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Serving It Up
By Joel Wheat

Met a lady the other day that told me that her grandson was also a designer. “He can draw really well and is good at the computer too”. Turns out the kid is 17 and, from her description a veritable virtuoso in the realm of Microsoft Word. I have run into to this time and again. Any time you want to take part just stroll into your local Apple Store and strike up a conversation.

As a lowly student I am considered in the lowest echelon in the field and I do not have the gleaming portfolio to back up my claims of being a designer anymore than wonder-boy grandson and his WordArt�. The problem is that I do not see this perception from the general public as changing any time soon. I fear that when I do wrap up my time at Portfolio Center I will still be inundated with this same misunderstanding of what I do as a designer. I pour myself into my work now and will continue to do so in the “real world” and I am already aching for some of that R-E-S-P-E-C-T that every person expects in whatever their chosen field.

One of my first experiences of real-world work came a few weeks back when a good friend of mine bagged a freelance job for a local restaurant. The owner wanted a logo and he wanted it fast. My friend has been doing time in the design departments of a few local rags in the past couple of years and was used to this �chop shop’, assembly-line methodology. I, on the other hand have been enjoying my first logos class and have learned that pages upon pages of sketches and hours of research are just the first steps required in creating a kick ass logo. These things, I am learning, take time but living on a student budget does not afford me the option of turning down paying work; “Screw it, we can knock this one out in no time” I remember saying. We both got off the iChat (my only window of communication these days) and proceeded to work on our own ideas which we planned on meshing together later on that night. Back on the Instant Messenger, we kicked ideas around and developed a few decent looks considering the two hours spent on them. There was none of the oozing of concept… no, ghost of Paul Rand moving through the page… but it was up to snuff when you consider the client.

“Considering the client”. is a fairly new idea to me. I have always worked with a client… just not a real one (�real’ meaning the 99% of the world who do not understand what a logo truly is). I am put into real world situations in class and often work with actual clients but none of them quite shared the mindset as Reggie, the restaurateur who “really thinks we should go with a nautical thing”. By nautical, I thought he meant something akin to pirates and mermaids and… you get the picture. What Reggie should have said was what Reggie was really thinking. He did not want a nautical look, he wanted it to look like a Nautica Factory outlet; nothing says the high seas like red, yellow and blue. Even the kindest pirates would kill over that palette. Reggie is the client who comes to you 2 weeks before the doors open, when he sees there is no logo to put on the door. And I am the designer who needs a little extra beer money— far from a match made in heaven.

Upon reviewing the logos we submitted, Ole Reg (we nicknamed him) got back to us and wanted one that we both worked on… and he wanted us to change the font to Arial. “F’ing Arial!?” I blurted out loud at the computer screen. Then I typed it in. The reply, “Yes, f’ing Arial… Oh, and he wants more red”. As I am writing this I am dreading finishing the job. My first commercial piece, gold leafed onto the front door of Ole Reg’s new establishment, greeting patrons and mocking me. Arial was not a mermaid; she was but a few letters underneath a couple of sails. Sails mean nautical, man… sails!

And there it is… my first real world experience with a client. A big sans serif welcome to the world of pre fabricated templates and WordArt. A land where people really do believe that a designer is one who can draw nice little doodles, churn out logos and get paid way too much to do so.

Maybe it is my ego getting in the way of my work. Perhaps I wanted to proudly point out to others, as I drove by, “I did that”. Such will not be the case. In the end my friend who found the job was elated because, after all was said and done, the client was happy with the results. This was really the ultimate goal, right? But still there is that deep, ugly feeling that this was something I was going to be doing for a very long time. I will leave PC a graduate but still a nobody in the field. Outside of the field what I do for a living will not be understood. I will have to continue to suck it up for an indefinite amount of time until I have the clout to say no… until I am able to explain that, when opening a restaurant you make the damn logo before you produce the menus. Until that time I will just smile and serve up work that makes the client happy. It will be just me out there, smiling and piling whatever they want on their big ugly plate.

Joel Wheat is a student at Portfolio Center. This essay is the tenth and last in a series by PC students who took part in Bryony’s long-distance Design Thinking class during the quarter of winter 2005.

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PUBLISHED ON May.31.2005 BY Speak Up
Jonathan Baldwin’s comment is:

Ah so young yet already so cynical! ;-)

Coincidentally I've just this minute had a conversation with one of my own students on this very issue. It's a common experience and one you're never going to escape.

Personally I think it's our job to help educate the world about what being a designer means and what value we bring - but we don't seem to teach that or even understand it ourselves yet.

But as you point out yourself, if WordArt is good enough for most people then maybe we should accept that communication doesn't have to be pretty to be effective? Much of what we hold dear is what Bourdieu called an 'illusio' - a truth that's only true to a small group but meaningless to others. Only typographers obsess about kerning but most people don't notice it. If a sign for ice cream is badly designed (aesthetically speaking) it really doesn't matter. Does it? (I'm being deliberately controversial here, you understand!)

I've posted a link to this excellent article on my own blog.

On May.31.2005 at 07:47 AM
Carl Floyd’s comment is:

I empathize for you Joel. I understand that feeling. I am, what I like to call, an 'extended senior', at Old Dominion University. I will not be officially graduating until May 2006, so I have been doing a few internships to try and build colateral for a portfolio. The internship that I am presently in is for a landscape architect group in Norfolk, VA. Everyone else there is an architect, and then there is me, the graphic designer. Redesigning their logo, making pamphlets and posters, and just helping with management of graphics are some of the responsibilities I have at this place. It never fails, though, that I question the approach that my boss will want me to take on a project. I think, "why do you want me to make it look like that? that doesn't look good at all." Terms are constantly thrown around, like how my boss thinks everything is either a pdf or it was done in quark. Maybe Jonathan is right. Maybe it only has meaning to us and means nothing to everyone else. I think that is why i am so attracted to wanting to become a real designer though. I feel like we get the last laugh when it comes to designing. Sure, things may not always be made the way we think they should be made, like the logo for the restaraunt, but it is a designed logo none-the-less. We had to do a presentation in one of my Graphic Design classes this past year and explain why we wanted to be graphic designers (which is very difficult to answer by the way). I realized that the reason, for me, was because graphic design is so in-your-face to the world that it cannot be ignored. Design is everywhere. That is what keeps me going. And yet, there is that feeling of communication failure between the client and designer that I have right now as a student. Maybe it will go away eventually. Do I want it to go away though?

On May.31.2005 at 08:28 AM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

Good essay. It should be read by outgoing students, particularly those without any real-world experience. The observation about what's said vs. what's meant is such an important part of being a designer. It's always better to keep the client talking, clarifying their meaning.

That MS Word thing drives me insane. I don't hate Word, I hate the fools at MS who decided to market a word processing program as a page layout program. Now everyone can completely misunderstand what I do! And ask me to use Word while they do it!


That said, don't let it kill you. Stay scrappy and don't be afraid to push back. You do have clout, because you were hired as a designer. Sometimes the client bowls you over because they sense that it's either what they're supposed to do, or they don't sense any strong opinions coming from you and try to fill the vacuum. Execute their destined-to-fail version, but present a clear, effective, completely different one along with it. It shows that you're thinking about their needs with a unique eye, even if they reject it. Once in a while it can turn a 'bad' client into a grateful and good one. Though sometimes damage control is the best we can offer.

On May.31.2005 at 09:11 AM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

Oh, also see the This American Life episode, 'Give the People What They Want'.

It'll give you some humorous perspective.

On May.31.2005 at 09:15 AM
darryl’s comment is:

Yes Joel, you do sound a bit cynical considering this is your first job. You might as well get used to it though because life is full of comprimise and dissapointments. It doesn't matter if you are a designer or not, that's what life is. The good news is that when you get the opportunity to work with a "good" client with more time, budget and vision, it makes the work that much more enjoyable. In the same way that personal relationships that don't work out make the ones that do that much sweeter.

I think you have to realize the difference between design and fine art as well. I think fine arts relates to design in the same way that jazz relates to pop music. One you do for yourself and hope others share you vision, the other you do for clients and hope they like it enough to pay you. In the case of pop music the audience tends to be 13 year old girls. Believe me, there are alot of talented musicians, writers and producers who are capable of a whole lot more.

Your job is to make the client happy and get paid. If you can do great conceptual art at the same time that's gravy. Your job is not to get your visual rocks off at the expense of the clients budget and time. I'm sure that is not what you were trying to do but sometimes it can be a thin line.

