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Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Poor Man’s Milton Glaser

I mostly toil from home, doing layout/design type work now. Cool n'est-ce pas??

Yes, yes it is and I love my job. Let me rephrase. My boss is awesome and, when I need to go into the office, I'm a wee 30 minute trike ride or five minute car ride away. This beats my previous 60-90 minute commute all to hell and back. I generally, at most, work with just one other person — everyone’s usually out on the road. Yeah, I’m a social beastie BUT I surely do enjoy not having to surf dodgy office dynamics. I solidly savor not having to deal with crucial-to-doing-my-job co-workers who rock the Drama Mama/Papa act somethin’ strong. This AND I don’t have to expend mega loads of effort attempting to lipread colleagues at the same time that I’m performing my magic market research, billing and filing functions.

Back to working from home — I’m in layout/design city. You may be thinking “Gee Donna, weren’t you an art major? This is right up your alley!”

Well...ja und nein.

You see, I’ve more in common with a de Kooning or Gorky than a buttoned down Albers. The biz world is a buttoned down place. I need to tone down my usual exuberance when designing for others BUT not too much lest I churn out utterly dull (so tame that even the client falls asleep on first gaze) drek. This is a tight dance.

Clients want what they want. I understand — it’s their company and they want the logo/Tshirt emblem/business card to be an expression of themselves. They just don’t have the artistic chops, the design language or time to express this to their satisfaction. That’s why we’re hired. I totally get it.

They may say “go wild. I can’t wait to see what you come up with” BUT...

I had one person who was starting a cool new biz — it's all about fun, quirky, offbeatly decorated pastries. Fun! The art he submitted, which I was specifically asked to improve on, used a hackneyed, pedestrian font and an atrocious drawing of a cookie. My nine year old grandkiddle could’ve done better. They were completely attached to the execrable sketch but not so much the font. I laid it all out, three versions, using some of the spiffy, fun yet elegant fonts I’ve got on hand. I tried to add pizzazz and zip to the damnable illustration. What did the customer choose? After much back and forth they went with the banal, clichéd typeface and listless, un-zingified graphic that they’d walked in with. I was demoralized, as though they’d just rented my hands (to lay it out and add copy) — I felt like a cheap, red light district, prossy. (hyperbole? It's what's for brekkie!)

And then my boss told me how happy the client was. How they thought I’d done a brill job and were just wickedly grateful. The customer wants what he/she wants and my responsibility, as a poor man’s Milton Glaser is to suss that out and bring it to life.

Graphic design and fine art painting — related but distant cousins. They are at my level anyway.

Still, I’m loving the hell out of these new challenges. Even though this totes fucks with my nightly coma time, it’s pretty damned fab that I can, at two AM when I’ve woken with some stone cool idea, trot down stairs, fire up Illustrator and go to town on my latest project or three.

So — working from home? I’m on the clock whenever I wanna be yet I never feel as though I’m fully off the clock.

The good with the not so great. I’ll take it.


  1. Yup, I totally relate. Having done the freelance dance for 15 years, I know all about being on the clock/off the clock all the time. It is certainly delightful to go to work in my sweats (I did this before Skype, so I could have long client meetings via telephone and they didn’t know or need to know what I was wearing), but the ideas don’t stop at 5:00 so neither did my work. On the other hand, I was raising three small kids at the time, so for me, the tradeoff was a no-brainer. For me, the choice to go freelance was a lifestyle decision more than a professional decision.

    As for keeping clients happy though you may not be, I have often had to do that with words, not images, but it’s the same idea. I once saw a ten commandments for editors. The one that stuck with me read something like: writers write to show the fire burning in their souls; the editors’ job is to clear away the smoke. The point being that it’s not our job as hands for hire to change the clients’ approach or attitude or passion for a badly-drawn cookie. Our task is to make the cookie look appetizing.