As a sign-maker, I’m wondering how I should deal with customers who take my designs and make them look ugly (usually in Photoshop) and then send them back to me, asking if I can ‘make it like this’. Maybe that never happens to you?
Any advice would be appreciated!
[ A Sign-Maker]
Probably everyone involved in graphic design, commission art or sign design runs into the same problem. So the good news is that you’re not alone! Since the advent of the computer, it’s a fact that clients have had the ability to be more involved in the design process. Sometimes this can be frustrating to the designer, but more customer involvement can also push us to a better result.
When a client decides to take things into their own hands and ‘have a crack at it’, there are several courses that you, as the designer, can take:
1. You can take offense at the lack of respect for your work, and ask your client why they even hired you in the first place, since they obviously feel able to design it themselves.
2. You can follow the old adage ‘The customer is always right’. Just swallow hard and make the thing exactly how they want it.
3. You can take it in stride and realise that the client enjoys the process of getting a logo or sign designed and wants to ‘be involved’. Motorbike mechanics also have customers who like to hang around the garage and ‘help’. Some get annoyed, others have a blast.
The first option is a good one if you have more work than you can deal with. If the whole world is beating down your door, why waste time with a client that doesn’t appreciate your style? There are ten others that do, so save yourself the heartache!
The second option is what many cheap-and-cheerful vinyl shops do all day every day. After all, it’s certainly the quickest and easiest option. Hence the visual blight of poorly designed signage, squashed and poorly-aligned text, bad kerning, and hideous colour combinations that can be seen in cities around the world.
In regards to Option Three, I’ve heard it said that amateurs complain about their customers, while professionals educate them. To continue my earlier analogy: Like a mechanic, you can take the client’s suggestions into account while steering the project in a direction you’re happy with. “Sorry sir, I can’t put a ball-hitch on the back of your Harley-Davidson. It won’t work. What about a sidecar?” Remember that although you know more about design, they know their business better than you do. The challenge is to come up with a solution that doesn’t just look good, but works.
Educate them as to why Old English, set in all caps, isn’t readable and why clip art around the edges of the design doesn’t lend an air of artisanal quality to their distressed yoghurt shop shingle sign. In the end, most clients will understand that you know what you’re talking about and will go along with it. When Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he was unimpressed with the pontiff’s planned design and negotiated until he was allowed to paint his own. In the end, everyone was happy. In other words, learn how to sell your idea to the client and everyone’s a winner.
So, what do you do if the client won’t see reason, and insists on the all caps Old English/clip-art design? You can’t possibly make the ugly thing, can you? We mostly write an email something like this:
Here is the latest sign design for your yoghurt shop. As you strongly suggested, we’ve used uppercase Old English with clip-art decorations around the edge. From a design point of view, this particular piece won’t be very readable, and may not convey the rustic vintage feel of the yoghurt shop itself. Aside from the readability issue, it is also a fact that when Old English fonts like this one are set in all caps, it calls to mind a tattoo studio or motorbike clubroom rather than a family-friendly yoghurt shop. For all of these reasons, I have also attached an alternate design for you to consider.
All the best!
You would be amazed how many clients will follow your advice when you give clear reasons for your decisions. It is true that a small minority will doggedly insist on the ugly design. At that point, we would go ahead and make it for them, making a mental note not to post the sign on our website portfolio.
On the topic of portfolios – make sure that you’re proud of every piece of work that you post online, whether on your own site or on social media. As you continue to upload pictures of stunning designs, you’ll get more enquiries from people who have already seen a lot of your work and trust you to make something equally stunning for them. Don’t promote the signs you aren’t proud of, and it’s as if they never existed!
For the record, the vast majority of our clients have a great appreciation for well-designed signs. Often, their branding is very professional and looks classy when rendered as a dimensional sign. And, as I wrote at the beginning, sometimes a picky/discerning client can push you, as a designer, out of your ruts to try something new and better. Meet the challenge!
Hope that helps!