After 15 years in the business I've designed probably thousands of pieces. Some were good some were bad. Some I've come across years later and don't even remember designing them. If one comes out lousy because of the clients wishes or from my own inattention I know that 10 or 12 new jobs are in the que giving me a chance to redeem myself.

So buck up. You've got thousands of jobs, hundreds of clients and probably a handful of employers to go before you sleep. One day you may even have your own business and believe it or not, you may be happy to see Mr Nautical walk through the door.

On May.31.2005 at 09:49 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I am already aching for some of that R-E-S-P-E-C-T that every person expects in whatever their chosen field

Not everyone expects it. And many people have the sense to prefer being respectable to being respected. If you are going into graphic design to impress people than you have made a serious error in judgment.

My wife was surprised when a New York Times web toy that is part of a series about class showed my designer status as well below average at the 46th percentile and marked her as bringing up the family status with a 72nd percentile registered nurse ranking. She thinks of nursing as a working class occupation and design as semi-bourgeois. (Although the chart implies that this is some sort of status level, I think they got the job rankings based on related indicators like advanced degrees and income so the rich MFAs are being brought down by the poor trade school guys.)

[story about Reggie the restaurateur]

So here is the heart of your respect problem. You don’t deserve any. You make the same mistake about graphic design as the people you complain about do. You have no idea what the job is. A trademark does not begin with lots of thumbnails. It begins with understanding. It is not about impressing your design school buddies. It is about your client’s business and your client’s customers.

The fact that he asked for a specific typeface and you replied by whining rather than asking why indicates that you don’t care much about what he thinks or what he does. That makes you a guy who “can draw really well and is good at the computer too.” Congratulations. You’re maybe as good as the woman’s 17 year old grandson.

On May.31.2005 at 11:28 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Mr. Wheat:

Terrific Editorial. Welcome to the real world.

Things will get better or worse depending on your perspective. A glass half empty or half full.

Realistically, for the rush job you should've charged double the amount of what you were charging. As a Designer you have the right to refuse a project. As well, have the right to adjust your fee.

One of the problems of being a NEWBIE.

Often times these rush jobs from clients aren't worth the chicken fee they're paying.

Hopefully, and none of my business. Your received a stippend of at least

$ 2500.00 for your RUSH JOB. Any thing less is unexceptable.

When I started over twenty three years ago. I adopted a CREDO to live by. I only work for clients that will give me creative freedom. And respect what I do. I never, ever work for clients that have pre-determined solutions to Identity Design.


Upon recommendation from another client, family and friends. When a client come to me with ready made Identity solutions. I simply inform them. They have come to the wrong place. You can take your pre-determined solution to any Artist or Designer to be produced.

That's not the way I work. My work is based research of your market and analysis. Identity Design has very little to do with Art.

As a Designer I would not have taken the job you were presented. Unless, I were given the opportunity to correct mis-steps taken to conceptualize and excute the Identity. Meaning, stationary, envelope, business card, signage, uniform signage, vehicle signage etc. As you stated, Mr. Wheat, you recognized from onset as the Designer. The Identity should've been on the Menu from the beginning of the Planning Stages.

The work you executed for this restaurant. As well, any unsupervised abuse or misuse of your Identity Solution BEAR your VISION and IMPRINT.

Personal Advice:

Don't beome a WHORE or Slave to money. Nor printed pieces for your portfolio.

Compromise but never Compromise your Principles as a Designer.

On May.31.2005 at 12:13 PM
Jonathan Baldwin’s comment is:

I like Gunnar's distinction between yearning for respect and being respectable, and I think that's precisely what the issue Joel is facing here, as well as those students I teach who are wondering the same things.

That's certainly the case in the mood of a number of final projects people are doing in which for the first time they try to tackle real issues - how can we make design more legible for people with visual problems, how could design help tackle teenage pregnancy, how can designers help transform a run-down community, how can designers take responsibility for environmental problems? Compare that with the usual 'conceptual' work that tends to come out of undergrads at this stage in their courses and you see the point: respect has to be earned.

Again, i think it's our fault (the industry, education, the media etc) - we crave and demand respect, but don't behave in a way that commands it. Consequently people shun us and go to the kid next door who does what you ask him to do.

There may be a good reason why the client said he wanted Arial - it may be one of the typefaces he has on his computer, which means he can easily recreate the type element of his logo in other applications. Or it may be that he just didn't like your choice ;-)

Just as an aside, I find type to be the biggest area of snobbery in our profession - one colleague of mine used to fail students for using Helvetica. Not sure why. But it is quite typical.

The other day I recommended a student look at New Century Schoolbook for a project aimed at adults taking evening classes as, I explained, it's easy to read and carries with it a certain nostalgia for school texts (a UK thing?). Yet I knew from her reaction when I mentioned it that I'd recommended a typeface that was on 'the list' of ones never to use. She did, though, and it looked great...

But as was said earlier, if you ask the client (friendly, like) to explain their choice, and take the time to explain yours, but most of all listen and be willing to comprimise (I know, I know) then you'll put off that heart attack just a while longer.

Incidentally, about the time this essay was posted I saw a list of reasons to be wary of projects that is well worth reading - what's true of web design is true of print design too!

On May.31.2005 at 12:34 PM
graham’s comment is:

john, paul, george and ringo say:

and in the end-

the love you take

is equal to

the love

you make.

On May.31.2005 at 01:36 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Again, i think it's our fault (the industry, education, the media etc) - we crave and demand respect, but don't behave in a way that commands it. Consequently people shun us and go to the kid next door who does what you ask him to do.

Jonathan Baldwin:

I respectfully disagree with your comments I have in bold italized.


People who can't afford Design. View Design as a NONE ESSENTIAL SERVICE.

Unscrupulous clients will advertently BULLSHIT and BAMBOZZLE Young Designers and Seasoned Designers into believing they can acquire Graphic Support and Design Services at cheaper prices.

On the same level as Educated, Trained, and Professional Designers.

Any utterance of such is an Unmitigated Lie.

Unless a Seasoned Professional Designer has rolled back his/her fee. To accomodate said client to facilitate their endeavor.

On May.31.2005 at 02:14 PM
r agrayspace’s comment is:

As far as respect, the only respect you'll ever need is what you'll receive from a sastisfied client. As far as everyone else. Forget it. We are not alone in being professionally misunderstood. The other day my new neighbor told me he was in "Staffing". I gather he is pretty successful at it, but did the word "staffing" garner a whole lot of admiration and respect from me. Not really. But the clients he successfully staffs probably love him.

Now I can tell you are really trying to do good design. But from what I gather you made some critical mistakes. Maybe those were from it being a RUSH job, without lots of experience those will almost always fail and should be excepted only if you a relationship with the client or are comfortable with coprimised work.

Mistake #1: Not having a dialogue with the client.

Direct communication from the client is the most CRITICAL thing you need to master as a professional. Getting second hand information like "nautical" doesn't allow the two of to come to an understanding of what "nautical" is. I almost spit out my drink when you said you thought it was like a pirate. Funny.

Mistake #2: Not being able to get a client to tell you why.

When a client tells you to make it red, you have to be able to get them to tell you why they want RED. Or to tell you why they want Arial. 9 times out of 10 you will be able to acheive the results they want while satisfying all of your personal expectations of what you want good design to be.

On May.31.2005 at 02:26 PM
Christine’s comment is:

There's been some excellent comments that have summarized a lot of my initial feelings about the article. I just have a few things to add. While I do agree with DesignMaven that one should never whore themselves for money, it is inevitable that the occasional job will be quick and dirty - particularly logo jobs, especially ones done for friends. So, with that in mind, use every job as an opportunity to educate, and it will come back to you in the form of referrals, or sometimes repeat business.

Take the example of the restauranteur wanting arial. You will get better at learning why a client might make such a request. One possible reason, as Jonathan has suggested, is that he might have this font on his computer, making it easier to recreate the logo in different formats. This is a good opportunity to do two things:

  1. If he wants to recreate the logo easily in a variety of formats (which would inevitably degrade the consistency of the logo if it's "remade" slightly differently every time), suggest a different sans serif that is drawn with a little more, ahem, sophistication. Then supply him with a disk of the logo in a variety of sizes and formats.
  2. Take the opportunity to educate him on the proper use of a logo by means of a standards sheet giving general guidelines and "don't do this" examples. Use your own logo (if you have one) as the example. Then you have a logo guideline sheet you can use for every project in the future. This will not only help ensure the consistency of the work you've created for him, but also reinforce your authority with regards to the profession.

Good luck.

