Pink Shoe Diaries - The "Dirt" on Being a Designer

Sometimes clients give me reason to want to blow off some steam. This is where I will do it - anonymously.

How Not to Work for Free

Subject: CD Cover Design...

Hello my name is Tammy, my cousin Pammy* is a singer/songwriter based in Nashville. Her name is Pammy. Well her CD was just finished, BUT...we need a CD cover (artwork). Hopefully we can work with you. I seen some of the stuff you have done in the past-looks good!!!! Well I better get! Thanks

Pink Shoes
I'm certainly interested in working with you and Pammy on that, Tammy. If you can give me some more details as to what you want, I can write up a proposal and give you a price.

Hey Pink Shoes, thanks for your reply to my email! We are basically looking for something with a ''photo'' theme, since the name of the CD is Snap Shot! If you know what I mean! Just something really fun, exciting, and eye catching. I have attached a picture of a CD Cover we have done in the past, but we want something more creative! So, nothing really in mind, just something fun, eye catching and to go with the Snap Shot theme! So, Please get back to me with the prices!! Thanks

[The photo attached was of a CD cover that bore an alarming resemblence to Shania Twain's Greatest Hits, but with Pammy.]

Pink Shoes
That's not a bad cover. I would be happy to work on the latest.

My price for the front jewelcase cover and spine (for the side of the jewel case) together is $200. It would be an additional $200 for design of a back cover, to include elements from the front cover and text information such as a song listing. A design for the CD label will be $100, again to match the others, and using much the same images and text.

Do you already have some photographs you want featured as "snap shots," or ideas of what the images should contain? My fees do not include any custom photography work. Let me know if you need for me to hire a photographer.

Will any of that work for you? If so, I can write up a formal proposal/contract.

Because you are a new client and out of state, I would prefer payment up front. If you want to mail a check, I will give you my address. Alternately, you may send the money via PayPal to [email deleted].

Hey that would be great. I do not have PayPal...and do not plan on getting it! So, I will send you a check. If you could give me your address, I will send it out ASAP. I was also wondering if you could do me a sample...something I could see-but you can put in big letters across it SAMPLE!! LOL If you know what I mean. I just wanna see how it would look before I pay for it. Thanks!

Pink Shoes
Hi Tammy!

I can understand that you would want to see what I could do before sending payment, but even creating that sample mockup would take hours of work on my part.

What my proposal will include, however, is three design mockups to choose from. That is, once I receive payment. You will be able to choose one of the three and make revisions to it as you see fit before I deliver the final files to you.

Do you want all three: the front cover, the back cover and the label, for a total of $500?

Again, do you have some photographs in mind for the "snap shots"?

My mailing address is [address deleted].

Yes we do have ''snap shots'' already. But...Pammy is doing another photoshoot in the next few weeks-therefore, the photos we want to use are not all done yet!! It has been a while since her last photoshoot, and she doesnt want the old pics out there! So, shes doing a photo shoot in Florida next weeks!


And that was the last I heard of Tammy.

*Names changed

Then, why'd ya ask me?

A local gal called me up the other day to find out why she couldn't just scan something in and save for web with transparency. I spent a little time (for free) explaining pixels with color value versus pixels without color value. She eventually decided to have me take care of the logo she hand-drew and scanned in. I redrew it in Illustrator, and she was happy with it.

Then she told me she was a web designer, and wanted me to give a once-over to her redesign of a web site for a local club. I said sure, send it over.

When I took a look at the new site design, ugh. It was a mess. I asked her if she wanted me to be completely honest in my evaluative report, and she said yes. She had so many BASIC things wrong with the site design that I didn't even go into finer details.

Centered titles and subtitles were all over the place. There was no grid and nothing to make up for the lack of a grid. Subnav did not look clickable. All the photographic images had been saved as GIF files, so the file sizes were huge and the photos looked tragically grainy. There were two shades of red and two shades of blue used for text, for no particular reason, and colors which did not go well together. She wanted to put black "frames" around the images, which would have looked awful given the beige background and red and blue text. She wanted to use three or four kinds of font, including a "cursive system font" (there is none.) I gave her a lot of great ideas for improving the look of the site drastically, including how to get the text to stop wrapping around the menu block in its funky manner.

