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I am the only qualified designer in the company I work for, and I struggle with someone higher up the food chain, who has no experience in graphic design, who doesn't know current trends or anything of the sort, looking at my work and giving me vague instructions such as - "give it some more colour" or "jazz it up a bit".

I did a nice black on yellow advertisement which utilised nice typography and a visual hierarchy, was well put together with the 2 colours. His comment was "give it some more colour, maybe some bubbles to make it a bit flashier". Problem is "more colour" ruins the effect in my opinion. Basically he seems to think "more is more" and I think his suggestions are just distracting from the main message of the piece. Basically my problem is I feel I'm taking instructions from someone who knows less about design than I do.

How do you deal with this sort of thing? My thought is get him to tell me exactly what he wants and then just do it, but what he does it he gives really vague instructions like "spruice it up" or something, and then I have to think of a way to make my design worse all on my own.

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    This is normal, engineers take orders from marketting and management. Same for restaurant chefs, arcitects etc. So all experts face this problem. Its especially problematic when your boss has a wildly different level of education. – joojaa Feb 11 '15 at 7:27
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    When this stuff happens to me, I visit clientsfromhell.net and I realize things could be much much worse. – Voxwoman Feb 11 '15 at 14:06
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    related question: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/44923/… – Vincent Feb 11 '15 at 16:25
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    I don't understand why you think this is a problem. If you want to create art to your specifications (and yours alone) then become a solo artist and design and sell you products exactly how you want them. Otherwise, your product is built by your team. On a team everyone's opinion should be considered. You may be the expert designer but it doesn't mean you have the best ideas. Your expertise is evaluating the team's ideas and offering ways on how to best incorporate those ideas or make a compelling case why a particular idea doesn't work.... – Dunk Feb 11 '15 at 18:04
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    Be thankful your boss's ideas are vague and not specific. That gives you freedom to use your expertise on how best to incorporate his ideas. Would you rather they say "put a balloon here", "use 12 point font there", "I want the red font on the blue background" etc...Not all team ideas will be good but you should be able to use your expertise to demonstrate or make a compelling case on why a particular idea isn't good. Just like programmers, there is more to being a professional programmer than coding. The same goes for being a graphic artist. Learning to work as a team is an essential skill. – Dunk Feb 11 '15 at 18:06
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After spending many sessions reviewing projects I'm curious to know if you met what the requirement was and was their enough information before you did the design. In no way am I trying to be rude but we are only receiving one side of the spectrum and if he's asking for more colors I wonder was this an "open" design.

I struggle with someone higher up the food chain, who has no experience in graphic design

Then communicate, communicate, and again communicate. If they have no clue then educate them, NICELY, dont get offended, dont become rude and explain to them about the design. I think DA01 put it nicely when he said let the "design speak". In time you will either hate going into work or lose the passion. Tons of people in different fields experience the same issues and it is very common in the corporate world where you have an educated person that understands what to do and then you have someone higher up that doesn't understand anything about how a system work and wants to put their spin on it or put their two cents in. I battle it everyday in the web realm but I enjoy what I do and I know I'll have to educate on why something was done (think I vented).

doesn't know current trends

Sorry I dislike this mentality because good design is good design. If you are following "trends" you are just riding the bandwagon of over played designs.. Case in point look at flat web design. Also, if you follow "trends" you will be re-doing your work about every two to five years depending on the trend.

looking at my work and giving me vague instructions such as - "give it some more colour" or "jazz it up a bit"

Have you reached out and asked for examples in the brief of the project or asked him now what colors he likes? As said above is your design open or is their a requirement? You have to treat your boss and the people in your company just like you would do when freelancing and ask. If they cant show you, ask for an example, are they trying to mimic another project even? Is the design supposed to be a sales run? Don't go into it offensively, stop, take a break, and try to understand what they want and see. I've had one instance in a web design project where I had to physically walk in with an iPad and about 25 images of different sites just to figure out what the client wanted and it turned out what we thought was completely different than what we were told.

