Branding meeting – Part 2

Lumiere Paints

Ooh, this one is a hard one to write.

The designers have presented their first ‘concept’ of my branding and it appears the wheels have fallen off.  Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Let’s not sugar coat it here.  The. wheels. have. fallen. off.

When we had our first meeting, they said my ideas were a little too detailed and we agreed they would simplify them.  A couple of weeks later, I was back in their office to see the first concept.  I was so excited to see what they had done with my ideas.  To see what my brand was going to look like.  What it was going to feel like.

They opened up the file.  And there it was.  Some words.  My business name in a font that was hard to read. It looked like the font from ‘Smokey & The Bandit’.  Then the business name with the tagline, which I couldn’t read at all.  Then the name with a really dark teal colour.  Then the name with a small embellishment behind it.  An embellishment that had nothing to do with my brand.

What the hell was this?!

As they kept scrolling down, I was waiting to see my logo.  The logo with the ideas I had given them.  With the styling I asked for.  But that was it.  Just my business name and the splash of nothing.  And in a colour that was no where near any of the ones I had marked on their swatches.

Once they presented it, they asked what I thought.  I was in shock and trying to digest it.   I was quite polite.  I tried to be gentle (goodness knows why).  I told them I couldn’t read the font.  And I said that while the splash of nothing was pretty, it had nothing to do with my brand.  I said I had given them 5 or 6 different elements to work with and they hadn’t used any of them.  They knew that.  They knew that when they presented their concept, but they didn’t say anything.  They didn’t prepare me.

They just presented what they had in the hopes I would fall in love with it.  And I didn’t.  I so didn’t.

When I raised the issue that they hadn’t used any of my ideas – they scrambled.  They showed me the rough designs with my concepts.  They tried to explain in ‘designer speak’ why some of the examples in my brief weren’t technically logos.  And then, they told me my ideas were too restrictive and they couldn’t work with them.  We discussed other ideas they could work with for round two and I left having to re-do my brief with some of the new ideas.

I got down to my car and rang my husband.  I told him what had happened.  Now he was in shock.  I drove home going over what they had said.  Trying to fathom the words “your brief was too restrictive”. Trying to process the disappointment.  The anger.  The confusion.  How did this happen?

The next day at work, it hit.  I embarrassed myself quite nicely by crying at my desk.  Oh yes – glamorous.  On the plus side, I pretty much got left alone for the day which gave me a chance to think some more.  Still trying to work out what had happened.  How the wheels had fallen off so badly.

It took me a few days to recover enough to be able to send them the new concepts.  I sent a very long email with it.  And I laid it all on the line.  The reply wasn’t quite what I had hoped.  It basically said we are sorry you weren’t happy but…  But your ideas were too restrictive.  But we are the creative designers.  But we gave you a discount because you were a start up.  Basically, you’ll get what you’re given.  Um, I don’t think so.

If what they had presented was amazing.  If it had been a perfect representation of my brand, I would have been open to it.

But it felt like ‘that’ll do her’.

So, I sent an email saying I didn’t want to go any further.  I got a phone call on Saturday morning asking if there was a way they could convince me to continue.  That they were sure they could come up with something I was happy with.  She said she understood if I had lost faith in them.  And she was right.  I had.  I didn’t want to spend more money to find out they couldn’t create what I wanted.  That they weren’t going to achieve the look and feel I wanted.  And so, I have had to let another designer go.  I have to start over with my branding.  And I’ve lost money and time.

But my husband and I keep talking about WD-40 which helps me get through.  It took them 40 times to get the formula for WD-40 right.  Hopefully, it doesn’t take me that many tries.

Coral.  xo

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9 Responses to Branding meeting – Part 2

  1. Renee says:

    Coral, just wanted to say, keep your chin up. Being a woman who is trying to “pull away from the day job”, I can totally relate and admire your persistence. Do not settle!!!

    • Coral says:

      Do not settle – looove this. When you are on this creative business adventure it can feel like there are people dreaming of doing this and those who have done it. It’s so nice to hear from others who are in that transitional phase. Who are taking the same adventure. Persistence, perseverance – they seem to be a constant every step of the way, don’t they?