Here is her response from today:
I read your suggestions and I appreciate it. I will try to implement some of the changes.

I have given the site to many people and things have worked well. I realize that the larger monitors wrap the text differently and this changes the look of the site a bit. To me, that is just part of web design. I see what you mean about buttons and underlining with navigation, but I don't like buttons or lines. You may have noticed that there are no lines at all on the site unless the mouse hovers over a link. I will see if I can live with that change since I agree it adds to utility, but in my opinion takes away aesthetically from the site. Aesthetics and warmth are important to the site since we are all about a beautiful culture and want to draw the viewer into a beautiful inviting space. I tended to stay away from things that are too technical looking.

Could you send me one picture with a darker frame?

One question that you didn't answer is the cursive writing. Is there something that will show up that is beautiful but that shows up the same on all browsers and is easy to read.

I am strongly considering sending you the original pictures and having you shrink them. I would like the site to be no larger than 500Kb. Do you think that is possible? I still want the one large picture. The graphics have always been gifs. Can I just change the file extension to jpg?
Why oh why do people feel welcome to call themselves web designers when they haven't a clue?

Young Rembrandts

This has little to do with designing, but it does have to do with teaching, my other vocation.

A gal in Plano, Texas, found my regular blog by typing in "Young Rembrandts" in Google. She was considering working for them, and even buying a franchise except that she did not have the funds.

Here are her specific questions and my responses.
Do you feel like the $$ was fair for what you did?
No. I will be leaving after this semester is over because one hour-long class (plus prep, set up and take down) pays only $25, and can ruin my ability to make a day’s income elsewhere (I also teach day-long classes at New Horizons.)

What about mileage?
I used to travel over an hour front and back to two separate classes. Fortunately, my Director found me two schools a little closer, but it’s still about 40 minutes both ways twice a week.

Any general remarks about the program? …your experience with it?
It is nice that the curriculum is preplanned for us and takes little prep work once you get the hang of it. All of the supplies are provided. On the other hand, the kids ask me “did you draw that?” I’m slightly embarrassed when I tell them I did not. I wonder if they decide not to trust my skills as an art teacher because I didn’t actually create the lesson.

Any behavioral issues with the kids, or were they generally engaged with what they were doing?
There are problem kids even though assumedly they want to be there. Talking while I’m instructing is the most frustrating. There are also less common issues with throwing things, little rebellious sneaky gestures that are unwarranted, poking each other, getting into other people’s desks, or damaging supplies. I find that the most effective response to these other issues, is to have a child move to another spot and take his supplies with him (it’s always been a boy I’ve moved, although they are not always the ones talking while I’m instructing.) Once a child is moved elsewhere, he always settles in and does a great drawing.

How much ‘stuff’ did you have to take to the programs? How heavy? (dr limits what I can lift)
There is quite a bit of stuff. I have a small plastic hand cart on wheels full of supplies, which I lift in and out of the truck of my car. I’m guessing it weighs about 20 pounds.

As an artist (which I gathered, also, from your blog), what are your observations about teaching kids to draw somewhat formulaically?
It’s the best way to get them started. I did not realize this at first, because I came from a generation of art students that was taught the opposite. However, it’s the method that gets them prepared for looser learning methods later. I tell my kids to “draw what you see.” Then I show them how to see. The main drawback of this program is that there’s no progression of skills. The drawings don’t get progressively harder, some are just a little harder than others. I also wish I could teach them some complimentary methods such as blind contour drawing.

What were the positives (for you as a teacher)? The negatives?
I am glad I had the experience. I will be going into a teaching credential program next year with that experience (plus adult ed) under my belt. I also enjoyed being with most of the kids, although I really do not enjoy dealing with discipline. Constantly halting a lecture to ask students to stop talking is exhausting – I’m still learning how best to deal with this. The part I enjoyed most was that I was teaching art and I got to see pretty good results for my efforts. I think the program provides something the schools stopped providing a long time ago. I just think it can be done better.

