The Other Kind of Client—September 22nd, 2009

April 12, 2021

Opposite the wide-open approach adopted by one client, as I described last time, is the fully hands-on manner of another of my current clients. This can, and did, work as well as the first case. While the confidence of a client to proceed with a design exactly as I choose, and hearing him answer “You’re the designer,” to every question I ask feels really great and often leads to special work, pleasing a client in the most efficient way on a time-constrained project always benefits from the client’s ability to express what they want clearly and with few words.

So this second client hired me to create a cover, as well as for the design and layout of their book’s interior. The text itself has not been completed; but they needed the cover quickly to include it in their new catalog.

“I’ll send you the 2 photos to use on the cover,” my contact person, the publisher’s managing editor wrote to me in an email. “Look at our book, In Hostile Skies, which should be on our website … This is a similar book and can be treated in a similar way, as long as the design is not identical.”

The same but different would seem to be the starting point, as below, although not particularly interesting. And definitely not inspiring, I think, to a potential buyer of the book.

My problem with this first cover was the wasteland of green in the bottom half of the cover. I also thought it appeared as if bombs are dropping on the General. So I tried switching things around.

There are things about my second effort that I liked—again, the color of the background against the color of the duotone, for instance. But the logic or, rather, the illogic of the plane in the sky dropping bombs at the bottom of the cover bothered me some. And after staring at my two attempts and the cover from the earlier book, I realized I might be starting to lose objectivity. I thought it was time to use my two efforts as a starting point for some feedback.

“Okay, here’s a direction for tinkering,” said the managing editor. “Let’s start with the second one, with the planes at the bottom, since, as you say , the other one looks too much like it’s the general who is being bombed!”

Next the publisher’s director spoke up:

“I would recommend eliminating the grey-blue screen and instead expanding the bomber picture to cover the entire background with—as you indicated—the bombed-out cityscape [a second photo was sent to me] at the bottom (fading into each other, no hard edges). The color photo of Arnold—which is good—should fade into the black and white background photo, instead of the hard-edged black frame. Lastly, perhaps change the color of the type to something that will ‘pop’ and also complement the picture of Arnold, maybe a warm red or burgundy. The font need to be changed to something more modern, hip.”

I loved the idea of the cityscape below planes dropping bombs. Whether it would work remained to be seen. More unsettling was the idea of a typeface to “jazz up” the look. Then I remembered an idea of my own that I rejected early on, one that I thought too obvious: a typeface with an Asian feel to it. And fading the two background photos into each other made me love Photoshop more than ever.

This last was rated “a go,” underscored by the author’s blessing: “Please pass on to the designer my warmest thanks for the outstanding work on the Cataclysm cover.”

My point is that client input can be helpful and part of a project’s success—when the client is clear and concise.

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