War Stories of a Graphic Designer


What is it about marketing and graphic design that makes every Joe Blow think that they can do it? Is there any other profession where you are constantly second-guessed, overruled, or made to do things that are completely against your expertise and training? Yes, yes — you’re the client. We get that. But, why are you paying my invoices if you don’t want to hear what I have to bring to the table?

I think it must be because good graphic design makes design look easy to do. A well-designed piece isn’t noticed as much as a poorly designed one. And some clients, no matter what, will not let a piece go without thier inane “input.” Not all, but some people feel they have to change something to make them feel superior — even if the input given is actually detrimental to the design. Try walking that tightrope with a client who has no clue that they suck at design.

I had a client once that gave me what I thought would be a great job — a complete branding of a business that was not only sophisticated, but fun as well. After my shpeel about having control over the design and layout, I began on the hardest part– the logo. Suprisingly, this part of the project goes smoothly. I then begin what I condsider the easiest part of the whole project: letterhead and business cards. This is where the trouble begins.

I’m not sure if the guy had been electrocuted or something, but he suddenly became impossible. I would send three prototypes for letterhead, he would pick one — and then, before signing off, sit on it two weeks and then tell me to move some basic design element like 1/8th of an inch or something. Uh… OK, whatever… I do it – send it back – two weeks go by until I get a scrawled note to move the elements back 1/8th of an inch. Huh? Did he forget he wanted them moved before or was he realizing that the first way was better? Or, is he just a control freak and enjoys making me crazy? I do what he asks, he now “loves it” and it’s “perfect”, so I ask him to sign off so we can begin production. I hear nothing for another week or so. Then, I get the dreaded call. He’s been “thinking” and getting all “creative” on me. I am now to add a new very special tagline to the bottom of the letterhead that he came up with all by himself. And, not only is it completely stupid, it’s in French.

I try and talk him out of it, but he’s adamant. And he doesn’t know how to speak French – what he’s written is gramatically incorrect. I try and explain it to him, but he thinks he knows French and wants it to stay as is. I try and explain that it makes no sense and has nothing to do with the branding of the company – he doesn’t care. So, I swallow my pride and put the idiotic, gramatically incorrect French tagline at the bottom of the letterhead and now he says he loves it. I ask him to sign off on the design so we can begin production. I hear nothing for over a week.

Now I get a memo telling me to move the tagline to the top of the letterhead. (This was another tactic – he never would contact me in the same way. One week it’s a call, next time it’s a fax, then it’s an email… What, is this guy schizo?) This now means we have four elements on the top of the letterhead and none on the bottom. I suggest we move the address block to the bottom to even it out again. I get denied. It is starting to look like a third grader designed this. I soon realize the third grader is my client.

To make a long story short – I had to decide if the obscene amount of money this particular client was paying me was worth the bullshit. It wasn’t. I packed up all his files, put them on a CD, sent them back via FedEx along with a check for what he had paid me so far along with a nice, professional letter explaining that I no longer could perform the services he wanted. I just couldn’t put my name on something that I knew was going to look like shit. I never heard from him again, but I did notice that he kept my logo, which was fine by me. But, as I figured would happen, he found someone else to sell themselves for the money, and they created shitty looking marketing materials for him like he wanted. I guess in the end we are both happy?

Where does the line get crossed between what I am being paid for and what the client wants? Aren’t I getting paid to give my professional opinion on design and layout? Is the client always right if what they are asking reflects poorly on them? Maybe – but I can’t work like that, and I don’t (or try not to.)

And, don’t even get me started on working for a corporate marketing department… that’s for another day.

5 thoughts on “War Stories of a Graphic Designer

  1. back in my idealistic youth, i often wondered why so many people (flight attendants, coppers, clerks, tradesmen, salespeople, you name it) were often surly if not completely rude.

    I finally came to realize that a big chunk of that is mostly due to having to work with the idiot public. Douchbags like you just described…

    Next time, your “idiot” radar will be lit up like a christmas tree when the client tells you to add something in sanskrik cause “it looks cool,” and you can tell him to pound sand from the get- go and save the weeks of aggravation.

  2. Wow, you weren’t kidding. The sad thing is that so many people are downloading copies of Photoshop and *boom* they are designers. It has gotten to the point that some of my buddies who freelance are having to sell their soul and design whatever the client demands just to keep making money. I want these Photoshop “gurus” to use Illustrator or InDesign just so I can see their heads explode.

    “Where are the bevels and drop shadows??????” Gah.

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