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Do You Want Fries With That Logo?


From low-budgets to rush jobs to piss-poor project management, every designer has one time or another faced the inevitable, “I need a logo (brochure, website, etc.) done ASAP” scenario. Depending on the designers’ work situation, some can simply choose to decline these projects.

But for many full-time designers, this “rushing creative” is a very real and necessary part of their job requirement. So when asked to “just slap a design together” or “crank it out,” how do we as designers maintain our standards and integrity when a logo must be created in three hours? Or a website in a day? And for that matter, can we?

In this article, Stephanie Orma, a graphic design herself, hangs her head out the drive-through window and shares her personal experience, tips, and advice on how to handle the “hurry-up and be creative” demands of the graphic design industry.

“Fast Food” Design Jobs Link

I recently worked for a short period of time at a marketing firm in which it was my job to produce good design in an unforgivingly short period of time. One week, I was “challenged” to design a logo for a dry cleaner’s company in just one hour. In another, I had to create an annual report in less than three hours.

The timeline to execute these projects (and do good design) seriously puts into question what is feasible, even for the most seasoned and talented of designers. Sketching time is simply out of the question and you better be damn sure your first idea is a good one because that’s all you’ll have time to execute. Needless to say, it was a constant struggle to produce quality work under such conditions.

As a seasoned designer, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into when I accepted the position (although I don’t know if you can ever fully prepare yourself for the internal struggle of “getting a design done vs. getting it done well.) But for newbie designers, I highly recommend thinking twice before readily accepting a “fast food” design position fresh out of school.

First and foremost, I would say: don’t do it. Not only are these types of jobs not portfolio builders, but it’s like flying trapeze without a safety net. Without a skilled mentor to provide guidance, standards below the norm, and lack of experimentation time, these positions can seriously stunt a designer’s growth. For tips on finding design jobs where obscene time-crunch is NOT the norm, check out this interview, “How to Get Hired by the Best Graphic Design Firms…”

Time Matters Link

I think it’s important to note that deadlines and stress on their own are not necessarily negatives. In many situations, they can help heighten and stimulate the creative juices. In her article “Can stress actually be good for you?”1 health editor Jane Weaver of MSNBC makes some excellent points on the upsides of stress. But there’s a point at which extreme deadlines can have reverse and detrimental effects. Thus, certain non-negotiable factors must be present in order to generate good design, namely – time:

  • Time to research and gather information
  • Time to brainstorm, sketch, experiment, and form ideas
  • Time to execute and bring ideas to fruition
  • Time to edit, refine and assess the quality of the creative

That being said, crazy deadlines, whether you’re a newbie designer or seasoned professional are often times the workplace norm. So the next time you go into battle with good old Father Time, be sure to arm yourself with:

Creative Ammunition Link

  1. Keep sources of design inspiration by your side at ALL times (note: inspiration is not stealing). For me, looking at great design (Communication Arts Magazine,2 HOW Magazine,3 AIGA design annuals4) is so utterly inspiring. It helps stimulate my creative juices, gets me excited about graphic design, and reminds me that I too am a good designer.

    Plus, keeping a positive frame of mind is especially important, as it can sometimes feel a bit disheartening when you’re asked to slap some design together in a jiffy.

  2. Stick with the classic typefaces (Garamond, Caslon, Gill Sans, Frutiger, etc.) This is so not the time to be experimenting with new fonts. For a quick reference, Smashing Magazine has a great post on “80 Beautiful Typefaces for Professional Design.” 5
  3. If possible, get briefed as early as possible on a project. Allowing your brain a little “idea incubation time” is better than jumping into a project cold turkey.
  4. Pop on the headphones and turn on some good tunes. Not only does music help put you in a good mood, it helps drown out the chatter around you (not to mention the chatter in your head, “I have how many hours to design this?!”) For further reading on this topic, check out Adelle Charles’ blog’s post, “Music to Feed Your Soul During Crucial Design Moments.” 6
  5. Worse comes to worse, take the work home and do it your own time…on your own dollar. I constantly grapple with this, but sometimes that’s just what you’ve got to do in the name of good design. Of course, I highly recommend informing your boss of the situation, so they are at the very least, fully aware of the unrealistic timelines.
  6. It pains me to say this one…let it go. Just let the design go. Put the mouse down, step away from the keyboard, and just walk away.