On May.31.2005 at 02:32 PM
beto’s comment is:

Respect doesn't come cheap - or fast. For the most part of us, the price we've got to pay in order to attain some of it has been in the form of years of deep scars and lousy experiences in the real world - experiences that should make us smarter though. No one likes to make mistakes, but sometimes there's no better school than the school of hard knocks, and graphic design is certainly no exception to that rule. And be assured this won't be your last time facing "clients from hell".

Today's business world demands more in-depth solutions, more chops, and more professionalism to get by and have big, real clients. Forty years ago a Paul Rand-like type could spend away months over the details of a logo. With people selling logos at $25 nowadays, it is clear you have to go further than that if you want to really make it in this biz - think a complete branding proposal, for instance. Worthy clients do appreciate when they can actually see there is solid thought and reasoning behind your graphic decisions - and will agree with your fee. Bigger clients usually mean smaller problems on this respect, and vice versa. Research, educate yourself, and make your knowledge be felt by your clients. Otherwise you'll get stuck in the "logos with Arial-and-swoosh-for-$25" client pit forever and hating yourself every day. Don't.

Oh, and don't even think about taking spec work to beef up your portfolio. Never. Ever.

On May.31.2005 at 02:39 PM
the pessimist’s comment is:

I was told as a graphic design student you shouldn't sell yourself short because you are in school or a recent graduate. If you sell yourself short, you sell the industry short. Therefore you should basically charge what any other professional is charging. I feel pretty much the same way you do, and the only solution I have found was to do some things for myself or for close friends who are near to the industry. I helped design some promo items for a photographers show and he let me do whatever I wanted. But it comes back to understanding the client, and the almighty dollar. If a guy wants some nasty looking rainbow block style helvetica, and he's going to pay you for it, you're gonna swallow your pride and do what it takes to make some money. That is, considering you want the money. Not to endorse products or anything but I found that the Graphic Artist Guild Guide to something something was a good book for pricing and contracts and all kinds of helpful things pertaining to going solo.

Only working for clients that give you creative freedom limits you depending on your environment. I live in a place where there is not really a scene, and design jobs are few and far between. But say if I lived in a huge bustling city, I might be able to pick and choose what I want. Just be you, decide what you have to do to make yourself happy, and make it happen...

Don't complain too much, or you might end up with a name like mine...

On May.31.2005 at 02:40 PM
Rob’s comment is:

Not that it hasn't be said already, but just to reiterate the point here, respect must be earned.

In Joel's case, he showed what students need to learn and r agrayspace pointed out. Good design starts with communicating with the client. Finding out the hows and whys of a project. After that, you can decide whether or not it's the kind of client/project you want to work on.

And Gunnar points out, honestly, that without the process of design, you are no better nor more of a designer than the kid and his WordArt. Be glad that you are learning this lesson now, while you are still sheltered in the comfort of the classroom. It's far different doing work for a little beer money versus working because it's what you do and your mortgage is due.

It's more important to let passion for design drive your work rather than false expectations of stardom and begruding respect like some celluloid starlet in Hollywood. Fame is fleeting. Respect comes and goes with every client, every job. It's totally subjective, just like the job. In life, there are no guarantees. So it goes with design.

Take it all in and decide if you can live with it. Good luck.

On May.31.2005 at 03:27 PM
EJ’s comment is:

I was impressed by how this was written, but I would like to add to the dialogue.

Let's not be too harsh towards the 17 year olds who are still mastering Word Art. Everybody's got to start somewhere. I got mine in ClarisWorks back in 93. Now I design book interiors. I'm sure my folks bragged about my feeble efforts at layout.

Similarly, you can't begrudge the people who say they're a designer when they really just own (or can borrow) programs. They want opportunities, just like the rest of us. What will always seperate us from them is our attention to detail, commitment to the project, and the final product, and that's all you can ask. If I tell someone how I did a project, and they say, "That's hard", I know I've done my job.

As for respect . . . I don't know too many designers who feel they get the amount they deserve. I do know a lot who are satisified with their ability and the work they do.

On May.31.2005 at 04:54 PM
James Moening’s comment is:

I've always said: "Give them what they want, until you can't; and then give them what you have."

On May.31.2005 at 05:10 PM
James Song’s comment is:

I'm becoming increasingly aware that 50% of my job as an in-house designer is talking people out of "make it pop" or "can't you just put a glow on it?". I recently did a bunch of stuff for a big trade show and my boss (QUITE skillfully) talked our VP of marketing into going with an unorthodox look - she just made him think it was his idea. I've found that to be true of so many client situations - since they're the ones paying they think they know how it should be. So if you can flip it on them and make them believe it's THEIR great idea, you can get a nice serif type instead of Arial. Just my experience

On May.31.2005 at 06:04 PM
Jonathan Baldwin’s comment is:

designMaven, I think you misunderstand me.

There are unscrupulous clients out there, sure - but I wasn't talking about them. I was talking about clients who don't know what they want and are simply confused by the way they are treated by (some) designers. In those circumstances it's unsurprising they take their custom elsewhere. They don't just threaten it in order to get new and seasoned designers to quake in their boots - the actually do it because at the end of the day they want design that works and judge it based on their criteria, not 'ours' which exist to create a hierarchy within our industry, not to create more effective design for them.

But design is a non-essential service. Sorry to say it, but it's true! I use companies all the time that have poorly designed logos, livery and so on. They don't fail because they have poor design, therefore design (in the sense of 'good' design that I think we're talking about here) is non-essential to them. Design in the sense of making their Yellow Pages ad effective, or their van noticeable, or their flyer memorable is certainly essential, but I would argue there's little (if any) connection between those factors and the aesthetic quality of the design.

Maybe there's two types of respect being talked about here: the respect that designers crave from their peers (and that Joel appears to be seeking?), and the respect that we need to earn from our clients and their customers (which is what Gunnar is talking about).

As an industry we obsess about the former; forget the latter.

I ask my students each year if their parents or friends understand what they're studying at university. I'd say 90% of them raise their eyebrows in exasperation - no, they don't get it, no matter how many times they explain it. The responses are similar to the woman who Joel quoted at the start of his piece. And the same is true of most ordinary people - and that's who clients are.

So here's the question: whose fault is it that design is undervalued or misunderstood? I say it's ours. No good blaming the client...

On May.31.2005 at 06:10 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

Having glanced briefly through all of the comments, I thought I would offer up my quick take on all this:

Design is a process. Work collaboratively with your clients and you won't have to worry about requests that don't make any sense, because you will be able to push them in the right direction while working together. This gives them some feel of ownership and participation, and keeps expectations on the same level for both you and the client.

Respect is earned over time. Provide consistent quality work, treat your clients right, and don't sacrifice the quality of your work for money. Don't worry about being a 'rock star.'

Design is about communicating a message to a target audience. Designing to make something look 'cool' isn't really design at all. There needs to be a purpose, a concept behind the work.

It's up to you to educate the client on the value of design. Unfortunate as this may be, no one else is going to do it for you. Be proactive, learn about contracts and the business side of design if you want to freelance. And build a process that works for you and your clients.

On May.31.2005 at 06:31 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

whose fault is it that design is undervalued or misunderstood? I say it's ours.

I think Jonathan is right here but not in the way he seems to mean. The people who undervalue and misunderstand design most are designers.

On May.31.2005 at 07:14 PM
Robynne Raye’s comment is:

Hey Joel: Is it possible you judged your client too quickly? One thing I noticed is that you referred to the client as "Ole Reg", and for me that came across as a put down. If you don’t think your client is worthy, they’ll pick up on it.

We always try to refrain from the monikers and slagging until after the job is out of the office. Then it’s open season on the client (just kid!!) Anyway, I’m sure you learned a lot from the experience so good luck.

On May.31.2005 at 07:26 PM
gregor’s comment is:

while most of us have been through design processes (or lack of processes) that left a bad taste in our mouths, what srikes me most here is attitude in the essay itself as well as many of the comments.

That attitude is the client is more or less an idiot who has no clue, and is either (a), just plain stupid, or (b), needs education. The fact of the matter is that most all clients know what they want but many may not be able to articulate that, which is why they hire a designer in the 1st place -- otherwise a sign board would suffice.

Designers who take the snobbish approach that clients need educating and don't know what they want don't make it too far in this industry. Pitching a concept is far different than educating a client and knowing the difference is critical.

A few clarifying questions to delve deeper into the client's needs would have solved many issues early on. To me, it sounds like 'Ole Reg' knew what he wanted. Arial and nautica? That sounds general enough to make it a real creative challenge. A moderatley skilled designer can do wonders with both the face and the symbol.

