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Ken Magill

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But What about 'Designers from Hell?'


By Ken Magill

One of the more amusing websites for those whose jobs are connected to creating marketing and advertising materials is Clients from Hell.

The site offers a steady stream of anecdotes about ridiculous, silly, rude and stupid client behavior submitted by anonymous designers.

There’s just one problem with Clients from Hell: It’s too one sided. There needs to be a Designers from Hell.

I’ve worked with enough of them to know that for many of them, reading is not their primary strength.

Words are simply colors on a page crying out for a clean, well-balanced look. Designers are often more interested in demonstrating their creative genius than getting the thing they’re designing to do what it’s actually supposed to do: communicate.

A colleague once told me a story of a magazine he worked for where editorial took a back seat to design.

He said: “The head designer once came up to me and said: ‘Can you change the lead [sentence] so it begins with an ‘O’?’”

An inability to recognize that aesthetics are secondary to communication in marketing and advertising isn’t universal in the design profession—I’ve worked with some really good designers—but it’s still rampant.

Consider the widespread use of reversed, sans serif type in print. When a designer creates a page with reversed, sans serif type, the last thing they’re thinking about is its readability.

And it’s not just typography that suffers from too many designers’ inability to refrain from indulging themselves at the expense of whatever it is they’re creating.

In another life, I was a copy writer for a small, four-title business-to-business cataloger. I also supervised the designers for a very brief period. [It didn’t work out. Let’s just say my people skills are so finely tuned, I deftly managed my way out of a job. Translation: They friggin’ hated my ass so much the boss had to fire me before we had a workplace shooting.]

In any case, the head marketer there once decided he wanted one of the catalog’s prices displayed in bursts—those yellowy orange things that look like little sale explosions.

Of course, designers universally hate bursts.

And the designer given the burst assignment reacted with predictable disgust. “I refuse to design a Tide box,” she said.

This company sold decidedly unsexy products like hand trucks, bubble wrap, safety signs, white boards and first aid supplies. As a result, a Tide-box type burst was pretty much exactly what the boss was asking for.

I’m not sure if that particular designer created the “burst” that was to come—they all had the same penchant for self indulgence—but when it finally was unveiled, it was … drum roll please … something that looked like a sunflower with teeny, tiny petals all bent just ever so slightly to the left.

Each page of the catalog featured a smattering of warm, round, happy-glowy sunflowers featuring the prices of things like wire ties—just perfect for our warehouse-manager/purchasing-agent demographic.

And the catalog went out that way.

Message to designers who want to indulge their creativity in a direct marketing shop: Take a jewelry class.

Editor’s request: Got any good/bad designer stories? Send them to I’ll publish them here.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Reid Armstrong
Date: 2013-03-25 17:09:22
Subject: DesignerFromHell

Hello, I think we are definitely on the same page. Would love if I could share some of your stories on a new blog i've just created.