  2. Lesley says:

    Coral! OH my goodness how frustrating/sad/awful for you. I have been a horrible blog friend and haven’t been reading like, anyone’s blogs lately. BAD ME.

    I can’t guarantee I’d be doing anything better but… would you like me to try my hand at it for you? I’m sort of a closeted designer of sorts, self-taught and a little crazy but it seems to work out. I’ve done some branding/web design for people as well as stationery/wedding invites and I am a fiend when it comes to brainstorming. Worst case I don’t make anything good and we can say we tried (I obviously wouldn’t charge you up front for this).

    Send me an email! Maybe I can ask you some questions to help pick your brain and get to the meat of what you want that the other designers haven’t been able to grasp for whatever reason.

    • Coral says:

      Hi Lesley – Thank you so much for your generous offer. I have already started the adventure again with a new designer, but your support and kind offer means so much to me. I will get there in the end. I have sent off the order to my manufacturer, so that is some good news in amongst the challenges. Nearly there. I am nearly there…..

  3. Lindsay says:

    Hi Coral,

    My sympathies. I stumbled across your blog a few minutes ago, and have read your posts regarding designers. I’ll be straightforward — I, myself, am a design (and no, I’m not looking for new clients). 😉

    In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit why I’ve been reading: I was looking to get into the client mindset … what makes clients unhappy? It was very interesting to me, reading your first branding meeting post, because it sounds like that designer knows/knew what they’re doing. The points you listed about what your designer told you about what makes a good logo — works across multiple media, works in BW and color, is coherent and consistent — are classic, good branding “to-do’s”. It sounds like that designer was, at the very least, well-educated.

    Of course, that doesn’t excuse ignoring your brief, and I certainly don’t mean to come across as attacking you. I sympathize with your position. You’re invested (to say the least!) in your new venture, it’s heart-wrenching when things don’t go smoothly.

    In the hopes of providing some additional insight… The thing about being a designer is that, as with any field of work, you get to where it all “just makes sense” to you. I find myself falling into this trap sometimes. I forget that clients may not have experience working with designers, or design in general. They don’t know the “rules” or how things are supposed to go, and honestly, they shouldn’t have to.

    I recently read an article in How Magazine (a popular magazine for designers about the business side of design) titled “5 Steps to Finding the Right Clients”. It’s all about vetting clients, E.G.: why choosing to work with “good”, “educated” clients is better for most designers, as opposed to being chosen by the client. Although the article makes great points (and I actually practice its core tenets most of the time myself), it does leave out “the little guys,” like yourself.

    I’m sharing this with you in the hopes that by giving you a peek behind the curtain, I can help you better find the right designers to work with, and also better understand where many designers are coming from.

    Ignoring a brief is bad news (!), but at the same time, it’s also important to choose a designer you trust enough to disagree with you … and lead you the right direction. I always say — the only reason a client will ever nitpick or “backseat design” is because, in their heart, they don’t trust their designer to design better than they, the client, can.

    I hope you don’t mind me writing so much! I just got caught up in your story, I guess. 🙂 My best wishes to you going forward, and good luck in finding a designer you feel you can trust to take your business to the next level.

    • Coral says:

      Hi Lindsay,
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts from a designers point of view.

      I looked for quite a few designers before I settled on the one’s I chose. I was very prepared and I knew what I wanted. Some of my guidelines in my brief were as simple as a border around the design – yet that was apparently ‘too restrictive”. I marked about 10 colours in their swatch book which they also chose to ignore. I understand there are people that can be too specific and, on the flip side, very unclear. I felt I knew what I wanted for my brand and how I wanted it represented – I don’t think it was unreasonable to have at least some input into the design. For some reason, after being reasonably successful with helping me design my products, they just went off the rails with the logo. Had they come up with something that blew me out of the water, that was a perfect representation of my brand, I would have happily worked with it. Instead, they ignored everything in my brief. They created something that had no relevance at all to my brand at all. They created something that didn’t even meet basic design guidelines you probably learn in your first week at design school. For example – The font was illegible, even blown up to full size on an ipad and there was nothing memorable about it at all. And I was paying above the ‘going rate’ for this type of work, thinking I would get a superior result. I could have gotten something better from VWorker or 99 Designs for a quarter of the price.