Bottom Line Link

Staying in a “fast food” design job for too long can result in early onset designer burnout. To avoid this creative killer, it is highly recommended to pursue other creative endeavors on the side, be it: freelancing in your spare time where you have more control over types of clients, projects, and timelines; taking design classes to sharpen your skills and enhance your portfolio; drawing, painting, and anything else that helps keep those creative juices fresh and the passion in your belly burning bright.

And remember, the next time you’re asked to hurry up and be creative take a moment for yourself, pause, breathe and then in your most nasal, drive-through window voice inquire, “Honey, do you want fries with that logo?”

Resources Link

Footnotes Link

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Stephanie Orma is a San Francisco freelance writer, graphic designer, and illustrator. She’s principal/creative director of Orma Design, as well as the clever greeting card company She's SO Creative. Stephanie is a contributing writer for HOW Magazine and writes on graphic design, branding, and creativity for the SF Examiner.

  1. 1

    Great Stuff

  2. 2

    Syed Balkhi

    May 24, 2009 8:00 am

    Cannot agree with this anymore. In my early days, people would come to me specifically for this because I would create them a website in a day. Yes In a DAY. That means design, code and everything. Working straight 10 – 12 hours in front of my computer. That was really a headache until I decided to SAY NO!

    I didn’t feel bad for turning a client down because I want to produce quality work. Secondly, It gives me more time to myself creating cool things that I love with photoshop.

  3. 3

    cool stuff

  4. 4

    I find myself stuck in the situation now and always have and I totally agree that it stumps your growth not just with your skills but also the time you have as a freelancer to find work! I think I will have to start saying no.

  5. 5

    Thanks for the article. Cheers mate!

  6. 6

    Thanks for this, really, I feel so represented, in my daily job i have always had between a few hours and a couple of days for all my projects @_@ and every time, after 4 or 5 weeks i get into this deep hole of uncreativity, which it’s so hard to get out from…
    To get reinspired i watch and watch and watch, but yeah, it gets to a point sometimes when you are dead tired of never having time to do things seriously… but what can i do @_@

  7. 7

    great post!
    this just came handy for me, since i’m experiencing sometimes that at my job, and the interesting part is that i already have applied some of the tips mentioned hehe.

  8. 8

    A comment from Havana, Cuba. Very interesting and useful article. I’ve seen myself in that kind of situation many times. Thanks for the inspiration websites. In Cuba graphic designers are working like crazy, and many newcomers are arriving into the scene every year in order to put our career in the place it was between 30-40 years ago.

  9. 9

    Spending time on your own dime, and alerting your employer about it will definitely make them aware of the impossible deadlines, but could also backfire and set a precedent.

    Instead of saying “this design only looks this good because I worked at home on it” why not show them two designs?

    Show them the design you had done at the end of the workday, and then show them the design you worked on at home.

    When showing them the second, and in this example better, design, make it very clear that they either start setting deadlines which don’t require you to work at home, or settle for designs like the first one you showed them…

    And stick to it.

  10. 10

    WOW!! perfect timing, two minutes more, I would jump from my window. Thanks, You saved a life!
    For the moment, I will use tip #6, let it go, very very far away… from me!!

    great post! congrats!

  11. 11

    Pssh… I do this on a regular basis. Working 4 years now at a fast food web design company. I create 4-5 websites a week. That translates to about one day, and they’d prefer if I do more. I typically have complete control, though. I have to make a logo, choose a color scheme, select fonts, and stock art. Some of you are lucky that you get to actually be creative once in a while. By the time I get a good idea, the website is already finished, and I’m moving on to the next. On the plus side, I get a steady paycheck, I don’t have to go looking for work, and I make a good chunk of money. It just sucks that I can’t make anything I’m ever proud of.

