I am not a graphic designer. So when I started thinking about a logo for my business I had a designer in mind whose blog I’d been reading for years and whose work I greatly admired. I was thrilled when she agreed to work with me and I paid the substantial deposit and off we went.
It all started out great. She sent me a comprehensive questionnaire about my brand and this was a very useful exercise for me as I had not really given my ‘brand’ much thought until then. So that part was very positive. She also asked me to add logos I liked as well as favorite color palettes to my Pinterest so that she could get an idea of what I was after. Based on that information and her own sense of what my brand should be she sent me an initial mood board. It didn’t blow my mind but I thought it was good enough to continue from there. At that point she said “leave it with me and I’ll come back to you in a couple of weeks with my first revision.” I was excited. That is exactly what I had hoped, for someone to take the raw data and then turn it into something amazing.
Only, when she got back to me two weeks later, it was not amazing. I REALLY WANTED TO LIKE WHAT SHE HAD DONE. But all I felt was disappointment, the designs were very plain and didn’t really resonate with me, this was not the standard I had expected based on the work I had seen her do for others. BUT. That’s not what I said. Instead I first went silent for a few days and then I tried to work with the design that spoke to me the most, taking comfort in her assurances that this was only the first revision and that things would get more refined as we went along. Throughout this whole process I was very worried that I only had two rounds of revisions to get this right and to be fair on the designer, she gave me a free mini-revision in between when it became clear that I was struggling with the direction we were heading in. Even if the mini revision did not contain much else beyond a few font examples with my name. Something I could have easily done myself. To cut a long story short: it didn’t work out. And I was feeling crushed because I really respect her as a designer and I always loved what she did for others. But she just did not deliver the same quality for me, not even close. And so I broke up with her and it wasn’t nice.
All of this happened about a week ago and I’ve had some time to reflect on what went wrong and to ask myself: “What have I learned from this?"
Communicate in person. My logo designer insisted on doing everything by email and that just doesn’t work for me, especially when I am having a hard time visualizing the end result or when I am trying to express my displeasure without offending someone. I would have felt a lot more comfortable talking to her in person but she kept ignoring my requests for a Skype or phone call. This felt very impersonal and cold to me and I attribute her failure to really see me to this flawed process of communicating solely by email. Of course I use email as well in my own web design practice but I also rely heavily on Skype or the phone with my clients, first to ‘meet' them and then during development when there are questions or issues. Talking to my clients in person makes it so much easier for me to get to know them and to really understand their needs and to determine whether we are a good fit. Which brings me to ...
Do your due diligence in making sure that you and your designer are, in fact, a good fit. In retrospect I can see that we were not. It’s a bit like minimalism. I love it in other people’s homes but it’s not me. I am an organised and tidy person but I am not a minimalist. I like stuff. Quirky pieces of art that speak to my personality and stylish furniture that are comfortable and inviting. I like cosy. I like color and texture. And all of this is reflected in my work, too: yes, my signature style is simple, clean and modern but also bold and warm with visual interest. Her interpretation of my brand resulted in rather plain and uninteresting designs and I understand now that, in addition to not really getting me she also stayed within the comfort zone of her own more minimalistic style. Design, ultimately, is a very individual experience and if perfectly executed it is a balance of function, form and personality that just works. I love my logo designer’s style but I should have realised (as should she) that it is not a good fit with my personality.
Stand your ground when you’re not happy. When it comes to my own affairs I am not a very assertive person. I dislike conflict with a passion and as an empath my default reaction is to feel the other person’s feelings before my own. In this case I was more worried about offending the designer and making her feel bad than honoring and expressing my disappointment in what she was producing for me. And because everything was done in writing it was even harder for me to voice my concerns. When I finally decided that I needed to speak up it probably came as a bit of a surprise to her because I had been so nice until then. But the fact is that her work for me was really not up to standard and she was refusing to discuss any of this in person which I feel would have helped a lot. Being more assertive is a lesson I am learning over and over again.
A contract does not replace personal integrity. When I decided to end our relationship the designer sent me a final invoice, quoting her contract to me as enforcement of her right to ask me for more money. It’s the kind of contract we all have, the one that says you have to pay for work done up to that point. Which, or course, is only fair. However, this is where my assertiveness finally and truly kicked in. Because there was no evidence of work that was even worth what I had already paid her. She is not a cheap designer and I was willing to pay her high fees because I expected top notch results. Which I did not get. And I wanted her to take responsibility for her own contribution to this situation, i.e. the flawed communication process and the sub-standard work. I truly believe that she did not give it her best for me. So I told her that I was willing to share the losses with her and as I had already paid her 50% I would not pay anymore. This was a huge statement for me to make. I normally would have just paid up and cut my losses with my head back in the sand. But here is the thing: I have my own design business now and while I don’t want to create bad vibes with another designer I know how I want my clients to feel when they hire me. And one of my strongest principles is to meet my customers with integrity and personal accountability. Yes, I also have a contract but if someone is really unhappy with my work then I would actually offer them a refund. As a client you put a lot of trust in me and if I fail to provide you with a process that results in a happy experience then I won’t charge you. In this case I did not ask for a refund as I wanted to honor my own part in this as well as the effort that she had put in, including the things that had gone well, like the branding and mission statement at the beginning. Sharing the losses 50/50 felt fair to me. It’s an outcome I would have been very happy with had this been me. Having said this, I would haven’t fought her had she insisted on the final payment but I am glad to say that she didn’t. She wasn’t pleased but she didn’t want to fight me, either.
Look for and appreciate the good things. While it would be easy to feel bitter over having paid so much money for ‘nothing’ I decided to look at the positive take-aways from this situation:
- Creating the branding statement helped me gain a better understanding of my business and my goals.
- While I didn’t get a professionally designed logo I have a better idea of what I want. I created my own logo based on what I learned from this and while it’s basic I am pretty happy with it for now.
- This conflict helped me be clearer and more appreciative of my own values and processes with regards to my client relationships.
- I stood up for myself :)
I still very much respect and like the designer and wish her only the best and hope that she learned her own lessons from this situation.