Hi there! I was out on vacation since last Wednesday through Saturday. I had one day to settle in at home, and absolutely no time to settle in at the office. Within minutes after walking through the door, my boss asked me to join him, the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors in a meeting to discuss a Save the Date card I've been working on the last couple of weeks. In the 5 years that I've been employed at this place, I have NEVER been in the same room with these three gentlemen at once. I was nervous, but confident and excited for the opportunity to talk directly to the man who will ultimately approve the project I'm working on - the Chairman!
Every time I begin a project for my design studio, I start with a creative brief where I have an in-depth conversation with the client about the project and their vision. I ask questions like: What is the project for? Who is the target audience? What kind of event is it? What type of mood are you trying to evoke? What message are you trying to convey? And so on. The more information you obtain at the beginning of a project, the better! You'll save so much time in the proofing stages because you'll be able to start the project with a clear understanding of the client's vision, which will lead you to accurately translate it onto ink and paper.
THE CHAIN OF COMMAND IS SOMETIMES "NO BUENO"
Unfortunately, when you work for a company where you follow the chain of command, you're not always able to sit down and discuss the project with the one person who gets the final say. We designers get the watered-down version of whatever communication took place amongst department leaders, which will often keep the project in the revision phase for a few days - even weeks!
This is why I was excited to go into the meeting on Monday morning and get right to the point. I was nervous however, because I had been gone for a few days and I had no clue if anything had happened during my absence.
As it turns out, the issue with the layout was the performer's face. Yep, his face.
(You have my permission to "Lol") The Chairman made it very clear that he didn't like the performer's face because it looked like he'd had a lot of work done. "It doesn't even look like him!" he exclaimed. (YouTube showed me otherwise, but um, okay...)
Yes, it was a relief that my work wasn't being critiqued in a negative way, but the "issue" at hand struck me by surprise. Every performer sends us approved images to use in our marketing materials so there was no other image I could use. It was understood that the artist had to be featured on the cover, but not his face. Not as much of it, anyway.
I tried to gather more information from the Chairman as far as what he liked/disliked from the previous two layouts I had worked on to see what I can focus on instead. The first draft was too modern for him (our company caters mainly to senior citizens), and the second draft was not approved because of "the face" still being too dominant. I was asked to shrink the picture and to "just pick a color" to make the card more festive. There wasn't any more information to extract from him despite several of my attempts. Only vague directions to pick a color and shrink the performer's face. And just like that, I was back to square one.
A COMPLETE REDESIGN
Below are a couple of quick sketches illustrating how the layout changed from the 1st to the 2nd draft:
Here's what I hope you learn from my experience:
• THE CREATIVE BRIEF: Always, when possible, interview the client on many levels regarding the project. As you talk to your client you will begin to see images and designs forming in your mind. As these images enter your mind, ask more questions to see if your vision aligns with theirs. Remember, you are the expert. Even if it doesn't align 100%, take as much information from them as you can so that you can bring their vision to life, but use your expertise to enhance that vision. If you can't talk directly to the person who will be making the final decision, extract as much information as possible from the project manager.
• CRITIQUE: Never take a critique as a personal attack. A critique no matter how harsh or inappropriate, is never about you. It's about a communication gap. You are a visual communications architect. The client provides some tools and direction, but often times they are communications challenged. It will take patience and guidance from your part to extract their vision and goals in a clear and concise way that will allow you to transform the information into a kick-ass visual communications piece.
• YOU'RE AWESOME!: Many think of us as "simply" artists, but graphic/stationery designers are a pretty awesome breed! We bridge communication gaps, we are problem solvers, we make things look pretty, we are tech savvy - there is so much more to our job than just art! Even more so if you're planning on operating your own design studio. So don't become discouraged when you encounter a difficult client. I admit, I was a bit frustrated yesterday after my meeting. I came back to work after my vacation expecting to get approval on the save the date card, not to spend another day on a redesign. But guess what? Had it been approved, it would have meant nothing to me. But because I put so much effort into solving an issue I felt I had very little control over, I felt pretty good about myself when I figured out a way to please the Chairman without sacrificing design. Because at the end of the day, you have two main goals to achieve, #1) make the client happy, and #2) put out work that you are proud of.
Talk to you soon!
The previous two layouts featured the performer as the main focal point, but now I had to rethink everything and come up with an entirely new color scheme.
SO HERE'S WHAT I DID
I had recently purchased a set of gold style swatches from Creative Market that I was dying to use. Also, I've noticed that whenever I want to get anything approved around this place, all I have to do is use the color blue, so I searched Shutterstock for a blue and gold background and found the one shown below - it was perfect! The wreath hints at the holidays that will be soon approaching around the time of our gala and it also highlights the copy inside of it creating a new focal point – yay! I can't show you images of the approved save the date card, especially because the information hasn't been released to the public yet, but below is a rough sketch of the third and final proof that solved the "face" issue.
I used the Shutterstock background shown below on the left along with the wreath, and I applied the gold styles to the "Save the Date" wording on the left of the card so that it matches the gold wreath. The artist was still present on the cover, but because of his placement he was no longer dominant in the layout. I strategically placed his face over the wreath, so it blended-in even more, making his face less noticeable. It turned out perfect and I am proud to say that the card was approved within minutes after I submitted the redesign. Whew!
PS - I know you're busy, so I'll try to make it shorter next time ;)
Hi - I'm Dio!
You can read more about me and my background as a designer, in my about page.
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