On May.31.2005 at 07:41 PM
gregor’s comment is:

sorry folks, that link should be sign board

On May.31.2005 at 08:00 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

Collaboration with your client is essential to achieving the desired results. Maybe 'educating them' isn't such a good phrase to use, it could sound kind of derogatory I suppose; though my definition of client education is more along the lines of helping them discover all the possibilities... sometimes they don't know what they can do, especially when it involves the web. It's more about helping them be creative and empowering them to contribute. And pulling on the reins when necessary, and explaining why.

Desiging for a 'little extra beer money' is not what its all about... unless you do want to 'smile and pile whatever they want onto their plate.' Wow... I don't understand how anyone would expect respect from that.

You gotta have passion if you want to be great... keep it positive and view your clients as humans, they're just like you and I and we all have our faults.

On May.31.2005 at 08:46 PM
Carl Floyd’s comment is:

I would like to go back to the very beginning of these comments if I may. Jonathan Baldwin said:

Personally I think it's our job to help educate the world about what being a designer means and what value we bring - but we don't seem to teach that or even understand it ourselves yet.

I can say from experience that this topic was discussed a few times in my classes but they were my earlier design classes. I will be finishing my undergraduate design classes next spring and was wondering, Why is it that this topic is not discussed more in design classes? Why is it that in Graphic Design I we are thinking about the general concepts of Graphic Design and what Design really means to us and finishing our degree with how to put a portfolio together? Why not do it the other way around? What do you think would be the outcome of this, if any?

On May.31.2005 at 09:49 PM
Frank McClung’s comment is:

Could it be possible that design schools are teaching students to be employees, when they should be teaching them to be entrepreneurs? I think there is a new wave of design beginning to form that will break designers free from client tyranny. Can't wait until I can catch it!

On May.31.2005 at 11:48 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Jonathan Baldwin:

I work from a premiss that Design is as Essential as the Air we Breathe, Blood running through our veins, and the Food we intake for nourishment. I live and breathe that mantra and credo. Most important, portray that philosophy and awareness to my clients. Design is Essential from where I sit. Because Design Matters.

Design is the catalyst by which we GOVERN our daily lives. Most important, we take it for Granted. Design enriches our lives, Design clarify our lives. It makes us feel good. Most important our clients couldn't exist without Design. GOOD or BAD !!!

If Design were not Essential. Everybody would be going to Kinkos, the kid next door. And people on eBay that sell Snake Oil, Cure All's, and Elixir under the GUISE of Design. Albeit jumping through HOOPS for potential clients; offering endless revisions on Identity Design for $ 1.99

The aforementioned isn't Design it is a MOCKERY and BASTARDIZATION of Design as a Profession.

Yet, clients buy into that theory of Whore Mongering to the lowest bidder.

There are clients that don't believe in the Power of Design. As an effective Communication Tool. It's reflective in their Business Practice and every-day lives. That's unfortunate.

Informed Clients understand the value of Design.

Patronize Designer(s) and seek their service.

Maybe, Michael Bierut was correct in his assessment in HOW MAGAZINE. New World Order 2004. When he emphatically stated. "2005 everybody will become Designers".

Perhaps Design is Essential and Designer(s) are NONE ESSENTIAL.

From all accounts posted. I understand, anybody with a computer and software can assimilate a Designer(s) work. Putting a BAND AID on that problem is like putting a BAND AID on a Bleeding Ulcer. What's the point !!!!!!!

We must DEAL with the PROBLEM and not the SYMPTON.

The PROBLEM by all accounts expressed written. And my Qualitative Analysis. Clients vehemently DO NOT undervalue Design. Clients undervalue Designer(s).

There-in lie the PROBLEM.

The Universal Cipher bring us back to the Client as PROBLEM.

On May.31.2005 at 11:55 PM
gregor’s comment is:


I think it would be an over simplification to state that design schools are churning out, not employees, but machinists operating 'cool machines.' This may be true of some 2 year community college programs or design schools. However there are many fine schools where students are taught to be critical thinkers to the benefit of future clients.

And with that type of mix of designers in the market place, where else can the client take it but to DM's conclusion of undervaluing designers and the Universal Cipher. As paradoxical as that may be.

The underlying problem is a culture that undervalues critical thinking.

On Jun.01.2005 at 12:28 AM
Jonathan Baldwin’s comment is:


I agree with Gregor but I also know from experience and the luxury of the particular job I have at the moment that the desire to produce critical thinkers is (here in the UK at least) a minority sport.

I recently attended a workshop for external examiners in which we were told how courses had to 'meet the needs of employers'. I replied with my belief that they should meet the needs of students. they're not always the same. Most design students won't become designers so why pretend otherwise?

In other subjects, graduates are employed to help change the culture and practices of their employers. In ours it seems we want them to repeat them. (Of course I write from a British perspective - I'd love to be able to experience the situation in the US and Canada).

I've always had a problem with courses that 'teach' how to build your portfolio. At the end of a degree a student is supposed (to paraphrase the legal requirements here in the UK) demonstrate they are at the forefront of their subject, recognising its limitations and able to undertake research at postgraduate level in which those limitations are tested and extended.

And yet so many courses mark the transition from undergrad to graduate by spending six weeks showing people how to mount their work in plastic folders and style their CV... (OK, it's important, but could either be done early on or as an extension study - but it certainly shouldn't be used to judge the quality of the student's critical thinking IMHO or affect their degree classification).


Entrepreneurialism is 'the big thing' at the moment in UK higher education, and the organisation I work for is looking at the role for it in art and design. Hopefully some good things to come out of that, but as always it's sooooo sloooow and I'm concerned it might turn from what I think you and I would hope for and focus instead on low-level stuff like accounting, CVs, PR and so on.

On Jun.01.2005 at 04:36 AM
Jonathan Baldwin’s comment is:


I think Jonathan is right here but not in the way he seems to mean. The people who undervalue and misunderstand design most are designers.

You are right, of course and I should have been clearer in what I said. We mis-sell design because we don't understand it. I disagree with DesignMaven's positioning of design as central to our existence though I think I'm just overplaying the central point of his post which actually backs mine up: it's not the aesthetic quality of design that makes it 'good' but the effect it has.

Yet so often we as a profession wax lyrical about 'cool' design and leave our clients and audiences to feel that we're on another planet. Hence their understandable reaction - tell us they want something different or go to the WordArt guy (I love that metaphor!)

I've nothing against cool, conceptual design but I feel that the way we work is like we're trying to decorate our house without having first built the walls - without having fully understood how design works. Maybe that's what courses should teach first - forget the decorating, think about the structure and the effect. Then let's focus on the aesthetics.

I may be misrepresenting Joel here (sorry!) but his focus in criticising his client appears to be decorative, not structural. Or to borrow from classic communication theory, there's a desire to be technically good (will I want to tell people I did this?), but at the expense of visual semantics (pirate = nautical, or does pirate = crook?) and effect (does it work with Arial? If so, great). We all do it - I know I did and still do, I'm sure.

Design is represented, by us, by the media, by education, as being about how it looks - so we manage to fool a client once into accepting a design that wins us awards but loses them customers. Next time they want something designing, they avoid Designers like the plague and go to the copy shop.

So yes, Gunnar is right - it's we who do not understand design. So how can we ever hope that a client will? And how do we fix it?

On Jun.01.2005 at 05:38 AM
Carl Floyd’s comment is:

Mybe that is what makes design so interesting is the fact that we, the designers, do not fully understand it. Maybe when we finally figure it out, (if that could ever possibly happen), than it won't be fun anymore.

On Jun.01.2005 at 07:57 AM
Frank McClung’s comment is:

gregor: Please understand that critical thinking is not what I'm getting at here. You can be a very good employee and be a great critical thinker. I'm referring to the overwhelming paradigm taught schools that assumes designers should be employed by others, not create businesses that employ. I know there are always teachers and schools out there that are the exception. Can you point a few out for us? We need to amplify their voices in the educational and practicing design community. Right now they are muffled by the drone of teaching that says designers are employees.

Jonathan: You're right. Design entrepreneurialism is slow to catch on. But I believe that the wave is coming...though maybe not in my generation. Folks like Cloudal are breaking the ground where others will follow. And it will be a long time before it filters into the ivory towers of academia.

On Jun.01.2005 at 08:34 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


You just overtly or subliminally acknowledged

you're in the UK.

