Jun 27, 2014

Well, I Fucked That Up. What I Learned & What I Still Don't Know

A recent logo project of mine started as any good one does. The client and I had good conversation via email, setting up a schedule, a budget, and had a good brief and good ideas to start the project. This was one of those where when I sat down to gather images and make notes to sketch off of I thought "I'm going to crush it!".

Where I Went Wrong

No Contract - I don't always do contracts with clients. It's rare that I don't get paid for my work, especially when I hold the files hostage until final payment, but a contract will make sure you do. At least, it gives you some legal power. This project started so well, I thought there was nothing to fear and everything was going to go smoothly. I received 50% upfront payment to begin and trusted I wouldn't have any problems with the client.

Overly Confident - I guess a better way to say that is I was cocky about what I thought I could do, because I never mentioned fees for additional rounds of revision. I always do 1 for free if it is needed and thought that would be all I would need for this project. I was excited about this and thought there was no way I could fail.

What Happened

I usually do 1-3 logo concepts to show a client. For this, I presented 4 because I felt really good about all of them. And when I say good, I mean I truly felt each one was a version of something they wanted, that followed the brief, that was of a quality I approved of, and worked in every application they needed. (We just didn't have color selected yet).

The client didn't like any of them. At least not any as a whole, only elements of some. I said I would get back to them in a few more days with more concepts. I was a bit stunned, these logos just "wasn't what we're looking for".

Gathering myself and still feeling confident because I had some other designs in the sketchbook and in the original Ai file, I took the best remaining 4 logos, went with their input from before, and put them into a PDF presentation, but this time with a couple of pages that broke down the aesthetic of the images of logos they liked which they supplied me with. It was detailed, pointing out patterns and connections between everything they liked, how I carried that over to this new batch of designs, and another page which explained what inspired my designs and how it related to their business.

The client didn't like any of them.

At this time, they still had not lost hope, but I had. I felt like I absolutely nailed it. . . and the client wasn't interested in anything I was showing them. I then gathered 4 more designs I had previously considered and presented them, keeping in mind the previous comments they had before. We then started changing shapes, fonts, and they gave me completely new designs to go off of. They supplied colors. I changed a stroke from 12pts to 6 pts, added strokes, tried alternate color applications. I gave them whatever they wanted, just to get the project over with because there was nothing more I could do myself to help them, except to build what they were telling me to. So I did, sent off 3 more of their ideas for designs and took a 3 day break from the project.

When I got back to the emails, there was suddenly a deadline and it was the next day. Not only did I have 1 day to do more of their final request, but I was up against the clock too, and my 3 day absence was not appreciated. They "would liked to have had more time to do the final design".

So, I did it, matched their final request perfectly, sent a preview image of the final design, sent the invoice for the remaining 50% initial payment (with no revision rounds charged) and held the design hostage until payment was received.

All I received after was an email saying "due to the lack of progress on this project, we decided to move in a new direction. We felt like we weren't getting an acceptable level of work". Without a contract biding them to this project, There was nothing more I could do. I got screwed, but it was my own fault.

What I Learned

Do A Contract - At least with people you've never worked with before. There are 3 clients I've had for years now and our projects always go smoothly and turn out awesome. I like being able to crank out a quality design for them without any paperwork or worry about if I'll be getting paid. But I have to realize that not everyone is that awesome to work with.

Stay Grounded and Prepare For Everything - I won't ever go into a project again without laying out all the possible delays and charges for those additional hours. Have a system of work/payment and stick to it. Don't ever think you're going to crush a design so hard that there's no way anyone wouldn't like it or want to change it.

What I Still Don't Know

Suddenly, A Wild Deadline Appears - There was never a mention of it before. It was on my schedule and we were in contact every day or 2.

Why The Logos Weren't Good Enough - They saw 12 original designs and didn't like any of them. I did exactly what they wanted when they showed me exactly what they wanted, and they didn't like any of those. I have no idea what this was about.

What Is Good Enough? - I hope I get to see their final logo. It's probably not a good thing to do, but I think I want to see it because I want to compare myself to it. It has to be a really creative, smart, well crafted design I think. It's got to be something that makes you feel dumb because you didn't do it first. I guess I'm looking for what I missed in the project.

Stay thirsty, friends.


  1. Been there, done that. It sucks. Trust me, when you see the "new and improved" logo, it will probably suck big time. That will make you feel a mixture of both pride and bitterness :) A great reminder though, so thanks for sharing.

  2. Lets just hope the new designer they hire doesn't steal any of your original ideas. I have seen your logos and they are well thought out, look clean, and they all have an appropriate color palette. Great post for any freelance designer.