  12. 12

    Is this meaning that graphics design only work for high paid design? Because if you get work order for low budget design, from the view of business math this opinion can’t be match.
    Your time is your raw material. If you ‘re using a lot of times same as using a lot of raw materials. Mean the cost will be higher.
    In the market, there’s many demand of low budget design without concern any design philosophy inside as long as its good looking.

  13. 13

    Every designer/developer must know their limits, the border between WELL done creativity work and time frame; it’s all about balance. From this on I think everybody should know when to decline a “fast food” design work or to accept it and why to accept it…. And finally, great article! Good job …

  14. 14

    Did I write this? Is this me? Sounds like my job.

  15. 15

    Floris Fiedeldij Dop

    May 24, 2009 11:27 am

    I had to read this twice before I got what this was about. Maybe it’s just not up my alley

  16. 16

    Neil Martin

    May 24, 2009 12:39 pm

    I would highly agree with this article. Unfortunately, I believe that most people outside the design industry do not understand that good design takes time and inevitably, more time than these ‘fast food’ employers will allow.

  17. 17

    you “designer guys” are all alike. you have no idea what the actual costs are to run a business. why not do us the favor by quitting and starting your own firm. eventually you’ll pine for the days of a posh vacation, health care, taxes paid, and a steady paycheck.

    now…. back to work.

  18. 18

    The author is asking the wrong question. It’s not can we do it, or even should we do it. The real question is why would we do it? Why would we work for a client who:

    • Is so disorganized / confused / self-centered that he waits until the last minute?
    • Shows so little regard for the creative process?
    • Shows so little regard for the designer’s time and schedule?
    • Has assigned a low priority to such an important aspect of his business?
    • Has ditched every other designer in town because “they just didn’t get it”?
    • Will not appreciate your work and will not want to pay your rate (“Hey, it only took you a day.”?

    Do you know how many such clients go on to become star clients? Zero. And if you’re working for an agency that expects miracles every day, everything I said goes double.

    If you’re going to be a designer, then act like one and expect the same of your clients. Learn this technique early: Smile and say “No thank you.”

  19. 19

    George McKnight

    May 24, 2009 2:00 pm

    Some great tips here, and would love to send this to my project manager. A proper brief is essential, and having to do jobs quickly and on the cheap angers me. We designers are a valuable commodity, and having to compete alongside the likes of online organizations that’ll offer to produce a logo for $200 makes me sick, and companies that’ll host and design a web site for $350 just makes a mockery of my trade. The internet in general has a lot to answer for in watering down the true nature of what design is about, but what I find is that a good portfolio will work wonders when the next job comes along that you have to quote for. How much are you worth! that’s what you need to ask.

  20. 20

    Liane Blanco

    May 24, 2009 2:18 pm

    Wonderful article, and all too true. What can be worse or almost as bad is the client who has the teenaged nephew who is learning Photoshop and just designed the most wonderful logo and can we please switch it out and oh, make the rest of the site match?

    I am so relieved that I am retired now, and do all this for fun. I’m not as rich, but boy am I happy! ;)


  21. 21

    At 1:09 “john” wrote:
    you “designer guys” are all alike.

    When I read a statement like that, I know that whatever follows will be suited only to improve the lawn.

  22. 22

    A period is time. A period of time is what?
    Something happens for a period, period.

  23. 23

    @john – How about you gain a grasp on the basic principals of Capitalization. The thing is, you can churn junk out all day… but it’s going to hurt your business in the long run.

    Anyways… 1 hour to design a logo? That’s terrible. Informative read though.