I did a nice black on yellow advertisement which utilised nice typography and a visual hierarchy, was well put together with the 2 colours. His comment was "give it some more colour, maybe some bubbles to make it a bit flashier".

It sounds like an awesome design, but as said already in the answer, did you meet the requirement? Was there a color palette requested? Did you ask for an explanation on "more colour"? Is he talking about more shadowing, highlights, physically adding another color like orange?

Problem is "more colour" ruins the effect in my opinion. Basically he seems to think "more is more" and I think his suggestions are just distracting from the main message of the piece. Basically my problem is I feel I'm taking instructions from someone who knows less about design than I do.

I think you're taking the design to heart (which is not bad) and maybe are getting burned at not receiving designs that require no revisions. This sounds differently then what Im trying to say. Its great that you're passionate about your design BUT you must give in on some change from your boss. You shouldn't go into a design with this is the way and Im always right mentality. I say that because how do you know if he thinks more is more and that is what he wants? If he said he wanted more color then there has to be a reason behind it. Find out that reason and see if you can "jointly" come to a decision on what the project is to be.

How do you deal with this sort of thing? My thought is get him to tell me exactly what he wants and then just do it, but what he does it he gives really vague instructions like "spruice it up" or something, and then I have to think of a way to make my design worse all on my own.

This is common in what many designers face day in and day out. People that cannot comprehend a creative mindset need more communication and you will, at times, find yourself asking the same question four times till you can pull the information from your boss or colleagues. I would suggest, just based on the question format, take a breather, stop and think why they are wanting this, was the brief incomplete, did I not get enough information, is the intended project making the boss think it mimics an existing design?

  • Thanks for the great comment, and also to everyone else who answered. When I meant current trends I didn't convey what I meant correctly. I just meant general design theory and knowing what good design is. I meant modern design I guess, and I said trends because obviously design has evolved over time. – Simon Feb 12 '15 at 6:59
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This is common. Sometimes surmountable. Sometimes not.

What you can try is to 'sell' your solution rather than merely present it. Explain why you made the decisions you did. Why did you go only 2 color? Why did you chose the typefaces you did? Etc. Some call this 'design speak'. The ides is to show your boss that there was thought put behind it--based on design theory--and not just your random opinion.

It can also help to show things like what the competition does as well as what leaders in other industries do. If Coca Cola can get away with 2-color ads, why not your company? The idea here is to get your boss to feel like your design places them in the company with the best companies in other industries.

But, in the end, sometimes bosses are just a pain and didn't really hire you to design as much as they hired you to simply do what you tell them to do. In that case, update the resume.

  • Yea, it's frustrating...nearly everything I do has "edits" by him that are just suiting his own weird taste. Nothing pragmatic at all, everything I do it's all "add some swirls" or some pointless bullshit like that. And to think, I look at all the old work that was done before I started working there, and it's all 100% total GARBAGE. Looks like it was done in Microsoft Paint, no lie. Makes me wonder. – Simon Feb 11 '15 at 7:54
  • @Simon I'm in the exact same position as you - the only qualified designer in my place of work and my boss ALWAYS has his own input on my finished work and wants me to "sex it up", sometimes to the point where I don't like the look of it anymore but it's happened so many times that I just do it to keep him happy. – SaturnsEye Feb 11 '15 at 9:25
  • @Simon You have a "thumbprinter" boss. This person must feel like he's touched something (left his thumbprint on it) and made discernable changes, or he hasn't done his job. – Lauren Ipsum Feb 11 '15 at 11:38
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    Thumbprint bosses could be effectively handled with ducks. See this question and its comments and answers for more about ducks. – Vincent Feb 11 '15 at 13:10
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From http://blog.codinghorror.com/new-programming-jargon/:

This started as a piece of Interplay corporate lore. It was well known that producers (a game industry position, roughly equivalent to PMs) had to make a change to everything that was done. The assumption was that subconsciously they felt that if they didn't, they weren't adding value.

