Musicians: they'll only break your heart
February 12, 2018 2:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm an amateur graphic artist, and I've been making some cover art for a band for free. I've made about 10 different pieces they like and want to use. Yay! But tonight, the guy texts me, "oh here is our new logo." It's totally different, not to mention ugly af, and makes the art look unbalanced. (New typeface is extra-light, old typeface was extra-bold.) Did mention it was ugly af? Sob.

I don't want to have my name on otherwise unchanged art with the new logo. I don't want to rework all the art to fit the new logo. Maybe I could talk to the guy? But how? What could I say? This is his thing -- it's up to him what image his band has, and he didn't ask me. Also I'm doing it "for exposure" so there's an informality in our relationship. (I know what you think about working for exposure, but I offered, because I'm just starting out and already have a good job.)

I just wonder if there's any way to salvage this?
You who do this for a living -- love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for any suggestions!
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
People so undervalue the creative process and effort. My advice is the think of yourself as a brick layer. Your client came in and installed a bunch of stone and bricks overnight and it looks like crap. You still want to get paid but YOU are the professional. So delicately but plainly explain that the new logo OBJECTIVELY doesn't work and you'd be happy to help rework it.
posted by chasles at 3:36 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

What do you have to lose by expressing your feelings about the logo? I mean, obviously you don't say 'ugly af'. Explain what the problem is - that the logo change really doesn't work with the artwork you've done for them. Ask if you could take a shot at a logo that would work better, if that's something you'd be willing to do. If they respect your design skills, they'll listen.

Treat this as a practice run in how to deal with awkward clients. Trust me, I've known dozens of graphic designers who do work for clients, and done a bit myself, and this sort of stuff is a daily challenge for them. If you ever want to work in graphic design, you're going to need to learn to negotiate this stuff. You have to learn to persuade and flatter, rather than burn bridges. It's hard.
posted by pipeski at 3:36 AM on February 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Reworking the art to incorporate the new logo is a major, major change. It will take Z hours of billable time, and it would take you X weeks to get to it creatively. Further more, it doesn't work at all with what you have, you'd practically have to start over, and you really...don't want to, because, as a human being who puts yourself into your work, you really kind of love what you've done already.

Suggest that he wait for their next effort to incorporate the new logo. Suggest that the old logo somehow goes well with your understanding of, and feeling for, their music. Bear in mind that it might come from someone with whom he had a nasty breakup or something, so tread lightly, but maybe let him see your passion.

And changes like that don't come for free anyway, so if he really loves that new logo, it's probably not losing a lot of ground for him to just hire someone else.
posted by amtho at 3:46 AM on February 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

You can talk to the guy diplomatically (“I made the art with the previous logo in mind, and it doesn’t work as well with the new logo for reasons x y z”). I also sometimes send two or three versions of a proof if I want to persuade someone away from a bad design decision - one with what they want, and an alternate that is similar but mitigates some of the worse stuff - and I phrase it like “I also had this idea that I think looks really good” rather than “your idea is bad.” It’s extra work, but even when they don’t go for the alternate they appreciate the extra thought and care you’ve given the project.

But working with clients sometimes means you end up sending some real vomit out into the world, and you know it’s not good but it’s exactly what they want. If the client is otherwise good to work with, or will give good word of mouth, it’s still good experience and you can always leave that piece out of your portfolio (or include drafts that you’re proud of along with the lackluster final version). If it’s a crap client, consider it practice and move on.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:11 AM on February 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is a good learning experience if you’re planning to become a professional graphic designer, because clients will do this to you all the time. And in the end you’ll learn that professional design work is not about you putting out beautiful work that has your name on it, but rather putting out work that the client likes and getting paid for it.

I know you’re doing this for exposure, but the main exposure you will get from this is from potential future clients seeing the work in your portfolio, so put the pieces in there with the old logo.
posted by ejs at 4:47 AM on February 12, 2018 [13 favorites]

There are two things I have learned which have made my life as a designer much better. First one is not to care if the client has the taste of rotting barnacle (but make sure the work isn't attributed to me). There will be other jobs that I will be proud of. The second one is learning to fire clients. Turns out, in my experience, if clients start doing stupid things, they're not going to stop and it's going to get worse - best to fire them before I pour in x more hours that they won't pay me for because, well duh, they're stupid.

In your shoes, with my experience, I might explain why the new logo doesn't work. I'm more likely to say that I don't have time to rework the design, let them have it as is, and walk away. Sadly (or in this case, happily) hardly anyone (if anyone at all) will care who designed it.

Good luck - it takes a few metaphoric design kicks in the face to not care about all your babies, but it's a necessary skill to develop.
posted by b33j at 5:24 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

This might be a good milestone to transition your working relationship; that is, to ask a question or two about the new logo ("what prompted this logo change?" "What made you decide to go in this new direction compared to the old logo?" "Will you be continuing to iterate the logo in the near future, or is this the final design?")

Next, you do some expectation setting: "here is a quick example of the new logo dropped into one of the old logo pieces, and you can see how the [simplified reasons] cause the new logo to clash with the old artwork." "Here's a breakdown of the spec hours I spent developing the old-logo-based artwork, to give you an idea of how many billable hours it might take for me or another graphic artist to develop equivalent artwork optimized for the new logo." "If that is too expensive for you folks, we can talk about other options, like reworking the logo to suit the new artwork, but I don't recommend that unless you're really cash-strapped."

Finally, make that billable line explicit: "I'm delighted you gave me the opportunity to do that set of spec work with the original logo, which you are free to use as you like, including dropping the new logo into it, which I don't recommend. Going forward, if you'd to continue working with me, I will be billing you at [your terms]. If we assume a similar amount of work as I did to support your original logo, that should run about [totals and terms based on that breakdown you previously provided.]"

The band may not like that, but you will have clearly communicated your value as you see it, set their expectations accordingly, and will not have abandoned then mid-stream on the old logo work. In this way, a milestone like a significant logo change is a great gift... without such a milestone, announcing the end of your free work would seem a lot more arbitrary on your part.

Meanwhile, you have the old logo work for your portfolio, which is the only place it will have your name officially attached anyway (i.e., the only useful exposure.)
posted by davejay at 6:52 AM on February 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

A. Stop doing work "for exposure" i.e., free. Seriously. It doesn't help you, just rips you off.

B. Tell the guy his new logo clashes with your design and if he wants to use it he needs to get a new designer or pay you to rework everything because he just reached the end of his free trial. He's not paying you, what do you have to lose? Keep the good posters for your portfolio.
posted by emjaybee at 5:09 PM on February 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've hired many a graphic designer and never, not a single time, not ever, have I looked for any sort of proof that their design was used commercially. A portfolio is a portfolio, so publish the design you are proud of, as-is, and be done.

Also, pretty please thoroughly examine your reasoning behind "I am doing this for exposure". It is critical for your career because "exposure" is a very specific and insidious type of a scam and graphic design is the #1 magnet for it. Anyone who can give you exposure because they are commanding a valuable audience is able to pay and wants to pay a professional because hiring a professional is how you get professional results.

There are legitimate situations where you'd want to work for exposure, but, BUT, if the whole idea of exposure is that exposure = advertisement, then the person offering exposure must quantify it to you (number or eyeballs, number of times a specific advertisement of your name will be put in front of these eyeballs, etc.) because advertising opportunities are priced based on the audience size and the ad format and frequency. Assuming this musician was going to put your name in tiny print on the back of their album, how much do you think they'd be able to sell that one-liner ad space for in a public marketplace?
posted by rada at 8:51 AM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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