Complete different educational system. Along with BASS and RAND. I'm a loyalist and follower of the teaching of Bauhaus, Swiss, Glasgow and Ulm School Ideology. Without question Pioneers such as FHK Henrion, Dr. Klaus Schmidt, Wally Olins and Marcello Minale. Whom I've discussed on Speak Up many times.

Yes, in a sense we are talking about the same things. However, from different angles or perspectives.

European Designer(s) incorporate a HOLISTIC Design Approach governed by GESTALT.

American Designer(s) incorporate a Stylistic Design Approach governed by Aesthetics.

Unfortunately, the situation in American will not change until the Corporate Mindset change.

Big Business, Small Business and Government only want a PAIR OF HANDS. It's said, because Designer(s) have so much to offer. Especially in the Development Stages of a Project. Again, many are only contracted as Graphic Support.

As Joel noted in his Editorial; in reference to the MENU. And the client wanting a Logo two weeks before he opened.

Anyway you look at Ole Reg situation. OLE REG,was HUSTLING BACKWARDS.

I've seen it TIME after TIME after TIME. Design is the last recourse of many people in business and starting new businesses. When it should be considered FIRST.

WHY, Clients do not pay us for CRITICAL THINKING !!!!!!!!

That certainly, undervalues the DESIGNER.

On Jun.01.2005 at 10:09 AM
Nicholas’s comment is:

It is my opinion that clients will always want what they like (or think they like) and work towards this goal with their designer.

Design, itself, is a challenge. Creating good design that one can take pride in is a greater challenge. Too often we look at the client's opinion as a limitation. We get caught in our arrogance of being a designer; of having this greater knowledge, when it only comes back to what does the client like.

My goal as a young designer (~5 years) has been to take the client's opinions NOT as limitations, but as additional challenges in the design. The question becomes: How can I take these "limitations" and still produce a piece that will meet both the my expectations as well as my clients?


Leave the ego at the door. Approach your career as an ongoing learning experience. At graduation you will be given the title of designer, but you are only that in title. You need to earn the title and earn the respect. You will gain respect from your peers in the way you approach your job, your work ethic and finally your work.

On Jun.01.2005 at 10:32 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


I'd be remiss if I didn't add/or mention J�rg Zintzmeyer One of the most Innovative, Radical and Progressive European Design Luminares.


On Jun.01.2005 at 11:26 AM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

All projects are a collaboration between the client and the designer (who are occasionally the same person). They know the subject/needs, you know how to design to accomodate them. Hopefully, between the two sides, a solution can be generated that neither could do alone. If you can do this by communicating with the client and helping them articulate/clarify their desires, both of you benefit. That, along with solid work, generates respect. A lot of designers need to learn to speak and write, not just work visually. Plus, respect and professionalism are two different things. We all deserve the latter, and should strive for the former.

Joel's learning a hard and necessary lesson that most schools gloss over. I agree with Gunnar's first post (even if the tone's a bit over-blown): know your role. I'm sure Joel's better than the 17 year old, but he should remember that the 17 y.o. can go to school just like he did. Then what's the difference between the two of them?

On Jun.01.2005 at 11:30 AM
gregor’s comment is:

DM, my clients do pay me for critical thinking, and if they didn't they wouldn't be my clients. However, I realize this is an exception and every day I realize just how fortunate that is.

The Bauhaus and Swiss Moderism were movements that not only had a 'style', but also a philosophy in front of that style- something we sadly lack in 2005, and have for a good quarter of a century. The differences of gestalt between American and European design is huge and DM has merely scratched the surface of that gaping sore. During a recent trip to Europe the design I was able to see, even down to the most primitive metro billboard, was a delight. Upon returning The difference was saddening. Fortunately we have a number of practicing professionals who approach their work as artsist using intergrated methodologies - something we hear a lot of lip service to but see infrequently. American design, largely, is a by-product of the economic wave moving from industrialism >> consumerism >> lifestyles. It is not central to the process.


I'm 25 years out of the gate from school, with a fine art degree. My statement comes from contact with grads who have contacted me for portfolio reviews, mentorships, etc. In my area I would say that the best student work I see consitently comes out of Western Washington University and their grads go on to in-house teams such as Starbucks, medium sized agencies, as well as significantly higher percentages become enterpenuers.

However, my advice to students is to take as many fine arts course as possible - it's a different perspective and preparation for a different road. To be a fine artist implies entrepenuership as a means of survival. Additionally self learning is crucial - pick up a few books on Modernism and Post-Modernism, in addition to titles such as Olins' On Brand, mix it with a good tome on 20th century art movements and look at what product designers are doing such as Fuseproject (regardless of your opinion of silicone injection molds).

At one AIGA student portfolio review, a student from a well know institution told me he expected to walk into an Art Director position upon graduation (BFA). While that's a pretty gand expectation, the common expectation is to immediately go into a small to medium sized agency - which just doesn't happen in today's design world.

Many design programs not only neglect teaching entrepeneurism, they do not teach simple things such as how to negotiate a contract, prepare an invoice for a client, how to price a project, ect. In short, it seems apparent in the US system, student are sold short and not given the tools to prepare for the marketplace in which thay are entering. And that, my friend, leads to an entirely different discussion about the US educational system that may be best played out in a different thread....

But again, I reiterate, not all schools are churning out 'machinists,' althought the thought of such may be an attractive thought for Constructivist nastalgists.

And, for the record, my favorite face remains helvetica.

On Jun.01.2005 at 11:31 AM
Jonathan Baldwin’s comment is:


To paraphrase Douglas Adams, the day we truly understand design they'll just come up with something far more confusing to replace it...


I'm not sure I agree with the distinction between UK and US design - certainly not in terms of what wins accolades and gets you on a course. Here a designer is typically protrayed as focussed on aesthetics, and if you check out The British Design Council's web site you'll see an underlying frustration with this misconception.

You may be right about a certain continental European approach to design. (In Britain we are fortunate we can claim to be European when it suits, and an island of our own when it doesn't!)

Ultimately I don't care whether a client employs us to be critical thinkers. It's the same as saying they don't employ us to breathe - you try holding your breath the next time you do a job for someone!

A life totally dedicated to design is, IMHO, an empty one because how can you truly communicate effectively through the medium if your be-all-and-end-all is design, design, design?

An individual's duty is to themselves, their family and their community, not their clients, as I think you yourself implied when you advised against whoreing design... Subsequebtky it's this that education in the liberal sense should seek to provide - room for personal growth.

Work to live is my mantra, don't live to work ;-) (actually ideally it would be 'sit around drinking tea and talking to live' but I accept there are fiscal requirements).

The 'reflective practitioner' is something that has long been a goal of many educators and practitioners in all sorts of fields. They tend to be better at what they do as a result. I don't see my job as an educator to turn out automatons, unthinkingly doing the bidding of their paymasters; I see it as producing people who are able to grow and continue growing as individuals, whether or not they make their living through design.

To misquote Herbert Read our role should be 'Education through design', not 'education in design'...

On Jun.01.2005 at 11:42 AM
the pessimist’s comment is:

"You may be on the Council, but you do not have Jedi Master privledges."

-Mace Windu

The more I listen, the more I learn. The veterans of the game know much more than I do, and I want to get the knowledge from the well seasoned professionals like Armin. I have found it is a fine line working side by side with the client. Two logos, two different people, one wanted to basically sit by me and my computer and tell me what to do. The other drew some sketches and said, this is kind of what I'm going for, what can you do? I basically had all the freedom in the world with the second logo, and I personally liked that one much more than the one with the guy dictating everything to me. The dictator however paid me, the other guy didn't. They were both aquaintances, so I was kind of helping them out, but it was an intersting end result. I think there must be listening and fulfillment on both ends, and money is important, but there is something nice about helping someone out...Maybe some people should try to come down off their pedastals and help some folks out. If everything in the world was 'good design' what would the 'best design' look like? I agree with the idea that 'design is for designers'.

On Jun.01.2005 at 11:44 AM
Gabriel Lovato’s comment is:

Hello everyone,

This has been said (in more words) but I'll state it anyway: if you want [your work] to be respected, first of all you have to respect your client. Thinking badly of clients because they have an opinion over the visual identity (or whatever you want to call it) of their business is the way of the egomaniac. Just because you're a designer doesn't mean you know more about the client's business than him. In fact, before you do some thorough research on it, it's quite possible your understanding of the client's work and of his 'design needs' is as distorted as his view on your activity. And, especially for small businessess, the owner(s) and staff feeling represented (and thus pleased) by the logo/identity is as important as the communication with the costumer/user/etc.