The artist working on the queen animations for Battle Chess was aware of this tendency, and came up with an innovative solution. He did the animations for the queen the way that he felt would be best, with one addition: he gave the queen a pet duck. He animated this duck through all of the queen's animations, had it flapping around the corners. He also took great care to make sure that it never overlapped the "actual" animation.

Eventually, it came time for the producer to review the animation set for the queen. The producer sat down and watched all of the animations. When they were done, he turned to the artist and said, "that looks great. Just one thing - get rid of the duck."

You don't tell us if the designs you're producing are for internal use, or for customers of your company. Chances are, your boss will have to "sell" the design to someone else as well, and he needs to be able to answer some "why this way? why not ...." questions. And he might, quoting the example, need to subconsciously feel he's adding value.

Don't give him only your best design, give him various examples. Tell him which one has which advantages and disadvantages, and why. Give him a way to convince himself he was the one to make the final decisions. After all, that's what he (thinks he) is paid for.

  • I have also noticed this trait of management to feel the need to change something about the design, though I've never phrased it quite so politely. – Voxwoman Feb 11 '15 at 14:08
  • I love that story. Also referred to as the "hairy arm technique". This sums it up nicely: "I've been doing this a long time, I don't need to 'put my stamp' on everything. But most clients always do, don't they?" – JohnB Feb 11 '15 at 18:24
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There are a couple of ways to approach this scenario:

Provide more than one thing for him to choose among. Be prepared, however, for the boss to choose the "worst" one of the set as his favorite.

Be able to defend your design decisions with concrete evidence "studies have shown that using orange increases conversion rates by 15%"

Don't make this personal This is the best position to maintain your sanity and your blood pressure. It's going to be your boss who's butt is on the line if the piece isn't successful. If the final work is really hideous, leave it out of your portfolio (and include your beautiful, rejected version).

4

Remind him of the purpose / target audience of the piece. "Yes Bob, I see what you mean that purple dinosaurs would make it pop, but I think ukrainian hipsters are more into subtle patterns"

1

To elaborate a bit more on @Voxwoman's first point:

Providing options is a technique that has worked great for me when I have had to deal with thumbprinter bosses or clients.

Instead of presenting them with one finished product or draft, I present them with an array of options. I tend to prepare three. I explain the differences and let them choose which one they think is the best. This gives them the opportunity to contribute making them feel they have been part of the process. In my experience this reduces the requests for edits, because they feel their contribution is important for the process.

It also makes me feel better, since they are choosing, true, but the three options are mine.

This does not necessarily mean that I have to work 3 times more to create extra versions. They can be slight variations or those paths that I abandon along the creation process because at the end one has to choose one final path.

Eventually, if you work with them for long enough, you might even learn how to be sneaky and include options they will definitely dislike, leading them to choose the one you prefer. This is not manipulative... (well maybe it is a bit) but an educational technique. You can even use those edits they request that you think will definitely not work as one of the options for them to choose, but execute them in a way that shows why they don't work. Not as a "see how horrible this looks, dummy" slap in the face action but as an honest variation. If it really really really does not work, let them learn it by themselves rather than challenging. Challenge puts people in a defensive or obstinate mindset.

One last thing: I know bosses/clients can be seen as the enemy, but don't forget they are humans too. They also have ideas, tasks to accomplish, goals to meet, egos to nurture and experience accumulated they expect to be respected. Being a programmer and a designer myself I have been in both sides of this problem. I know how hurtful it can be when somebody wants to slash your creation and turn it into a collage or ignore your explanation of why you have done things in a certain way. I also know, though, how irritating it can be for the "other side" when you are trying to explain a requirement and the creator is stuck on making you feel like a neanderthal just because you fail understand the importance of good kerning or the inherently glorifying virtues of choosing LAMP solutions over Microsoft.

protected by Mᴏɴᴋᴇʏ Feb 11 '15 at 15:45

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