      You mentioned you wanted to get inside the mind of clients – here are some of the things I feel are important from a clients point of view.

      Explain the basics of design to your clients before they work on a brief. Things like simple logos work best. The logo needs to work in B&W, then colour can be added later. Where the logo is going to be used (if it needs to go on very small things like price tag labels, clothing labels etc, that will need to be considered).

      Don’t assume you know more than your clients about their brand. A ‘good’ client will know what they want their logo/branding to represent, how they want it to feel and the why behind it. Don’t assume what is on trend in the design industry is relevant to the industry they are in. If you are having trouble with the brief, talk to the client for more direction and feedback or discuss any issues you are having with making it work. Don’t assume you will come up with something they are going to love.

      Be respectful. To their time line (my first designer had a two week wait for my turn, then took 3 weeks to do 10 hours work). To their expectations (if you have amazing work in the portfolio on your website, they will expect that quality with their project (my first designer gave me proofs that looked very amateur – no where near the quality on their site). With their budget (you might work for example – $50 – $100 per hour but they may need to work a full day for the money to pay you. It’s a big financial commitment – they deserve a designer who respects their financial commitment as well as their emotional commitment. Reply to emails, even if it is to say you don’t think you will be a good fit for their project. I contacted over 40 designers and got approx 4 replies back – with some taking a week to reply when I asked for more information. One designer gave me a free 1 hour Skype call to see if we were a good fit and was honest enough to say she didn’t think she could design what I needed. I would recommend her to others in a heartbeat, even though I didn’t end up working with her. Her service even that early on was outstanding.

      I hope that helps in building your client base and gives you an understanding from the clients point of view of working with a designer.

      Thank you again for taking the time to leave such a detailed comment.

      • Lindsay says:

        Hi again!

        Thanks for taking my comment at face value and taking the time to draft a thoughtful reply. I see our conversation here as an interesting opportunity to get into a non-designer’s head with no strings attached — I talk to clients regularly, but since they’re my clients, it’s different. I am actually over-worked at the moment, so no adding to my client base, but it always helps to keep perspective on the “other side of the coin.” I suspect this is really the base of your first point, about “explaining the basics of design.” Empathy and keeping the client point-of-view in mind mean explaining basic aspects of logo design in the first meeting… especially if the client seems unsure.

        You mention, “Don’t assume you know more than your clients about their brand.” I think that is correct at its core, but I would also caution clients in general (not necessarily you specifically) to not assume that you, the client, knows more about branding. For instance, I’m currently working with a company that manufactures tents* … and trust me, I know zero about tents. But, I do know quite a lot about branding. In many ways, I gave them perspective on their tents, and how “raw” consumers will perceive their tents, that’s very new and valuable to them, and has changed the gist of the marketing collateral significantly. That is, of course, only one anecdotal example.

        The designer/client relationship is (in)famous for it’s troubles. I believe that, besides the trust I mentioned in my OP, this also has to do with a lack of education. If my comments here provide you, or any readers, with insight, it’s for the best.

        In that spirit, a few final observations:

        1 Although it can be disheartening to hear nothing back for three weeks and then be billed for 10 hours, please know that many designers under-bill, or don’t bill for research, with smaller clients as a (misplaced, I think) courtesy. I’m not saying that happened to you, I’m just saying, it happens a lot.

        2 Design is an innately iterative process. Expect to go through revisions, and don’t expect to be swept off your feet in the first set of proofs (that would be awesome, but unrealistic). The way a client works with, and has “a say” in their design is through the process of iterations… not through some insanely time-consuming brief. It is always the designer’s fault for not explaining this, but I think maybe it would help to have me say it, too.

        I’m enjoying this exchange. Hopefully you are as well.

        * Details changed for the sake of privacy.

        • Coral says:

          I hope both our comments are helpful – to designers as well as for creative business girls just starting out who are looking to work with a designer.

          Thanks so much for all your ideas and taking the time to share your designers point of view.


  4. Lindsay says:

    LOL Coral, I’m a designer, yes, but a terrible editor! Please excuse my typos, like: “I, myself, am a designer“. Good grief! 🙂

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