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Sweet Nothings
Do clients always say what they mean? Do designers always mean what they say? Sometimes people don’t communicate what’s really on their mind. They’ll protect their work or the bottom line.

Said: Wow. This job sounds like a lot of fun.
Thought: I don’t care what it pays. Please, god, give me some creative freedom.

S: What exactly does the project entail?
T: I hope this gig pays well.

S: What do you have budgeted for this job?
T: My other gigs aren’t paying me enough.

S: I can get you something to look at by tomorrow.
T: I can do this job in my sleep, or pull something out of my rubric.

S: When would you like to see something?
T: I have other jobs keeping me busy; this one sounds boring.

S: Let’s not rush things. A quality design could take 2-3 months.
T: There’s no way they’ll go for this line of thinking.

S: Really? Your niece is a designer?
T: Great. I’ve got to compete with some teenager.

S: I got my glasses at Optico, down on Main Street.
T: No, you can’t get these at Target’s optical department.

S: I use a Mac, but can get your final products in Windows format.
T: Curse you and your axis of evil.

S: I find your old logo really interesting.
T: That mark is a piece of crap.

S: What are your rates for a redesign?
T: We can’t afford your services.

S: We’ve budgeted a small amount of money for your services.
T: We hope you’ll do the job for its creative freedom, not the paycheck.

S: My niece is a designer.
T: What do you think of our old logo?

S: Nice glasses!
T: What a snob, only movie producers wear accessories like that.

S: What exactly do you do?
T: Why exactly should I pay you?

S: Let’s not rush things. Email us whenever you have some concepts.
Never Happens

S: We’re a little behind schedule.
T: We need to see concepts tomorrow.

S: My favorite color is orange.
T: Make our logo orange.

S: My niece’s favorite color is green.
T: Make our logo orange with a green font.

S: You’ve got some great work on your website.
T: What’s with all the white space and small fonts?

S: Your work looked really slick. Very cool stuff.
T: Their work looks expensive. I better email my niece and ask her to work on this logo some more.

Whether in the office, at school, or over the phone/internet, you’ve encountered exchanges like this. Either you dish it out or you hear it firsthand.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
ARCHIVE ID 2035 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Aug.01.2004 BY Jason A. Tselentis
Skip Lineberg’s comment is:

Hilarious! I've heard many of these.


On Aug.01.2004 at 11:41 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

I have to agree that we don’t always say what we mean. This is my main problem with office politics and the way things develop in the management/process/delivery and finishing of any kind of project. People come and go, revisions, reworks, feelings and misunderstandings are plentiful, and all through out the lapse of time it takes to complete, you feel you are surrounded by eggshells or high-maintenance prima-donnas.

Clients don't and we sure don't (most of the time). I have noticed for example, that when a client calls wondering when they will see reworked creative, or see the final schedule, or the revised estimate, we stall and say we are working on it and will get back to them by the end of the day. Then we start getting ready, figuring out how and when to deliver. Not so long ago, I will have to admit, I created a very detailed schedule for a six month long project, that didn’t really say a thing! We could not afford to say much at the time since we were still chasing vendors and third party participants that had not given us the information we needed (and we had not been good at “chasing” them). Needles to say, the client was happy and since then we have updated the schedule and tightened it up. Phew.

On other occasions, such as this last Thursday, a client called and talked around what he really wanted for 15 minutes, going over the different projects we were working on for him, until he finally admitted he needed a logo by Monday morning. Immediate thought: Express logos, please step over to the next window. You can imagine the following conversational sentences, the finding of the common ground, and our buying time until Tuesday. Lucky for me, I am swamped and managed to pass on the project and hand it over to another designer (of course without admitting my not wanting to do it).

On Aug.01.2004 at 11:50 AM
Jason T’s comment is:

Bryony, why does your name's hotlink go to Armin's portfolio? Is this another example of not saying what we mean? Just curious. It's a little off topic, but seems like a nod to the subject we're talking about here. :-@

On Aug.01.2004 at 03:24 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

Bryony, why does your name's hotlink go to Armin's portfolio?

Argh. He must have used my computer again! this new link should work. Thanks for the red flag.

On Aug.01.2004 at 03:41 PM
Purdy’s comment is:

These are great. I've heard nearly everyone.

But you forgot:


Said: Classic Crest? This is white paper right?

Thought: Next time, I'm going to Kinkos to get business cards.

On Aug.02.2004 at 12:27 PM
Kev Leonard’s comment is:

It seems a lot of the time we (designers) don't say what we mean because these are lean time and everyone needs to pay the light bill. On the other hand, saying what you mean may be liberating but just plain rude. Clients have feelings too. I think you can say what you mean and mean what you say tactfully and bluntly and still keep the work.

I was in a meeting for a new project last week and when I asked about budget, I was told that it hadn't been firmed up yet. When I sent the proposal it was then divulged to me that their budget wouldn't support my price but they still wanted me to do the work. I told the client that by me knowing the budget (up front) allows me to be creative in how I approach the problem--including price. When I don't know...

I think from now on my client will say what she means (hopefully.

On Aug.02.2004 at 12:45 PM
Armin’s comment is:

T: Make our logo orange.