I feel very strange when I hear designers speaking of "creative freedom". If you wanted to be creative and free in the sense of "creating" whatever it is you think is cool or interesting at that moment of your life, you should have tried to become an artist, possibly that would be more fulfilling. The "self-expression" part in design is very subtle and most of the time will only be perceived and acknowledged by the designer himself: it's the process.

(Graphic) Design is a life devoted to others. The only way to do this without feeling oppressed or unhappy is trough mutual respect, and appreciation for the flow of information (and, well, money) trough client, designer and user.

Sorry if I sound harsh (I really don't want to), and sorry for my bad english.

On Jun.01.2005 at 02:58 PM
the pessimist’s comment is:

i don't think you can be a graphic designer and not be an artist.

On Jun.01.2005 at 03:19 PM
margot ’s comment is:

Okay so I know that I am changing the thread a bit here, but I have a dire question that hopefully those older, wiser, and more experienced can help with.


Oh, and don't even think about taking spec work to beef up your portfolio. Never. Ever.

I am a young designer as well and I am feeling Joel 110% here. But I also have read and talked to many designers about how to work past such frusterations (such as what's written here). Wise people have told me that you have to DO the kind of design you like to do and then seek clients who appreciate your look/style/etc. While this is no easy endeavour, I believe that if you do what you love the rest will follow. So what else is a young person such as myself supposed to do but show spec/unpublished/for fun work along side of actual published pieces. Often times we lack the experience and trust in our clients and superiors to actually get the "dream" work out there right away without it completely mutating somehow in the process. If you love a certain piece and its successful and beautiful and sings of your skill, is it so horribly detrimental to have it in your portfolio?

Inquiring minds want to know!

On Jun.01.2005 at 03:39 PM
gregor’s comment is:

i don't think you can be a graphic designer and not be an artist

Then is an (fine) artist by default also a graphic designer?

While each discipline has "art" in the descriptor, the similarity may end there as training, process and end goal are crucial differences.

Personally I think neither is more prestigious than the other, I just don't think they are one and the same, or one implies you are the other.

Very few of my painter or sculptor friends could lay out a post card, more or less create an identity system and wouldn't try to say they were a graphic artist.

On Jun.01.2005 at 03:41 PM
gregor’s comment is:


The issue lies in that, in the case of 'for fun' work, there isn't a client relationship and design process around that and therefore (it) cannot help you with establishing client trust and effectiveness of your design solution/process. Spec work and unpublished work has similar pitfalls.

My advice would be to find that little non-profit you'd love to support, which has little more than an MS Word doc with clip art for a brochure, and work for them for a small fee or pro-bono. That way a more formal design process will take place, and you may even need to lead that process in a large way, furthering your experience.

A beautiful piece is one thing, a beautiful and client successful piece is another, more powerful portfolio asset.

On Jun.01.2005 at 03:54 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Margot—Just because something hasn’t been done for a paying client doesn’t make it speculative work (at least in the sense that people warn you not to do.) There are many reasons to avoid doing work in hopes of later getting paid. The obvious selfish reasons are that you probably won’t get paid (you know what they say about hoping in one hand) and if you do you won’t get paid enough.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do work for organizations that can’t afford to pay someone or that you shouldn’t show self-assigned projects until you have enough “real” work to fill out your portfolio.

On Jun.01.2005 at 03:57 PM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

What's all this blather I hear about the client somehow being 'right' just because they're paying me or the logo is theirs? Screw that! If they wanted a computer, they should've bought one. There seem to be three camps here: 'I know better', 'We both bring something', and 'They're paying, so shut up'. I prefer the 2nd.

I always assume they're paying me to do the best I can for them, which means pushing back and saying 'no' sometimes. And, you know what? If I have a good understanding of the design problem, I'm not going to think "wow, thanks for helping me" when a client blithely 'suggests' that I do something I'd smack a designer for doing. I may not know best, but I'm paid to know better. The trick is remembering that's why you're there and handling the situation respectfully and professionally, while also remaining open to new ideas. And realizing they can force you to do it if they really want to.

On Jun.01.2005 at 04:41 PM
gregor’s comment is:

What's all this blather I hear about the client somehow being 'right' just because they're paying me or the logo is theirs?

ummmm, 'cause they're paying you and the logo is theirs......

seems like you answered that for yourself.

the 'trick' is taking their 'rightness' and turning it into a good design.

On Jun.01.2005 at 04:47 PM
Jonathan Baldwin’s comment is:


If the client has a great deal of experience in commissioning design, or even has different experience from you then you can always learn something from them.

At the very least you can learn about how people's tastes and attitudes are shaped and differ.

If you are talking to a Frenchman you need to speak French, a German requires you to speak in German. Equally, if you are designing for yourself or a big corporate client or the plumber round the corner your visual language has to change - unless of course (and this is a reasonable approach) you decide you are going to restrict yourself to designing for people who speak your visual language.

But who better to teach you that language than a native?

Our visual language is as much a part of our culture and surroundings as anything else. It isn't appropriate for us to impose our visual sensibilities on others. Or do we believe in a form of design imperialism?

Let me repeat something I mentioned earlier and just found myself having a (real!) conversation about: we teach and are taught that typography matters, that kerning and letter spacing and leading are vital to good design.

Yet I've never seen anyone not buy an ice cream because the word-processed notice is badly laid out, or refuse to queue at the post office counter because the sign with holiday opening hours is in all-caps, or faint at the sight of an ugly space between a 'V' and an 'A'.

These 'truths' only exist so that designers can establish some sort of hierarchy between those who know them, and those who don't. And then between those who know them better, and those who know them a bit. They help designers rank each other, and to hold (and pull) rank.

But they really don't matter at all, and certainly not to those who live blissfully unaware of them. Sure they help, like adding spice to a favourite recipe, but they're not what stops design working if they're unobserved.

So your client wants to swap minced beef for lamb? Your bolognese is going to taste different, but it won't kill you and you can still make it taste great if you're a good cook and know your ingredients.

Ah... I think I'm getting carried away with my metaphors here... and possibly contradicting myself. It's late where I am ;-)

On Jun.01.2005 at 06:58 PM
D.S.’s comment is:

Let me repeat something I mentioned earlier and just found myself having a (real!) conversation about: we teach and are taught that typography matters, that kerning and letter spacing and leading are vital to good design.

Yet I've never seen anyone not buy an ice cream because the word-processed notice is badly laid out, or refuse to queue at the post office counter because the sign with holiday opening hours is in all-caps, or faint at the sight of an ugly space between a 'V' and an 'A'.

This is a silly reasoning to say designers are full of themselevs. . . for one, I doubt 99.9% of clients would ask me to incorrectly kern letters. And two, kerning matters more in long lengths of text than it would on packaging (which assumedly has less text). Sure, someone may read a book with poorly kerned pairs, but I bet (even if subconciously) they'll be happier reading one that is kerned better. While many of us are busy arguing over who's more important — the client or us — we forget that other group: the audience. I, for one, will fight for the audience in certain situations if need be. Sorry, that was just a poor analogy to use in my opinion.

Joel, I'm in the same situation you are — a student that does freelance work. As much as I'm frustrated by it, sometimes you gotta bite the bullet.

Regarding the Arial thing. I (only as an outside observer) would have done exactly what he wanted, and then done a second (or even a third) with what I thought was more appropriate. Some people need to see it to understand it. And if he still chooses the Arial version, well, it was his choice in the end (and you still have your versions that can be put in your portfolio if you like).

Regarding Respect: I've interned at two firms thus far in my career. One gave me a chance and I did my best. They showed me more respect than anyone ever has, and treated me like an employee. The second either didnt give me a chance or I blew it and it was really rough. You're never gonna get respect from everybody, and it wont ever come all the time. Get used to it. And don't think "creative freedom" equals respect. I had a client that let me do whatever I wanted, but when it came down to it they never told me exactly what was needed and only after the fact complained about it. I think the work suffered overall, mostly because I never engaged the client. Another client has given me harsh feedback that has frustrated me at times. And as hard as it was to swallow, they were right at least half the time. I think its one of my best freelance pieces to date, even if I had to suck up my pride and change some things.

But, like I said, I'm in the same boat you are. Take it or leave it, and find out what works for you.

On Jun.01.2005 at 09:56 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

I feel the need to say to the students and recent grads: don't do spec work. It is NOT an AIGA or GAG supported practice, and will only frustrate you. Do work for nonprofits and get 501(c)3 tax breaks, or do work for trade if there is no budget from the client.

And as Gabriel says above: respect your clients and they in turn will respect you. It all goes back to the golden rule. There will always be people better than you and who have more experience, you can't do anything about it. So stop being pissed off at the world, worrying if you're a rock star or not, and focus on doing the best work you can with the opportunities that are given to you.

