Designing in todays world…

Posted: January 12, 2012 in Art, Rant, Shenanigans, Work
Tags: , , , , ,

As a designer, I often get asked to do something that is just simply not possible.

Clients tend to reach for the stars (and rightfully so) with their design ideas, however, as modern as technology has become, it simply cannot do everything we can imagine!

I am talking, of course, of the print area of design, which is the area I tend to work in the most these days. This includes anything from flyers, handouts, business cards, press ads, posters, leaflets, books, billboards, annual reports, and of course the biggest one of all, packaging.

People who need packaging designed are generally the most ambitious, as the package represents their company and product. If the design is not the best damn package on the shelf, their product, and indeed their company could go completely bankrupt.

The problem is, however, that these people reach higher than anyone else, and by this, I mean that they demand all kinds of crazy things to be utilised and included. For example, I have been asked to include metallic inks, fluro inks, glow in the dark inks, (in print ads, no less!) custom dielines (the thing that makes a box square, round, triangle or whatever… the outline and foldings on the pack), custom packs designed to fit snugly around a product… that hasn’t been built yet, the company’s new logo to be included… when it hasn’t been designed by their in-house team yet, intricate little designs that are simply too complex to be printed… in a press ad, recycled or custom stock (paper) being used mid-magazine (not feasible and very expensive if you insist!) and a looong list of other things overheard by other designers along the way.

Some of the overheard demands that I have heard have been simply shocking, yet laughable. These have included automatically printing websites… all 175 pages of them, an embedded video… in a print ad, a mailout drop… to every single house in the country… for a small local business, and various other ‘impossibilities’ that are in high demand.

A recent client that I have had dealings with, wanted a new line of packaging designed for their latest range of Product X. This would be one of the largest freelance jobs I have seen for a long time, so I jumped on it. The requests were simple. The packages had to include their new logo (which didn’t exist yet), the corporate colours, including one metallic ink (expensive, but still very possible), and a few other simple demands (barcode, a few paragraphs of text, and various other elements that aren’t even worth mentioning).

My arrangement was that I would complete my initial “concept sketches” to see if they liked anything that I could offer, and if they did, I would proceed with digital mockups, and then on to final package layouts, suitable for mass printing and production.

I completed my sketches, roughly, but still comprehensive enough (with descriptions, as they were more for layout, and had boxes where elements would go etc) and returned them to the client. The client requested better drawings (fair enough, I thought, these are rather rough!) so I drew up some better ones. Throughout this whole process, I said that the pencil stages were free, but once it went digital, the clock starts ticking.

The client returned with the dreaded “I like them all!” reply. Many clients think they will hurt the designers feelings if they say ‘yuck’ to a design. It’s ok, we have been laughed at, sworn at, physically abused (no kidding!) over a bad design… but giving me an idea of where you want this to go (each sketch is different, so giving me a direction to proceed is definitely helpful!) means that your costs will be significantly lower. I pushed the client a bit, and explained that the more definite they were with a direction (or two) would help me, help their costings, and also get things moving faster.

The client returned with “I like them all, pick one that you like”. This is a big problem, as I ultimately don’t care about their company or its success in the same way that they would. They should know their company and what is required to make it succeed, as it has done for many years before my arrival.

With much discussion about this issue, mostly via emails due to my daytime employment, I suggested that I would digitally mock-up 3 of them, and leave the other 7 options. They would be my choices, however if they were not liked by the client, they would need to pick one they DID like. This would all be charged to their bill, and this was agreed to by the client.

After more than a weeks worth of digital work, totalling around the 45 hour mark, I proudly emailed the finished images to the client, along with a detailed email, outlining each design, my thoughts on each design and its pros/cons, as well as my running costs, knocked down from 45 hours to a lower figure (as this client was a friend of a friend), and this was also explained to the client.

The client thanked me for my work and said he needed to discuss it with the ‘higher-ups’ and choose a design that would then proceed. After a few weeks, I had heard nothing, so I emailed the client. No reply. I kept emailing them, but no reply.


A few months later, I sent a final email, saying that if they didn’t want to use my designs, I understood, however payment was still due, and attached my invoice to the email.

A long story short(er), the client refuses to pay, as they didn’t like any designs I had done (even though the opposite was said as it was being done) and rather than sort it out, talk it through, call me, or even a polite separation, the client went nasty. “We never agreed to pay you anything, and you said you would tell us when we were on the clock, so we could stop work”… I produced the email (keep your emails, people!) that said “The pencil drawings will be complimentary, however once the process goes into the digital stage, payment will be required”, along with the client’s “That’s fine, no problem” reply.

The last email I got from this client was something along the lines of:

“I don’t remember sending that email, so I don’t agree with it, and will not be paying you.
Have a nice day,
Regards, Client X”

Have a nice day? buddy, you just stooged me out of more than $1,000, and it was time I could have spent working for a client who would actually pay me!
These designs I have done for the client have been saved, and if they are used within the next 7 years, I will be coming down on them with legal action.

The point of this post is simple.

As a designer, ensure that you use a contract, no matter who they are, friends, family, friends of friends, your local priest. Ensure that this contract covers everything from processes used (colours, inks, folding etc), timeframe, costing estimates, exit clauses and of course, payments and payment timeframes.

Every designer needs to learn this, but unfortunately they usually learn it the hard way.

Lesson learnt.


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