Bonnie Siegler | Dear Bonnie

Dear Bonnie: Lost in Louisville

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Dear Bonnie,

Recently I was hired as a freelance designer by a small studio and asked to spin out a number of logos for a presentation to a new client. I was offered a pretty good day rate, and worked hard, but the creative brief was a bit vague. Because of this I took things in a few different directions, and when the studio asked me, at the 11th hour, to make some refinements (equally vague) I declined. This caused some tension and I am wondering which of us was right: me, for wanting clarity and declining when there was none, or the studio, who believe that paying me to do as many variations as I could in two days was what was needed?


Lost in Louisville

Dear L.,
Even the tone of your question is a bit off-putting, so I’m not surprised there was some tension with the studio that hired you.

1. If you thought the creative brief was vague, you should have asked for clarity in the beginning. And then, when you felt the requests for refinements were ambiguous, rather than decline, why didn’t you ask for clarification? If I declined to do everything I didn’t understand at first, I wouldn’t work at all.

2. You were being paid a day rate, which means the studio sort of owns you and your particular skill set for the day. You are supposed to do what they ask you to do. That is the relationship. It actually seems pretty simple and straightforward to me. If they wanted you to do 500 sketches or focus on just one, your job is to assume they know what they need and just do it.

3. You say that you took things in a few different directions “because the brief was vague.” This seems like a good approach even if the brief had been more clear-cut. It’s always good to explore the edges of possible solutions.

4. You were only booked for two days, so was the 11th hour on the second day? If you are telling me that you were running over into day three, maybe you could have asked for an extra day to complete the requests.

If I give you the benefit of the doubt and recreate the situation (minus your attitude), I could see how it would be very frustrating to do work in a kind of void where you are just keep churning it out and are not sure why or if it’s helpful. But again, if that were the case, talking to the studio about it SHOULD have alleviated doubt. Maybe they wanted your collection of random thoughts?

In conclusion, I believe the studio was well within their rights to pay you to do as many variations as you could in two days. What was needed is entirely up to them and your opinion on that point is insignificant. If you are uncomfortable with fulfilling “whatever” is asked of you, maybe you should think about working a different way. That said, I fear if you were being paid by the number of iterations, then we would probably be discussing whether or not looking at the same idea with different typography was an “iteration.”

I assume you aren’t interested in working with this studio again, but if you were, you’d really have to send them a thoughtful note apologizing for the episode and promising to be more accommodating and communicative next time.

Posted in: Business, Dear Bonnie

Comments [1]

Interesting response but biased towards the creative director / studio owner. I agree that designers should speak up and ask for more clarity, but I would side with the designer on this one. Id avoid working for this studio again and find people who give good direction.

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