On Jun.01.2005 at 10:01 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Ah... I think I'm getting carried away with my metaphors here... and possibly contradicting myself. It's late where I am ;-)

Welcome to the Club Jonathan. Speak Up has that effort on all of us. I know the United Kingdom time is five hours faster that Eastern Daylight Time.

Jonanthan Baldwin and Gregoro:

Sure Styles exist everywhere. More so in the United States.

My point of contention, the work coming from Europe is more Conceptual as oppossed to Literal interpretation in the United States.

Herbert Bayer made this analogy when he when he was alive.

In reference to the Design of Magazines and Publications. American Publications chagrined and eschewed Illustration in Publication, Annual Reports, Advertising and Design. While Europe embraced Illustration and readily incorporated it in its Design over-whelmingly.

There is a major difference in Styles of Europe and the United States. European Design is more Cerebral. United States Design is more Effusive.

Another point I'll make; David Carson would not have been as BIG in Europe as was in the United States. Had he lived and worked in Europe. He probably would've been shunned.

David Carson's style of Design was not ORIGINAL.

The predecesors of that style of Design were Swiss Designers MAX HUBER and CARLO VIVARELLI. I knew it when I saw the posters and magazines approximately twenty years ago.

Why Americans embraced Carson's emulated style of Design is beyond my intellect. As I said privately to Steve Heller and me compadre Gunnar Swanson many others. It was the biggest CHARADE in Design History. Historians responsible for connecting the dots did not.

Are Americans really that GULLIBLE ???

GOD forbid, you inform me Europe was Duped as well.

Gabriel Lovato and D.S.

Creative Freedom comes with ultimate TRUST and RESPECT.

A client comes to me not because he looked in the yellow pages and went enie, menie, minie, moe.

A client comes to me based on recommendation by others in reference to Performance, my Knowledge and Expertise. As well, amassing an impressive client list. Coupled with credibility over many years of toiling, honing and perfecting my Business Acumen and Identity Problem Solving skills.

Discipline is KEY when given Creative Freedom.

A client write me a check in advance. Am I going to Toil? or Call Gunnar, Weinberger, Felix, Armin, and Bierut and say Party on Me.

I think not. I'm in the trenches solving clients problems every waking moment of my life and in my sleep.

When I was an Illustrator. I'd work 15 hours on and airbrush illustration continuously. Stopping every now and then to eat a snack. Four hours sleep and up again toiling.

A bit extreme but you get my point.

I'm no Stranger to Discipline and Hard work.

Some people need constant supervision. Others you only need to imply what you want. And the work is done. The latter is my category.

Hypothetical Situation: Gunnar, Debbie, or Bierut call me and say MAVEN "I need Identity Exploration on this project". I have two questions. 'When do you need it'. 'What's my salary'. It's done.

"When much is GIVEN; Much is REQUIRED."

On Jun.02.2005 at 10:42 AM
gregor’s comment is:

DM: the work coming from Europe is more Conceptual as oppossed to Literal interpretation in the United States.

I believe, and it is in around and between the lines of my post, is that we are in accord on this.

On Jun.02.2005 at 11:25 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I’m not clear on this whole arguing about Arial thing. He particularly liked the curve of the arm of the upper case R? He liked that it sounded like the name of the girl he loved in summer camp in 1978? It is amazing that people are discussing whether they would have agreed to use a particular typeface when we have no idea what the guy wanted.

“I want Arial” = I want something stronger than what I’m seeing.

“I want Arial” = I want something more straightforward than what I’m seeing.

“I want Arial” = I want something other than what I’m seeing.

Most of the time when a client suggests (or even seems to order) something specific it’s an attempt to articulate something. If you just “give ’em what they want” you are not doing your job. Figure out why they want it and give them what they really need. The reply to “I want Arial” could be “Why?” It could be “You think it’s not [insert adjective garnered from earlier discussions] enough?” It should not be “Yes, sir” or “No way.” Part of your job is to help them help you do things right.

On Jun.02.2005 at 11:59 AM
D.S.’s comment is:


my comment toward Arial was based on assumption that Joel had already asked the "What does qualities does Arial have that whatever face I'm using now doesnt?" And from that point, doing it in Arial, and then in a face that has the same needed qualities but has more nuances toward Joel or his client's liking. I guess I jumped the gun in assuming your question had already been asked. As DM said, respect from everyone needs to be earned. In this case (and coming from the freelancing student persepctive, because I think there tends to be assumptions about student designers), avoiding Arial entirely may have just annoyed the client and lost a bit of respect, even if the new typeface selection fit the client's desires perfecty.

On Jun.02.2005 at 12:57 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


We're on the same PAGE.

Just needed to re-iterate it again.

On Jun.02.2005 at 05:58 PM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:


I didn't say the client can't be 'right' or isn't allowed to demand foolish things. I'm saying that just because they're paying me doesn't mean I shouldn't push back and it doesn't mean they are better judges of effective communication. A lot of people love crap, and can pay to get it.

Some of my clients are great at telling me how to improve and clarify my designs. Others are not. But even in that case, I respect and follow their choices, because they are the paying end user of the logo (as you said). I just don't like the 'shut up and do it' mentality. It implies that the process is one-way. It's not (or it shouldn't be). If a client doesn't like something I've done, even after brief explanation, I won't force it on them or try to 'trick' them. I get them to talk about it and explain their requests.

I agree with you that the trick is taking the suggestion and making a good design. But sometimes that means walking them in exactly the opposite direction. I've redirected the look of entire projects to the great satisfaction of the client, because I didn't just do what they said. I listened and discussed it with them. Added benefit: they see the value of design as a dialogue and respect both the the person and the process more.

On Jun.03.2005 at 02:55 PM
gregor’s comment is:


Perhaps not the same page, but the same book yes, as it's clear by now you prefer the strong emphasis of Z�rick, and I the soft emphasis of Basel, but would likely agree that Conceptual at once encompasses and superceeds Better Judgement as it (Conceptual) moves [toward] Vision.


My clients come to me in an arrangement of partnership built on mutual respect and trust. "shut up and do it," lies somewhere to the right or left of me, which is to say not in my experience - which leads me back full circle to my 1st post in this thread: "what srikes me most here is attitude in the essay itself as well as many of the comments." I sense in many posts a stance of designer as demi-god and client as idiot, which may be merely a reaction to the client not falling to their knees, singing hymns and praises to the 1st comp that comes their way. I would not be putting myself out on a limb to point out if a client has invested significant amounts of money into their business they indeed are better judges of effective communication for their market: they have the altitude to communicate, but lack the aptitude to design that communication.

On Jun.03.2005 at 08:41 PM
Patrick Broderick’s comment is:

Part of the difficulty of being an inexperienced designer is learning to communicate with skeptical layman clients. They aren't familiar with the nomenclature of design (or know just enough to get into trouble) and thus can end up asking for things in unclear or incorrect terms (like "I want a happy yellow" instead of "I want PMS 114C"). I used to work with a guy who called all sans-serif typefaces "Helvetica." Your pirate client said "Arial" but perhaps would've been happy with Gill or Futura or News Gothic or any number of typefaces -- Arial is just the one he knows the name of.

In general, when dealing with an unfamiliar client I try to put myself in their shoes. Find out why they want what they're asking for instead of complaining about it and you'll have a better chance at coming to a suitable compromise. Early in my career I did a catalog design -- the client loved it except for one page she said she hated, but wasn't able to articulate why. I was a little hurt, but rather than get defensive about my design work I asked a million questions until I figured out the problem. Turns out what they didn't like is that I made a photo of a $150 piece of jewelry tiny and hid it at the bottom left of the page, and I'd prominently placed a large, colorful photo of models wearing $15 t-shirts at the top right. From a pure design perspective my way was better -- the model photo was more attractive than the jewelry photo. From the client's perspective, I was promoting the loss leader product at the expense of the profitable one. They were right. Once I figured out what she was looking for, I was able to rework the page to our mutual satisfaction.

Not all client disagreements work out so smoothly, but you get further with good communication than you do with funny names and eye-rolling.

On Jun.06.2005 at 06:52 PM
Joel ’s comment is:

Wow... you spend a week moving your stuff around and come back to this! I am really glad to have started a dialogue with my future comrades in the field. I am not quite to the point of being able to place a well thought reply to many or your remarks as my time is quite limited right now. I don't have the net hooked up @ home yet!

