a crucial document to her by the next morning. Without thinking, I replied, "No problem, I'll just fexex it to you tonight." (pause...silence...crickets churping) The room went dead quiet -- all conversations stopped.

My client turned red -- I'm sure out of a mix of anger, embarrassment, and amusement. Realizing what I'd inadvertently said, I just muttered something about "just joking" and corrected myself. The rest of the room joined me in a nervous chuckle, all while looking at the two vp's to guage their reactions.

To this day, everytime I say "Fedex", I think of that story.

On May.23.2003 at 10:52 AM
Tan’s comment is:

What I meant to type was "No problem, I'll just fedex it to you tonight."

Ok, I need spell check on this thing dammit. Just ruined the punchline on a joke. Time to slow down t-y-p-i-n-g.

On May.23.2003 at 10:57 AM
damien’s comment is:

Tan -

I worked on UPS.com when I was with Studio Archetype in Atlanta. We too had the whole "don't swear using the 'F' word" in front of them.

I think once someone I was in the same room as suggested to an incredibly senior person at SUN Microsystems that we designed her presentation in Powerpoint. She swore at us asking if we thought that she should present to the CEO with a Microsoft product. According to her there were no MS products available to use at SUN.

On May.23.2003 at 11:07 AM
jonsel’s comment is:

don't think you're dirty laundry's

yeah yeah..."you're" should be "your". I wasn't calling you dirty laundry.

On May.23.2003 at 11:07 AM
jonsel’s comment is:

the 'F' word

I fedex stuff to my friend at UPS every once in awhile, just to keep him in check.

On May.23.2003 at 11:09 AM
rebecca’s comment is:

May I suggest that those of you with really great stories—that you might not want your boss or clients to read—post anonymously?

On May.23.2003 at 11:11 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Aaah, who cares? no one visits this site anyway, becca. ;-)

Yes, yes, don't want anyone to get fired. Just for fun, if you want to hide your identity, use the postname "design idiot #1" and number yourself accordingly.

Any of you ever farted in a client elevator?

On May.23.2003 at 11:21 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Bosses don't know how to use the internet yet.

On May.23.2003 at 11:28 AM
armin’s comment is:

It wasn't a big job, for some rather small posters. It was a series of four and in one of them I left the lo-res-watermarked image in the file I sent to the printer instead of replacing it with the hi-res image. It printed as such. Very postmodern in my opinion.

At marchFIRST I once sent a postcard to the printer and sent the same side twice (for back and front.) Fortunately a bell went off in my head and was able to stop the presses. Literally.

Oh, and the ocassional typos on the web. But who cares? Nobody reads shit on the web anymore.

Never farted in front of a client before, perhaps a little burp has escaped here and there, but nothing of major concern. Had my fly open once.

On May.23.2003 at 11:36 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, one more funny story, then I really have to get back to work.

I was doing an annual report for a large high-tech client, and I was at their office for a meeting.

During the middle of the meeting, I had to recycle some coffee, so I excused myself and headed to the men's room.

As I was washing my hands to leave, the IR director walked in and we started talking about this and that. As he continued talking, he walked into a stall, closed the door, put the seat down, and proceeded to sit down to crap -- all the while, still talking. It was awkward, to say the least. What the hell was I supposed to do? I couldn't be rude and cut off the conversation, but I didn't want to stay and chat with him through the door while he pinched a loaf.

Thank God someone else eventually came in to the bathroom, and gave me a break to leave.

On May.23.2003 at 11:52 AM
Max’s comment is:

Years ago, first job, first pro brochure, misspelled the word efficient in 36pt. blazing glory.

My punishment: Rather than spend the money to reprint, the boss came in and made me "efficent"-ly place black dot stickers over the typo to make it look like a post office sorting process thing. It took me all day to place stickers on 5000 brochures. I'm honestly surprised he kept me on, and I have no idea if anyone ever noticed the sticker or what was under it.

Several jobs later, I have a drink with my old boss occasionally and we joke about it quite a bit now.

On May.23.2003 at 11:54 AM
Christopher May’s comment is:

A lesson from my mistake,

Never eat curry chicken roti before a client meeting. No matter how small the burp, there ain't no way in hell you can hide the "meat" smell... and i mean “meat” in a sweaty pungent sense.

On May.23.2003 at 01:46 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Same with Thai food!! I know what you mean, you get that uncontrollable belch that you know will reek -- but you can't do anything about it. Altoids won't help either -- it just adds a minty-smell to the aroma and makes it more complex.

Round here, we call it the oral fart.

Deadly in a meeting...

On May.23.2003 at 01:56 PM
Christopher May’s comment is:

> Altoids won't help either -- it just adds a minty-smell to the aroma and makes it more complex ... oral fart.


too much...

On May.23.2003 at 02:06 PM
pk’s comment is:

gold engraved envelopes for the Chicago Board of Trade's 150th anniversary ball. misprinted ZIP code. very high-pressure situation.

the client should have read more closely before approving her own typo...but i should have known better than not double-check. now i do.

On May.23.2003 at 05:24 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Tan, didn't LBJ used to make his advisors come into the bathroom while he pooped? Maybe he did it only once. Must be some kind of uber-management technique.

My story is an expensive, unfunny and instructive one and the moral of it is: Never deal with the French!!!

A few months ago I did an identity for a restaurant in Alsace, France. I showed the chef estimates for the menu covers that showed a price of $5000 for 500, or $10 per. Somehow I managed to write this estimate in a way that he figured the unit cost at $3 per--something to do with us thinking of different quantities or I don't even know.