  24. 24

    Impeccable timing of this article, having just decided this morning to cease doing freelance design outside of my regular working hours due to the stress involved in doing quick turnaround jobs. Freelance design slowly went from a enjoyable spare time money earner to a chore which i dread doing every time a new job comes in, this is mostly because all of the jobs were needed ASAP. Currently i have 2 corporate identity brief’s that were originally expected to be turned around in a couple of days. As a freelancer this means trying to put in an extra 6-8 hours an evening on top of a full time job, there comes a point where the money is no longer worth the loss of enjoyment of life itself.

  25. 25

    I hate when ppl burn me out!!

  26. 26

    this is seriously good. thanks.

  27. 27

    Tyler Hayes

    May 24, 2009 6:56 pm

    Actually, I wrote that blog post “Music to Feed Your Soul During Crucial Design Moments” on Fuel Your Creativity, not Adelle Charles. Thanks for the great tips!

  28. 28

    I LOVE IT!

  29. 29

    Deadline comes up in every project then why you focus on fast food designer.

    But I like the title of the article


  30. 30

    Sadly times are so rough and slow for me as a freelancer doing this as my only income that I cannot afford to turn down any work.

    Wish I could be even 10% picky about the work I take.. but I can’t or else rent won’t get paid :(

  31. 31

    Dennis van lith

    May 24, 2009 10:26 pm

    Really good article. So good to know what to do when hell opens it’s doors.
    I do almost what was writen here… Before I even begin I absorb all my inspiration
    from websites, magazines and stock. So take your time to browse around before
    even begin on your stressful job that makes it half the work…

  32. 32

    honour chick

    May 24, 2009 10:56 pm

    rushing it never ends up good.

  33. 33

    Good article, i’m a starting designer and i recognize a lot of the things you are telling. And this article is also giving some good tips about how to take a rush job, if you say ‘yes’.


  34. 34

    As soon as I read this I challenged myself to design something in 5 mins. So I made up a name for a company “picture this”(probably exists in real life), and I pretended that I was just handed this brief and only had 5 minutes to design a logo. So this is the result

  35. 35

    Holly Hopper

    May 24, 2009 11:40 pm

    Haha love it! I’m seriously going to ask my boss that next time she gives my an ungodly deadline (which is everyday), “would you like fries with that as well?” HAHAHA love it!

  36. 36

    Great article! i want to see more of these. awareness as a graphic designer amongst the turmoil and whirlwinds of jobs (especially fast food jobs) can be so far removed, and this article makes me say, “hey… you’re right! i don’t have to or should have to put up with this shit!”
    THIS is what i want to see more of on Smashing Magazine. sure, desktop wallpaper is cool and all, but THIS is HELPFUL to all kinds of designers and developers.

  37. 37

    I think you forgot the most important note about quick design work: be prepared.

    I have on my computer (and my laptop and on the memory card in my phone…hey, you never know when you’ll need it) a set of grids I’ve slowly carved up during the years for various types of designs. If you’ve done books or magazines, you’ll be familiar with the grid idea, if not, here’s a quick primer to get you started. Having those has saved me numerous times, a proper grid will easily cut out a fourth of the time needed for a design job.

  38. 38

    Quakeulf >:3

    May 24, 2009 11:55 pm

    My current job is up and down in periods. Right now I feel my deadline is a bit tight, and here’s another thing that can bring you as a designer down: Distraction from co-workers.

    I used to work perfectly from home, and when I am trying to put on the finishing touches to my projects I really prefer not to be bothered with rampant movement and a general high level of activity in the office. Distraction from coworkers can really make me less productive and slower because it stops up the workflow. I am sure other people have experienced this.

  39. 39

    As a freelancer, sometimes I like quick turn-around projects. I get to finish them in a week or less and that’s it, money in the pocket. I mean, which would you prefer: One day job for $200 or 2 months job for $10,000?

    The bigger the project is, the more prone it is to feature creeps and unlimited changes.

  40. 40

    now THIS is a kind of article I would really like to see more on SM! A bit less showcases and freebies, a bit more unique content from ‘the scene’ would be very appreciated.



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