Responding to the Response
Note: I don’t mean for this to look like a point-by-point rebuttal, because that always seems kind of needlessly aggressive to me. But I’m including Mr. Knowles’s text and my reactions together as a convenience so readers don’t have to jump back and forth between posts.
First off, I thought the response was kind of fascinating. Commenter Martin beat me to it, so I can’t claim originality, but I would like to expand on this peek behind the curtain of the design agency process. And I do appreciate Mr. Knowles’s candor, even though I find almost everything he has to say distressing in one way or another (click here if you missed the original post or Jeff Knowles’s complete reply). Okay, here’s the reply to the reply –
As with a lot of design when it gets in the public domain people can only see the tip of the iceberg, and thats all that can be reviewed and commented on, you don’t see the 80/90% of blood sweat and tears and frustration.
This probably isn’t discussed much in design education, but you bring up an interesting point. The nature of design is that the result is of course very public, and only the result is public – nobody knows about Goudy’s life in the way they know about Picasso’s – but that’s the way it works. You talk about the frustrations as though the audience should care – frankly, we shouldn’t. Regardless of how difficult the client is, the viewer isn’t supposed to think of the frustrations; in fact, if we do, the design has failed (i.e. the charge is to communicate, in this case, a movie in the voice of the client; if instead what has been communicated is frustration, the job hasn’t been done).
Michael next informed us, and asked us to research, New Deal and WPA and sent WPA posters he liked, in particular the San Francisco world fair poster (which I think was even after the WPA, its at that point we designed the custom font, seen as he wanted to see stuff that evening, we had 5 hours. Michael liked the font, so we proceeded, next he wanted to see a more compressed version, deadline – one hour to redesign and e-mail new title cards so Michael could view it on screen in the Avid that afternoon.
This is another fascinating peek behind the door of a big time design studio. And another element that isn’t discussed too often: how much control should the client have? What is the balance between doing what the client says he wants, and providing the client with the best possible solution? Think of it this way: suppose Mr. Mann had said, “I just gotta have this in Comic Sans.” Presumably (hopefully) the designer could’ve persuaded him otherwise. The idea that Mr. Mann should know anything about design and lettering just because he is successful in a totally unrelated field is as unrealistic as me assuming I could direct a something as good as “Heat” just because I’m a graphic designer.
This is a tough thing to tell the guy who signs the checks, and we’ve all had our successes and failures. But still. Being a designer is not a matter of doing what the client says they want – they often don’t know what they want, or don’t know why they’re saying what they’re saying they want. Ideally, at this point in the process, design is education and research and lobbying and cajoling (especially when you’re trying to convince a client not to faceplant his bad idea all over every bus and billboard in LA).
The rest of Mr. Knowles’s paragraph is mostly excuses about fast deadlines. My response is, again, that’s the nature of the work. I have personally never had a leisurely deadline. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose – that’s true for all of us – but you can’t blame the deadline.
In terms of the posters, and even the new cover for the original book, we didn’t design them, we saw them at the same time as the rest of the public, they just used what ever bits we had sent for the titles, thus we didn’t apply drop shadows or textures, or use Impact or what ever it is, where they didn’t have the New Deal typeface.
This sort of sums up my take on the whole of this project. It wasn’t mismanaged so much as it wasn’t managed at all. The client wasn’t managed – starting with managing his expectations, managing the deadlines, and managing the concept; and after the design was approved, its implementation wasn’t managed at all either. I know that there are a million variables in any deal, but if you couldn’t have gotten the poster gig, it would’ve made sense to put together a criteria for the posters, etc. To blame the key art people is nearly as bad as blaming the deadlines. If your company is supposed to be leading the design, then you have to lead.
Again, I appreciate Mr. Knowles’s reply, and I think it’s an instructive look inside a design agency and at the sausage making aspects of the whole process. But in the end, none of what was said mitigates the failure of this lettering. I just hope Mann’s production company didn’t pay too much for this thing. They got a bad design, with a bad rationale, and bad advice.