I believe that communication is the most important factor in every aspect of human life, you need to when you are in the field of visual communications. It is my job to communicate a message, emotion or point of view to the unsuspecting viewer. When it comes to commissioned work, without proper communication you are wasting your time and someone’s money (hopefully not yours). I believe that it is exceedingly important to sit down face to face (not over the phone, IM or email) with your client and discuss every fathomable aspect of a project, weather it be an illustration, lobby art or brochure layout.
I have recently determined that my communication skills have been lacking. I put too much trust in my clients and expect them to tell me what they want out of a project. Silly me. I do not ask the obvious questions early on and end up going over trivial aspects of a design that could have been cleared up with one conversation in the beginning. Do not expect your clients to know what they want. They don’t fucking know! They only know what they don’t like after they see it, after you spend several hours on dozens of comps to get the piece you are showing them. I fucking hate it, so now I try to concentrate on my communication skills. I am building a list of questions that I know I must ask my current employer on nearly every task. I do this because I have no idea what she is thinking or why she wants what she is asking for. Of course I only know this because I have been working in house since January.
Maybe once every couple years you get someone who knows exactly what they want and you get a paycheck without struggle. Maybe. Or hopefully you are being hired because your client has actually looked through your portfolio and appreciates your style. They trust your vision and enjoy what you do, not your career title. The majority of the jobs I have done were because a client heard that I am a graphic designer, not because my work jumped out at them.
A couple years back I was working for a scholastic products company doing page layout for educational book series’. One book I worked on was about the life of Siddhartha the original Buddha. Every other spread was to have a background color to break up the monotony of white pages and keep the little ones visually satisfied. Being a man who enjoys historical accuracy, I researched the religion and chose colors that were symbolic to Buddhists and reflected the events in Buddha’s life. When showing the first version to my boss she said that the colors “weren’t cute enough.” Not fucking cute enough! You better give me a better god damn reason to go back and change all of the colors than their cuteness factor! If she would have told me to stick to colors of previous collections or gave me a list of appropriately “cute” colors I would not have minded so much, but to tell me after I bothered to put the time and thought into generating a historically appropriate color pallet just pissed me off. After that I just regurgitated the “cute” colors from previous spreads and went numb to the idea of deeper thought on the projects that were ahead of me. She was satisfied, but I wasn’t. As you can imagine it made for a really exciting 9-to-5.
Seemingly little things like this happened on nearly every new project I started with that company. I wouldn’t be properly brought up to speed on the old books and ended up rearranging layouts and color schemes several times on the new ones. A five minute conversation that consisted with a reference to previous books would have cleared it all up. Make science books predominantly blue, history only uses earth tones (heaven forbid I throw some lime green into the radiation issue), all math books need to be formatted like the old ones. If you tell me your rules I can follow them! Communi-fucking-cation! So again I beg you to ask the obvious questions when you are starting out just to make sure that you aren’t going to waste your time.
As some movie once told me: “There are no stupid questions, only stupid people.” Of course that doesn’t mean that the stupid one is the person who has to ask the questions.