When we discovered the misunderstanding (ie when I sent the invoice), he thought I was trying to rip him off and screamed first at me then at the printers via me. Said stuff like "Why do they fuck me? Is it because I am French? Maybe they are Jews? [I swear he said this, the asshole.] Maybe they are black?" At this point I am both terrified and enraged. Somehow I managed to get off the phone without calling him a cheese-eating surrender monkey, which would have been a fraction of what he deserved.

Cost me a chunk of money and a little bit of pride, but, sniff sniff, I feel better knowing I can tell you guys about it.

On May.23.2003 at 06:55 PM
albert’s comment is:

I sent out holiday cards to existing and perspective clients last year. Friends (people who can write) proofread the cards before they were sent. Showed one to my 12 year old nephew a month later and he asks me if holiday really has two l's. I'm not sure but I think I lost a little business on that self promotion.

On May.26.2003 at 07:41 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I don't have any significant press mistakes (knock on wood) that couldn't be fixed in prepress or something -- so sorry to disappoint. A typo here and there caught on press, etc. -- pretty boring stuff.

My horror stories always seem to stem from a doomed client relationship, rather than a specific fuck-up.

My first story.

We were hired to create a comprehensive profile piece for an interactive agency. Frankly, their design stuff sucked, but they paid us a bundle to do our print thing and make them look good. Fine. The problem arose when the owner of the agency (who was a failed print designer), ended up trying to swing print deals with printer friends on the side. Since she didn't really know what she was doing, print bids were coming in from all over the place, ranging from reasonable to outlandish. When she finally strained a relationship I had with a printer I'd worked with for years -- I finally called her and told her to "quit fucking around with the job, and let us do ours" in those exact words. I finished the piece, and it made CA and got them tons of clients hits. But not surprisingly, we never got a thanks nor did we ever work together again. Only time I've ever said "fuck" to a client.

Story two.

This is a classic dotcom story. A startup hired us to do a shitload of collateral work for them, user manuals, profiles, brochures, etc. But the client contact was a 24 year old graduate who fell into the marcom manager position and was absolutely in over her head. She would say she loved something, then lie in the next meeting and recant that she ever said anything like it. It happened so often, that the copywriter we worked with kept a running tally of lies. For the corporate profile, we ended up designing 9 rounds. In the last round, I literally no longer gave a shit what it looked like -- so I just gave her our library of photodisc and told her to choose. I just wanted the job to end. Well they eventually fired us, but they did pay us for our time, if not our trouble. As you can guess, they never produced any profile -- the marcom manager was let go soon after, and the company filed bankrupcy and disappeared. As a result of that client, I vowed never to continue a job once I know that the client has lied to me or to someone on the team.

On May.27.2003 at 02:20 PM
pedro’s comment is:


>I sent out holiday cards to existing and perspective clients last year

just to add to your miseries guess you meant prospective clientes unless of course you already saw the prospective clientes from the perspective angle!!!

just joking of course - no offence meant!!!

Typos lurk everywhere and the eye/brain compensates for all these mistakes and reads what it thinks it says not what it says.

On May.27.2003 at 02:23 PM
pedro’s comment is:

talk about mistekes

is it offence or offense ???

On May.27.2003 at 02:24 PM
albert’s comment is:

"just to add to your miseries guess you meant prospective clientes unless of course you already saw the prospective clientes from the perspective angle!!!"

As I was obviously 'high' on crack, the clients were in perspective, down there on the ground.


On May.27.2003 at 04:00 PM
Pedro’s comment is:


could be - sounds familiar ;-)

On May.27.2003 at 07:57 PM
Michael S’s comment is:

Aside from printing my own limited edition books by hand somewhere in the woods, a great project for me would be to create a zen garden.

Those M&Co. time pieces are very nice, aside from the great faces (I've got the 10-1-4), I like what's written on the back of some Waste not a moment

On May.27.2003 at 08:07 PM
Michael S’s comment is:

ha ha, what a screw up on my part, meant to post that above comment in dream project...

On May.27.2003 at 08:09 PM
Dan’s comment is:

I just recently had my biggest horror projects last week.

We were doing a poster for a local musician and gave him a few options in a flurry one night. The next day he said that the concensus was to "go with the yellow one." The thing is, there were two yellow ones, one with more yellow than the other, and I printed the wrong one.

He came the next day to pick them up and asked nicely "hey, what's this?" He was understanding but it sucked so bad. I was up until 2 o'clock that night printing a totally different poster.

On May.28.2003 at 06:00 PM
bob lezbo’s comment is:

i think you are sooo stupid! why creat such a retarted site! this is such a waste of time! i want an apology from you cause you wasted my time! send me one or else..... cause ur an idiot!!!!!!!

On Oct.14.2003 at 04:29 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Can apologies be sent?

On Oct.14.2003 at 04:50 PM
Sam’s comment is:

perhaps he meant "retarted"?

On Oct.14.2003 at 06:30 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I think my favorite part is that for his web site he put http://not telling you loser!, that's actually an awesome URL, somebody should nab it, before lezbo here does.

On Oct.14.2003 at 06:45 PM
Tan’s comment is:

it's available, but only as www.nottellingyouloser.com

no exclamation point allowed, which defeats the purpose.

www.boblezboisaretard.com is also miraculously available. might grab that one.

On Oct.14.2003 at 06:59 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> www.boblezboisaretard.com is also miraculously available. might grab that one.

Careful, you have a typo, it needs to read: www.boblezboisaretart.com

On Oct.15.2003 at 08:37 AM