This is perhaps one of the most annoying — yet understandable — "concerns" clients have. It's not about what they, or me, "like", it's about what's appropriate. Sure, sure, "what's appropriate" is subjective yada yada yada… whatever. There will always be colors that are more appropriate than clients' preferred colors. But how can you say "It doesn't matter what you like, what matters is what's appropriate"? I bet most clients would get offended at that statement.

On Aug.02.2004 at 01:16 PM
Tan’s comment is:

These are great, Jason. Good writing.

Client dialogue is filled with courteous white lies and doublespeak. It's part of the facade that keeps business relationships civilized and professional. I mean, it's just not tactful or productive to tell clients what you really think of their old logo. So you dodge, blurt out a nice comment, and go on to other questions.

But there doesn't have to be such animosity between both parties. It's like real estate mumbo jumbo, you know — "cozy" means "smaller than a shoebox", "classic" means "old and in disrepair", and so on. It's all for civility, so just go with the flow.

Besides, honest language doesn't necessarily mean better work. Have you ever done work for a family member or close friend? Eventhough you can say exactly what you think, it doesn't really make the process or results any better.

I have one.


S: That's a very astute comment and observation. I'll have to give it some thought. (to client)

T: What the hell does that mean, and how am I suppose to constructively use that? Maybe if I put it off, they'll forget about it over time.

On Aug.02.2004 at 01:19 PM
graham’s comment is:

i agree with tan. civility is a neglected virtue, and a little bit of balance can lead to a real sense of communication. if you're working for a client in the first place, then the chances are quite strong they're looking for your opinion (in the first instance, at least). given that, there's really no need to give it the large one.


s: a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link.

t: i believe you, sir/madam, to be an onanist of the first water.

On Aug.02.2004 at 01:44 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

Phew. Work for family or friends is definitely tough. I can't imagine the Said/Thought dialog that happens there.

On Aug.02.2004 at 02:32 PM
graham’s comment is:

designer (working for nearest and dearest)

s: there you are. i hope you like it. let me know if there's anything else you need, anything at all.

t: happy now? happy now? happy now? are you fucking happy now i've done this for nothing and it actually took about 10 times as long to get that fucking tatty picture from your photographer mate because you sent it in some freaky martian pc format that no one has ever ever ever dealt with and you didn't even call me back to give me the text revision until sunday lunchtime and then expected me to turn up with it in a bar that night so you could 'buy me a drink for all my hard work' and you didn't even get there until 11 when i was falling down drunk anyway and didn't want another fucking drink and what the fucking fuck do you mean by can you make the type bigger and more 'cool' and oh right o.k. your photographer mate has done his own one anyway so i shouldn't have gone to all that effort shouldn't i? shouldn't i? shouldn't i? yeah o.k. i'll do another one no it's fine just buy me a drink at some point . . .

On Aug.02.2004 at 02:55 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

graham. graham. try some decaf, mate. DECAF!

Actually, that's a great internal dialog you've got above.

On Aug.02.2004 at 03:01 PM
Armin’s comment is:

The ironic thing about doing work for, say, your uncle is that you then become "the nephew who knows how to draw and use a Mac" who your uncle uses as an excuse to fend off other designers vying for his business…

On Aug.02.2004 at 04:36 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

It's quite the double-edged sword. And really, isn't that niece/nephew out there designing for cheap the real problem with our profession?! No. No, it's really not. ;-)

We can speak sincerely when we have to. And we can butter it up if the situation calls for it. But when do you make the choice to do one or the other? Do you improvise on the spot, or do you plan your words methodically, strategically, and carefully? Do you find yourself preparing more than reacting?

On Aug.02.2004 at 04:43 PM
Greg’s comment is:

This looks like fun:


S: Yeah, I think I can do that.

T: I'll give it a try and if I don't like it then I'll tell you why it won't work.

S: That's probably not going to work.

T: Do you even know what you're talking about?

S: *blank stare, large sigh*

T: What The Fuck. I swear if I didn't have 4 other projects this week I would, for the betterment of humanity, explain every file format and process and what they do and how they work, so the next time you work with someone like me they won't want to scream and gouge out their eyes with a blunt instrument.

Actual Client (paraphrased)-

S: Can you do a 4 color logo out of this black and white image I found in a clip art catalog?

T: I can't wait to dazzle him with my knowledge of this clip art catalog I've been studying for two days in preparation for this meeting.

S: I wanted it to be exactly like the picture. Oh, that won't work, huh? Well, I don't really get all that copyright stuff.


S: Well, when you get it done, you can save it as a .gif right? I want to be able to include it on the brochure I'm designing (and printing) myself.

T: Why is he staring at me like that?

Very therapeutic.

On Aug.02.2004 at 05:34 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

Very therapeutic. Ay. It is. Very nice, Greg. Maybe I should have thrown some other characters into the mix in addition to Clients and Designers. No. I've a better idea, I'll leave these for your creative/therapeutic enjoyment.

Copy Writer

Art Director

Account Executive

Electronic Production

The Printer Sales Rep


Web Programmer


On Aug.02.2004 at 06:34 PM