When Done is Done: Design by committee vs going with your gut.

I took a brief a couple of weeks back. A global look and feel refresh for an air freshner. Not particularly glamourous I’ll grant you, but needs must. And, if I’m honest, I was pretty happy with where I netted out with it. I don’t think there’s any reason that kind of stuff needs to look as bad as it does.

I combined a fresh and clean treatment of their existing logo over some lovely imagery by a couple of emerging photographers who might get some work out of it. Clean typography, nice and open, not crowded out and not really looking like anything else in that arena. The work felt fresh and modern and attractive.

The ECD on the project said I’d nailed it and that he’d “love to decorate his apartment with these pieces”. No lies.

Great. pat on the back, brief solved, move on to the next one.

But no. Hold your horses. This is advertising. On a global scale. You can’t just spend two weeks on something and be happy with it, God forbid. This brief was for a launch NEXT JULY. At the earliest.


The world may have ended before this sees the light of day.

So what’s happening next? Between now and then? Another two weeks for me to ‘drill down’ into the project giving me time to ‘test drive’ the look and feel and ‘kick the tires’ til I’m happy with it. I love those terms.

But I was already happy with it? I’d already kicked the tires? But, ok well, yeah I guess I could refine the placement of the type here and there, tweak this bit a little, see how it works in a couple more formats?

And then? Another presentation. Followed by?


Round 1.

Of, possibly, 10.

40 people made to sit in a room for 3 hours and talk about air freshners and discuss how my work makes them feel.

And how do they feel when they look at my work for 3 hours? Probably pretty bad.

I’ve spent the last 8 years working in advertising and I’ve never heard of one good thing come from a research session.

“It looks a bit like a perfume ad”.

“I don’t like sky”.

“That guy’s eyebrows are shaped strangely, he looks like he might attack me”.

Serious. That came up once.

And this will go on and on. Maybe 10 rounds of research with revisions in-between each until the nice clean work I just presented has been malformed into something bland and uninteresting and dull.

Welcome to the global marketplace.

I strive, in all my work, to maintain an energy and an immediacy. A lot of that comes from experimental techniques that you simply can’t recreate over and over again, and where that’s not possible, I just try to not over-think stuff. There are very few of personal pieces that have taken me longer than 2 days to complete. I just don’t have the patience. Commissions where there are comments from art directors etc naturally take longer.

Now, I’m definitely all about the craft, but I think, as a designer or image maker, learning to know when to step away from a project and put a lid on it – especially when you have a wobbly, meandering project with no real deadline (“I’d like a logo for my coffee shop that I haven’t even found a space for yet”) – really dictates the quality of the final piece.

A lot of work ends up dry and overworked, particularly in the branding field -corporate ID’s regularly take 12-18 months to complete – and, on a personal level, I just think that kind of a timeline undermines your ability to make decisions. When you have to rely on research sessions and design by committee you will always end up with something that’s offensive to no-one but also interesting to no-one. Work that’s inherent desperation to communicate on a mass level just seeps out of it and no-one pays any attention. Noise.

I spent 3 years in (what was) a start up working for clients where you’d have half a day to design a poster. Now I don’t endorse those kinds of deadlines either, but that kind of work certainly put me in good stead for the future.

Learning how to make a call on something is part of your job. Have an opinion, don’t be trampled and know when to walk away from something.

You won’t always get it right but you will learn from it.

I took a brief for a massive phone company in Japan around 5 years ago. The brief that stole Christmas. Over the course of 3 weeks (over Christmas) the brief changed completely 4 times and accrued some 11 or 12 rounds of revisions, at which point I said ‘Fuck it. You clearly have no idea what you want and, more importantly, no respect for my processes. I think we’re done here’. And I took my files and walked away. Just in time for New years Eve.

It was a tough decision to make at the time but an important one and something that I stand by.

And that’s really all I have to say about that.

_ C