Are there any questions I should be sure to ask in my interview?
How long has this franchise been in place? Is it stable? How many teachers are currently employed? How many classes are scheduled, at how many schools? How many total students are enrolled? Are the school employees receptive or not to your presence (this is a for-profit venture – some education-types have a problem with that even though it’s providing a valuable service)? Are the teachers whose classrooms you use receptive or not (I have one teacher who treats me like I’m a real pain, although I do my best to keep her classroom intact)?
My last day teaching for Young Rembrandts will be tomorrow. Our local director is likely going to sever her tie with the franchise this summer. She’s suffering financially after beginning the program here last August. She's considering starting a similar program on a not-for-profit basis, and I may help her build curriculum.

The Primadonna

One of my good and faithful clients referred one of his friends to me. This is almost always the ideal situation, because you draw conclusions about the new person's stability and willingness to pay based on the qualities of your existing client. You can judge a person by his friends, right? This conclusion is usually sound, but I have found at least one exception.

In this case, the new client is a former ballerina (I'll call her H) who runs a ballet school. H is emotional, frantic, and seems to have difficulty forming logical connections between events. She has a website which she told me was designed and hosted by her ex-son-in-law (I'll call him P.) H was asking me to redesign the site, but first to see what I could do to remove P from the picture, web-wise (P was listed as the Technical Contact with Internic.) H had no idea what the FTP login was for the current web host. I assessed the situation and recommended that she sign up for hosting and domain name registration through my preferred web host. The web host would send out emails confirming the domain name transfer to both H and P. So long as they both responded with approval, the domain name would become fully under her control.

What I heard a lot of, and what I really didn't care to hear, was what a prick P was. He and H's daughter had recently gone through a messy divorce, and H was convinced that we would lie at any provocation. This information was not conveyed through sober, rational sentences, but in a way that suggested that H was going to have a nervous breakdown any minute now. In the couple of months I have been working with her, she's had days where she's called my cell phone four times in one hour when I was unable to answer the phone. My original client later admitted that his friend H tends to be dramatic, and always seems to have a big story for everything.

I persevered.

Time went by and the new web host let me know that the domain name was "locked" and that neither party had agreed to the transfer. Ugh. I let H know and she had some sort of conversation with P (I'm imagining that it was full of accusations.) I eventually got a phone call from P telling me that he was more that happy to remove his association with this website, and that he'd done everything on his end to let go of the domain name. He sounded like a reasonable guy. H called multiple times that day, but I was sick from food poinsoning and had already sent her an email that morning letting her know I was bedridden. I did not answer her calls, but I responded the next day.

I got H to call the registrar, Network Solutions, confirm her identity, and have the contact information all switched to her alone. She did do this successfully. Then her website went down. Network Solutions changed the DNS too, the bastards, the somewhere on their own servers. H did not tell me her website was down, and I'm not in the habit of checking all my client's websites on a daily basis.

I asked the new host to attempt the transfer again, which they did. It turns out that Network Solutions strings the transfer out for about a week unless you read between the lines in their emails. I later found out that "click here to cancel this request, otherwise do nothing" also means "click here to approve this request." Go figure.

In the mean time, while waiting for the transfer to go through (I have H's site waiting in it's temp location on the new host,) and while the DNS is all botched by Network Solutions so that the website is down, I get a call from H saying that we need to stop everything. She has yet another party involved, someone with whom she's had some kind of bulk hosting deal lined up. All along I had been under the impression that P himself had hosted the site, but here's this other guy (I call him B) who telling her, "This new web designer you've got, I don't know what she's up to but it sounds like she's trying to pirate your domain name!"


So H is freaking out ("I'm so confused, I don't know what to think any more.") She's asking me to reverse everything, send the hosting and domain name registration back where it was. I started getting nagry by this point. She had ignored my invoice billing her for the time spend updated her site -- her friend, my original client, paid it for her, saying that "I owe her some money anyway." Hhad never offered to pay me for my time in dealing with all these phone calls and all the hassle of what should have been a very simple process. I told her that I would call B on the condition that she pay me for me time. She agreed. After about two hours of phone calls with Network Solutions, the new web host, and with H and B, I got everything sorted out.

