First project for my Adobe Illustrator class this fall: create a series of 18 pictograms that follow a central theme, and then make a poster or other work of art using them. I created stylized representations of elements, using the letters of their element symbols to spell out the phrase "Oppression stains life black with poison." The rings and dots in the pictograms represent the electron shells, and contain the correct number of electrons per shell.
Final print size: 54" wide by 16" high.
Prospective Client: "How do you charge for your services?"
Me: "It depends."
Prospective Client: "On what?"...
Me: "On how involved you want to be."
I know this sounds a little snarky, but the reality is that there are clients out there who like to micro-manage or constantly redirect the project while it's already in motion. In itself, it's not bad, but if your pricing doesn't reflect that, you're setting yourself up for failure.
Many clients don't have an understanding of what goes into the work we do as creative professionals. Whether you're a designer, writer, or some other type of creative, the path from conception to completion is rarely a straight line. It's full of trial and error and conceptual dead ends that, while time-consuming, are critical to the process of developing the final product.
When you add a client to the mix who insists on being uber-involved with every aspect of the project, it can complicate things.
Don't get me wrong. There's a time for clients to be involved and for their input to be collected and reviewed. But that time is *not* three times a week when he's second-guessing works-in-progress (that any other time, the client would NEVER see).
Just like many clients don't understand our creative process, they also don't understand that by being involved, they may also be jeopardizing their own deadlines. Every time we have to take off the creative hat and answer a phone call or email, we're wasting time. Even though the time to do those things may be insubstantial, sometimes the time it takes to get "back in the groove" can be significant.
So how do we deal with these clients? Unfortunately, all too often you don't realize you have one until it's too late. The best way I've found is by spelling out the project goals in your contract (you are using a contract, right?), along with specific review opportunities. You should also spell out just what happens if and when the client wants to change his mind along the way.
Before you and your client sign the contract, you should make sure you both agree on the project goals, and that by signing the contract, you both agree to "freeze" those goals. Freezing the goals means that you are only going to design or develop what's in the contract. Any new ideas, directions or features will either wait until this contract is fulfilled or they'll incur additional charges.
When a client understands that he can't change his mind a dozen times without having to reach for his wallet, he'll be less likely to do so. If he does insist, at the very least, he'll be more likely to organize his ideas into a more efficient package for you instead of shooting from the hip every time he calls or emails you.
The same applies to any creative professional. I've had people ask me to do this sort of thing before, and it's actually a little insulting.
Doing something for a friend because it's in your heart to do it is one thing. I do that. Often, actually. Part of the responsibility for having a talent or a gift is the willingness to use it now and then to benefit people who aren't able to pay.
The line I hear a lot is "hey, if you do this for me, a lot of people will see your work. T...hink of the jobs this could lead to."
The thing is, the seed you sow is the crop you reap. Sow seeds of "hey, this guy did this for me on the cheap," and guess what kind of clients come knocking on your door.
No matter how long you’ve been in the graphic design business, you probably still get asked to work “on spec.” For the uninitiated, spec work is work done without any promise for compensation. Despite the arguable benefits of gaining experience or building a portfolio, spec work is just bad for business, for designers and clients alike. Not only is... it too often a waste of your time, but spec work usually isn’t your best work, and it can affect your reputation among peers and prospective clients alike.
Know It When You See It
One of the most common types of requests for spec work goes something like this: a prospective client needs a website, for example, and he’d like to see what kind of ideas you have. To that end, he asks you to put together some concepts, and if he likes what he sees, he’ll hire you. Another typical tactic is the design contest, in which multiple designers are asked to submit entries, and the client pays only for the “winning” design.
You Only Live Once
All other considerations aside, the commodity you trade in most heavily as a designer is time. You’re not like other businesses that can take back a product and resell it. The time you spend doing spec work is gone forever. If for that reason alone, spec work is a practice you should avoid. It’s unfair to you, because you could be spending that time on other pursuits, whether professional or personal. There’s also the distasteful possibility that the client could decline to hire you, but still end up using (read: stealing) some or all of your ideas.
The Iron Triangle
Spec work is unfair to your client, too. From his perspective, it’s a bad idea because his project is hamstrung before it begins. Put simply, there’s good, fast and cheap -- pick two. Ideally, that choice should be made by the client, but spec work dictates it for him. You’re forced to limit how much time you invest because you have to assume you won’t get paid. Accordingly, time and cost necessarily eclipse quality. Good design requires creative exploration and a dialog between you and your client. Those take time, which is something spec work by nature doesn’t allow. Bear in mind, however, that there’s a difference between working on spec and working pro-bono. Work for charities and other non-profits you feel strongly about can be a great way to gain experience and build a portfolio, so long as it’s your choice to do so.
Responding to Spec Requests
It’s unfair to assume that everyone who asks for spec work is looking to get something for nothing. In many cases, such a client may simply be ignorant of the ethical and business implications of her request. Generally, a good approach is a polite and professionally-worded letter that informs her that you don’t engage in spec work, and briefly explains why. Direct her to your online portfolio, or enclose some relevant samples of previous work. Explain that you take her organization’s needs seriously, and that you would like an opportunity to meet and discuss them further.
I'm a firm believer that there is a spiritual component, for lack of a better term, in almost everything we do. Now I'm not necessarily talking about church or religion, but rather the idea that there is a world around us that's invisible to the natural eye. Sometimes, that invisible world can manifest very much like the wind in that you still can'...t see it, but you can see its effects. In its absence, leaves don't flutter and flags don't ripple and fly.
I guess the best way to explain where I'm going with this -- and the parallel I'm trying to draw -- is to tell you a story from my own experience.
In 2006, I was creating a website for a client who was a musician. Eventually, I'd be creating some artwork for CDs and marketing materials as well, so I commissioned a photo shoot. The client had done a number of shoots before, and came into this one with his own ideas of what to expect and how it was going to proceed. Bottom line though, was that I wasn't getting the shots I wanted.
Then it occured to me that he wasn't really playing his instrument during the shoot. He was pretending to play, striking poses that seemed dramatic and full of energy, but really weren't. Why? Because they weren't real. I called a stop to the shoot and asked the client to play his horn for real. And not just scales or random riffs. I asked him to play something that he really liked to play.
As soon as he actually began to play, everything changed. He looked completely different. The energy was there. The passion for his art was there. It was like the wind blew through that studio. I couldn't see it, and neither could the photographer, but we could both see the effect. He wasn't striking poses meant to imitate the passion and energy, he was legitimately feeling it, and the difference was evident.
I believe that everyone has that something they do that they're passionate about. Call it a talent, a gift, or what have you, but when they engage in that activity, they can tap into that invisible world and let that wind blow through them. It can't be seen, but it's effect can be very evident indeed.
It's not often that established companies will adopt a new logo, since it's a risky proposition. They have a lot invested in brand awareness, so making a radical change isn't something undertaken lightly.
Take Jack in the Box, for instance. Their old logo, on the left, featured a blended O and X, which looks a lot like the Ichthus, a symbol for Christianity. I wonder if the new logo was an attempt to distance themselves from that hidden message?