The perils of letting clients go behind the curtain

The work that goes into any design project is yours and yours alone. Unless, of course, your client asks to have a quick peek at it. Well, they were warned…

Jamie Jones. whoisjamiejones.com
Jamie Jones. whoisjamiejones.com

“Hi Daniel! Could you send the artwork files over please? We’ll make any last minute amends at our end. Thank you!”

My heart sinks at this perfectly reasonable, chirpy request. I hate this bit. It’s not that I’m overly precious or that I’m unhappy with the design. No, it’s that by sending them the raw, un-PDF’d artwork, I’m letting them get a peek behind the curtain. All of the underlying gubbins will be exposed: grids and guides all over the place; bizarre and inconsistent tags; unconventional processes and unexplainable logic that will make no sense to anyone but me. It all looks wrong.

I worry that my designing will sully the client’s perception of the design. They already like it, but if they see how it’s constructed, what then? You don’t want to think about how a scotch egg is made while you’re eating a scotch egg. The scotch egg is delicious. Don’t think about the scotch egg. Don’t look at the scotch egg. Don’t contemplate how the scotch egg’s various layers are in fact an affront to everything good and pure in the universe. Just eat the scotch egg.

My skilful wrongness is the result of years of working in solitude. My ‘training’ happened within a one-man in-house position, where I was plonked down in front of some very complex and expensive software and told to get on with it. I learnt my trade through a combination of short courses, books, tutorials, reverse-engineering, midnight Googling and good old-fashioned experimenting (nothing beats the ancient art of Poking Things Until They Stop Looking Bad). There was nobody around to correct me, no mentor to tell me that my way of skinning a cat was idiotic and cruel. I didn’t need to share my files with anyone, so it didn’t matter that they were a complete mess. As long as I understood them, it was fine.

Of course, I’ve since realised that some of these self-taught methods were rather inefficient. Experience has refined my processes over the years; stubborn persistence and natural selection forces the most sensible way to do any particular task to the surface. Still, my files are hardly textbook perfect, and more than a few structural peccadillos remain.

So it makes me nervous when I have to show my working. This can be massively detrimental for both myself and the client. In his wonderful book of counter-aphorisms, Popular Lies About Graphic Design, Craig Ward talks about the negativity of open plan offices, and how design can be stymied by observer effect; the problem of constantly having ugly, unfinished work on display for any colleague, client or hovering art director to see. A self-conscious designer doesn’t take risks, and a designer that doesn’t take risks is one that should retire or be put down.

Perhaps this looming performance anxiety is why I prefer to work at home, where I can keep my creative wrongnesses away from prying eyes. Maybe it’s time I made more of an effort to standardise my processes though, fill the gaping holes in my knowledge, go back through all of my funny little habits and learn how to do things the right way. No time for all of that now though – I have a reasonable, chirpy client to deal with. I need to reassure them that they have nothing to worry about.

“I’ll send over the files – but before you have me put down, please take into consideration that behind this curtain I’m self-consciously skinning a cat to make a delicious scotch egg of a design for you, okay?”

Textbook.

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