The phone call with B started with his great deal of suspicion of my motives, and ended with him relenting and even asking for the URL for the new host so he could get out their pricing. He was bewildered that H had not had the contact information on the domain name registration changed long ago, when he had asked her to do it and she said she had done it. B also pointed out a couple of websites he had that needed redesigning and asked me if I'd be interested in the work. I told him sure, but unsure myself if I wanted to work with someone who began our acquaintance with accusing me of trickery.

Two days later, the website was live again, I helped H with some additional email issues, and fortunately have not heard from her in several days. I invoiced her for my additional time. I wonder if I'll ever hear from her again?

The moral to this story: avoid primadonnas and Network Solutions.

A client freaks out for no apparent reason.

Pink Shoe 6/07/05 8:41am Pacific
Subject: Stationary

Hi Joe! Is the logo etc. black, and the lettering blue, or is everything dark blue?

Client 6/08/05 7:58am Eastern
Subject: Stationary

You are scaring me about your question on a DARK LOGO. If you go back to the letter that i sent you with the $250.00 check, you will see the logo is dark blue including the lettering. Rgds, Joe

Client 6/08/05 8:36am Eastern
Subject: Logo

I am upset that you would ask me which color to have the logo and the lettering. Do you recall receiving a BLUE [company name] logo envelope with a BLUE LOGO [company name] stationary and a check of $250.00 in it? I have never seen a BLACK logo airplane.

Pink Shoe 6/08/05 7:55am Pacific
Subject: Logo

Hey, hey! It’s no big deal! I did not recall. It’s a very simple matter to make everything the same color. =) [Side note: everything was in vector format in Illustrator - Pink Shoes]

Pink Shoes 6/08/05 8:12am Pacific
Subject: Logo

Is this what you had in mind for the stationery?

Client 6/08/05 7:24pm Eastern
Subject: Logo

Yes..... but I think without the line at the bottom it looks better. What do you think?

Pink Shoes 6/08/05 5:46pm Pacific
Subject: Logo

Yes, I do too. Here it is again.

Client 6/09/05 9:23am Eastern
Subject: What is Blue?

So that we get the right blue, I can overnight to be delivered at your home either tomorrow or SAT whichever day you prefer a [company name] envelope and previous letterhead showing the BLUE color that I am talking about. I would also send you a check for the remaining fees. What do you say?

Pink Shoes 6/09/05 8:42am Pacific
Subject: What is Blue?

It would be far simpler and more convenient to you to just take your letterhead sample with you to the printer when you order your printing and select a type of paper. Tell them that you want to use “one spot color” and that you want to match your existing sample. The shade of blue I used in the PDF does not matter. The shade of blue that the printer uses does matter. Does this make sense?

Client 6/09/05 11:53am Eastern
Subject: What is Blue?

Yes, it does make sense.

Pink Shoes 6/09/05 9:07am Pacific
Subject: What is Blue?

Great! One more thing – just in case you weren’t aware. Be sure to bring a digital copy of the PDF when you go to your printer, rather than a print-out. Burn it to CD, or email it to them ahead of time.


(I should note that this client has been pretty level-headed all the rest of the time and this morning thanked me for my professionalism.)


I decided last night that I need an additional blog. I’d coin the term "blog creep," similar to "feature creep," but that’s already been done.

My regular blog covers topics such as design tips and tricks, design-related news, projects I'm working on, fun and interesting stuff I find online, what it's like being a freelance designer, what it's like being a teacher, and what it's like being a small business owner.

Why another blog? Well, I had a conversation with my good friend D. last night, and we agreed that it’d be nice if we had a little place where we could write about the stuff we don’t want our clients to read. There are many occasions where I have some gripe or useful anecdote that other designers might be interested in reading, but I fear that a client may recognize themselves in the story. So I don't blog about it there.

Most times my clients are awesome, and the biggest problems are usually with people who are trying to scam me. But sometimes even my best clients give me reason to want to blow off some steam, and this will be the place I can do it.