I would like to say that this was merely a rant and meant to be taken with a grain of cynicism and humor. It was my first world experience and a very interesting one, at that. As far as what was said about "earning respect"... I concede to that point completely, the problem with this particular instance is there was not a lack of respect towards me as much as there was a lack of respect towards what I, we, do. It was degrading all of us and our work... but I will save that for a post in the near future when I am not trying to type on my friends ergonomic, split down the middle, piece of crap keyboard.


On Jun.08.2005 at 12:33 AM
Brakhage’s comment is:

I second Patrick Broderick, it's all about communication, and eliciting coherent ideas from clients. Clients' demands are often overly specific, because it's difficult for them to speak in generalities. You want something like 'I want something warm and comforting' as opposed to 'it must be a teddy bear with chocolate chips for eyes'.

What you want to get out of them is what impression they want the logo - or whatever - to convey. Then you can give them a range of options, and you refine down from there. That's a good check on your work as well: if your solutions don't convey the impression the client wants, they'll tell you.

Handy tip: never show or describe a design concept that you can't stand. I did a logo for a website (they're huge now) and one of the options I gave them had the dreaded 'swoosh' connecting two random letters in the logo - as a joke, since the client expressed love for swooshes. Big mistake; that thing is everywhere now. I've seen it on TV. That's embarrassing.

On Jun.09.2005 at 10:32 AM
Harriet Stevens’s comment is:


A truly inspiring essay and on a topic very dear to my heart as well. I am the student that Jonathan talks about right at the beginning of this comments page...we've had many a discussion on this topic. I am struggling to come to terms with the fact that some of the bad experiences I have had with clients may have to become second nature and ones I just have to accept as none of us are every going to escape them!

Recently I have had two experiences with clients that have put into question 'my role as the graphic designer'. Firstly, the problems I have been having with a magazine I am working on. The editors want to be 'hands on' and believe that aslong as we design the basic templates then they can just "drop the text and imagery in anytime". I think this links perfectly with the WordArt problem you state in your essay and the fact that really everybody thinks they are a designer. The editors have my utmost respect but why employ a design team if they think they can do it?

My second experience has been with a company I have been designing a logo for. They have been completely re-branding the company and wanted a fresh, new improved logo - a contrast to their previous one. Having submitted several logos, we found out that actually they wanted something very simple, plain serif typeface with a double underline. And to make matters worse, the logo that got chosen was submitted by someone in another branch with minimal design experience. (if I'm honest it looks like a WordArt job!)

If this is what they wanted in the first place why didn't they just say so, it's a case of 'they should have said what they were really thinking'.

This links with your own experinece Joel as well as what Jonathan says... much of what we hold dear is a truth that's only true to a small group but meaningless to others.

I am hoping to write my final dissertation for my third year on this topic, so any comments either on what I have said or the topic in general would be greatly appreciated. There have been some inspiring things written by people already and I look forward to reading further comments.


On Jun.11.2005 at 10:02 AM
Joel’s comment is:

I am still a bit behind on responses and low on time but a few things caught my attention in these replies...

Gunner, you still get more with sugar than vinegar but I appreciate the response and criticism to a point. I also feel as though I should defend myself as well. You say I don't understand the job? Perhaps that is because the client also did not understand the job. When you are contacted two weeks prior to the drop-dead date on a project you can pretty much take this to the bank.

My mistake was approaching what was considered by the client to be a cheap and easy job as a project for class that would require me to push myself creatively. This was a cheap and easy rush job and, if I chose to make the mistake of taking on the job (remember, I am not making money right now as a student), should have been treated as such. I can not expect respect, this is true and as a result of choosing to take the job I also did not feel very respectable. So there is that disconnect between whoring myself for design or wanting to do something creative.

As far as trying to "impress my design school friends"... I would think that is better accomplished in the classroom. I am not in this to impress anyone. I think that you are treating a desire to be respected as a craftmans with the desire to impress everyone around me. ANY person in their respective (unintentional pun) field strive for some success which goes hand-in-hand with that respect. Respect is what gets us more jobs. If I were at a coffee shop and you ordered a latte... I would want to make the best one you have ever had. That is the level of passion for anything I do and the fact that design is what I love only makes that ethic more powerful.

Perhaps I am just too shabby of a writer to have inferred the voice of self deprecation but I feel like, as a result of reading some responses) the humor that I intended with the wry cynicism was mistaken for ego. Maybe that is because many students leave design school with a far too inflated ego and you are tired of seeing that so you assume that mine is over inflated. I have heard this complaint about students time and again and agree.

That being said, ego is important on many individual levels. John and Paul's egos is what gave us the Beatles. Ego, the drive for respect (either from within or from colleagues or clients) is what sets the great designers from the good ones. You can be humble and still want to be the best in the whole freaking world. When you speak of ego you are referring to attitudes not drive. I believe they are different things. What is the quote about there being no modest men on the tops of mountains?

On Jun.13.2005 at 02:43 AM
Joel’s comment is:

I also wanted to add that a student who thinks they know it all obviously does not know anything.

The same could be said about those who assume a student does not know anything.

Experience is very important in this field and that is why I appreciate the feedback and one day will be thanking all of you for such great advice... especially advice about dealing with clients.

This is also a field where the 'proof is in the pudding' as far as our work goes. Experience does not make us good designers... it makes us smart designers. Anyone, including a student, could step up to a project and blow any veteran out of the water. I have seen people in my school do it. It is very dangerous to assume that just because someone is a student that they are a hack designer.

On Jun.13.2005 at 02:53 AM
Jonathan Baldwin’s comment is:

DS: I think you misunderstood what I was saying about typographic rules. Maybe I wrote it badly, but what I was saying essentially was better put by Harriet: "much of what we hold dear is a truth that's only true to a small group but meaningless to others". Doesn't mean that good typography doesn't aid legibility but in the examples I gave, worrying about (for want of a better word) 'details' is a waste of time because the rest of the world thinks we're mad. I think the example is sound.

Just for the sake of argument (I'm catching up with responses to responses here) I wondered about Patrick's anecdote: "from a pure design perspective my way was better -- the model photo was more attractive than the jewelry photo. From the client's perspective, I was promoting the loss leader product at the expense of the profitable one. They were right. Once I figured out what she was looking for, I was able to rework the page to our mutual satisfaction."

I wonder if there's a misuse (abuse?) of the word 'design' here of which we're all guilty? 'From a pure design perspective' - you seem to mean 'from an aesthetic perspective'? At the very least that's how it might have come across to the client for whom their primary economic concern overrode an aesthetic one. Aesthetics does not equal design.

I've been in this situation myself, favouring aesthetics over the old 'put the expensive stuff up at the top and big as you can' argument - I think the trick is not to say 'it looks better' but to give a good reason why 'it works better'.

An attractiv-looking page might make people view items favourably that otherwise they might balk at on price. That's how so much advertising works: got an expensive car to sell? Forget the features and the styling, just stick a woman in a bikini on the page...

It works: you should see my garage and I don't even drive! ;-)

Knowing how an aesthetically better design works better than the one the client wants is invaluable and that's why curricula need to focus on psychology, sociology and so on rather than just typography, technology, colour etc. If we're better able to rationalise design we will win the argument or educate the client. My feeling though is that design is too much promoted and taught as something magical and instinctive which, like some sort of religion, we insist can't be 'explained'. That more than anything is what's leading to the rise of WordArt Man.

On Jun.13.2005 at 04:20 PM
Patrick Broderick’s comment is:

Let me see if I can better explain what I meant by "pure design perspective."

Anyone who has been to art school is used to critique, but it's critique from other designers who know and like graphic design and whose goal it is to create more aesthetically pleasing, effective and innovative work, as defined by their own graphic design education. The thing is that in real life there are non-aesthetic considerations that tend to be overlooked by young designers who have been trained in an environment where the goal is to create "good" design and other considerations don't exist -- when you're trained to use a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

My point with the anecdote was not to say that commerce trumps design, but rather that design doesn't exist in a vacuum -- what makes "good" design is the marriage of aesthetics to purpose. Without understanding the purpose of a project, design is merely decoration. The reason so many clients hire their teenage cousin who kinda knows how to use CorelDraw is because they've had such bad experiences with "professional" designers who wanted to unleash their inner David Carson on projects which required something more down-to-earth.

On Jun.14.2005 at 12:19 AM
Christopher’s comment is:

and the humorous is that obssesion is like wind, just that

On Sep.01.2005 at 04:26 PM
Doug’s comment is:

.... Yoda? Is that you!?

On Sep.04.2005 at 01:42 PM