Army-Yale at West Point

Old Neighbors, Flag Football, and Second Chances

How you and your design can benefit from being shot down.

The other day I get an email from an old neighbor of mine (our sons used to play and attend school together). We had kept in touch after he moved out of the neighborhood, even played golf together on a few occasions. Good guy. Neat family. So when he asked me to design a logo for the youth flag football league some parents were starting, I said yes.

He was clear up front that they had a very limited budget. Which I appreciated, because it helped me adjust my mindset. Instead of paid project, I would just help them out (a gift card to a local brew pub would be thanks enough).

So, on a recent Saturday afternoon, I poked around on the Interwebs, cracked my sketchbook and began pulling together a logo that would work for their league. My self-given requirements were; youth, fun, and football. I worked my magic in Illustrator till I was satisfied with the final product.

First, and what I thought, only logo concept for Air It Out.

I emailed it over and awaited his response. It came two days later:


I’m thinking to myself, “Way to go Garth, you nailed it. Quick and easy.” Until I read the next paragraph:

“I sent it along to the other partners. Wondering if it can be a bit more edgier. Possibly appeal to an older group as well as the younger? Make the football a bit larger and include … blah blah blah.”

I close the email as frustration begins to set in.

Great. Now we’ve got the dreaded “committee” involved and the change requests flood gates are flung wide open. This quick little project has just turned into my worst nightmare. Not to mention my concept was rejected and my poor designer ego has taken a proverbially blow. Mentally, I’m ready to call it quits.

How many times have you started out “helping” a friend, only to get sucked into a long, drawn out revision process that leaves you feeling used and unappreciated?

I let a day go by. Due to my deep seeded need to please people (that’s a whole other story) I revisit the project. I start sketching new options and almost immediately, I’m on a new concept and loving it — much more than the first. I finish the sketch, transfer it to the computer and vectorify (that’s a word, right?). I add color, make final adjustments and send it off — because this is the right logo. It’s miles better than the previous version. This is what I should have done the first time — and I know it.

The second and vastly improved Air It Out logo.

This time, I can’t wait for his response. It comes the following morning:

“Logo is so awesome. PERFECT!! I can’t begin to tell you how appreciative we are for your work.”

You’re probably thinking, “Good for you Garth. You made a nifty logo and made your buddy happy.” But the point of this little anecdote is that often times, we as creators think we have/know all the right answers. We’ll get all scrappy and defensive as we justify our design choices. We’re professionals! Why don’t they trust us? Why’d they even hire us? They wouldn’t know good design if it came up and kissed them on their sandwich hole.”

The reality is, actually listening to and implementing client feedback can dramatically change a project — for the better.

Granted this was a hometown flag football league, but being able to step back from your design, take and process criticism/feedback and use it to make your work better is a skill that should be embraced and honed. Cassie McDaniel wrote an excellent article over on A List Apart called Design Criticism and the Creative Process. Read and learn.

In addition to gracefully accepting and integrating criticism into your design process, coming to the realization that the client probably knows more about their brand/product/service than you do is paramount. The client should have input on your design(s) and contrary to what we’ve been telling ourselves — sometimes the client is right. It’s far too easy to dismiss a client idea or suggestion under the guise of designer know-it-all. Instead work with your clients (and committees) to help build better solutions that meet their objectives.

So, embrace that criticism and/or a client feedback and use it to help make your work relevant, better and the right solution for your clients. And if nothing else, go outside and toss a ball around — it’s good for ya.


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