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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?

You may also want to take a look at the following related posts:

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?”4 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,5 HOW Magazine,6 AIGA design annuals7) 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.” 8
  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.”
  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.


  41. 41


  42. 42

    A most excellent article. Thank you.

  43. 43


    May 25, 2009 1:55 am

    Any time a client wants something done ASAP, and are haggling over the price I inform them of the Project Triangle wikipedia

    You can have it done cheaply, you can have it done fast, you can have it done well. Pick any two.”

    Still want a good job done in record time? Then you’re going to get charged handsomely for it! :)

  44. 44

    Rafa Carrasco

    May 25, 2009 2:51 am

    The concept “fast food design job” couldn´t be more accurate. I suffer from creative heartburnt because of so much junk food designs…

  45. 45

    EXCELLENT!!! so true.
    i got into such job right of college, luckily after a month and i half i asked my boss “i don’t understand, is it really supposed to be like this — working like on assembly line, overtimes most of the day, literally no pee time — she told me that i was still young and do not understand how it is, told me to think over a weekend if i can do it or not (“cause some people just can’t make it”) — good that i got those two days to clear my head and say — NOOOO!!
    (but also, yes a good experience, to see how ‘also’ it can be, any why it is like this in the world)
    : ) be strong all you young designers!

  46. 46

    Great article and I couldn’t agree more. My first job straight out of college was a printers who also sold ‘design’. A lot of the jobs had ridiculous timescalse of an hour (or sometimes less!) for a logo, letterhead and business cards. Also, we didn’t have the guidance of a senior designer or creative director, we were under pressure to knock the jobs out asap ourselves. That, coupled with frequently working 12+ hour days didn’t exactly lead to enjoyable working environment!

    I joined a design consultancy within a year and I couldn’t believe the change in pace and approach to work – you actually had TIME to research and develop concepts! Yes, there were (and still are) tight deadlines to meet, but in the right environment this can lead to exciting and creative results.

    The problem with Fast Food Design Companies is that they will target school/college leavers as they can pay them a lower salary based on their experience. If this is your first ‘real-world’ experience then it could end up being pretty soul-destroying and leave you jaded about the whole industry. Not only can it be unhealthy for you, it’s unhealthy and devalues design too.

  47. 47

    Wow, did you miss the point or what? “Fast-food design” is a part of our career that designers must deal with, and the author is venting a little and giving a splash of advice.
    Why don’t you as the executive understand that graphic designers are a needed aspect of your company, and our goal is produce visually appealing communication media that will make you money and say something positive about your company. I want the job done right just as much as the CEO, and it is frustrating when the job I am hired to do is impaired by poor planning by others. Maybe you just didn’t see it that way.

  48. 48

    Great Article, it was a good read.

    Here’s a tip: Try setting a meeting with your boss, and explain your situation. They have to listen to you, and this can help them understand where you are coming from. Or, set up a process for requesting designs. We’ve set up a process, and life is so much better. :)


  49. 49

    very good article! i hate 12-hour-super-design-needed projects…. but sometimes they just happen. Always remember to get a good rest after such a fight. And good fun! :)

  50. 50

    Thank You!!!! I can’t tell you haw many time I’ve been told ” Project is to be finished before lunch “….I got the project at 8 this morning!!!!

  51. 51

    Luckily I’ve not had enough clients to truly have this problem, although I did get one once that rushed me a bit. Just starting out, I agreed to his silly demands, and ended up getting worn out in the process. I couldn’t agree with this article more…it’s very good advice.

  52. 52

    So true. I’ve been in a similar situation now for 4 years and in recent months it really has become ridiculous to the point where I’m not sure I can even stick it anymore. The recession is not helping with the situation and companies want every last minute out of you regardless of how that affects the projects. Creativity and good project planning has gone out of the window. Freelance on the other hand is much more my cup of tea because then the only person I am answering to is the client.

  53. 53

    ugh, I’m at work right now pumping out sites like a factory. I’m just out of college and I pump out around 5 sites a week. I get so angry looking at what comes out when I’m done. I know I’m capable of doing more, but the fast food style work keeps me from wanting anything to do with design when I’m out of the office. It just sucks that I know I’m contributing to the populous crap on the internet, but I do get paid and I’m making more than anyone I know just out of school. We have a weird balancing act to perform as designers, being in the middle of artist and factory worker. We do have the technical aspect of our jobs, leaving us mentally a little more vested in the real world than artists on less interactive mediums, but we do create and we do affect the lives of people around us, and if we keep having to put out this sub par work for profit we are harming the world in a way, but I guess its kind of how our world works in general, everything is dulled down for efficiency sake. I really take a passion in the idea that my job is to help facilitate the internet which is still in it’s infancy, to make information accessible to the world in a manner which doesn’t require much effort on the users part. When fast food style web design affects the accessibility of information, we are doing the world a great dis-service to our own benefit (or our employers) (quick profit). We hold the keys to the whole worlds knowledge. The internet is being prostituted. Not only that, but putting this sub par stuff out degrades our own profession making it more accessible to people who don’t care and just lower the bar.

    This article seriously struck a chord with me.

  54. 54

    Michael Gury

    May 25, 2009 5:02 pm

    The “I want it now” order has existed forever, certainly among bank tellers and creative people with guns pressed to their temples. Of course the need for speed has gotten worse now that there are technologies that appear to deliver things faster than humans. Personally, I wasn’t so much on the graphic side as in that horrible place called “naming”, which consists of words, not pictures, although it can be equally as tormenting. In a certain company that will be unnamed, when there were relationships and products being transacted by the minute, I’d be called into a conference room, the door would be locked, and I’d be given 3 minutes to come up with a bunch of names for some relatively useless and ultimately irrelevant thing/product/service. Usually I was told that Microsoft was waiting for it, which was intended to make my immediate responsibility more threatening, although to me it made it all the more irrelevant and useless. I’d usually barf up a few ideas, then it was torment time for the graphics people to put something up on the website and send the little logos to Microsoft or wherever. At the end of the day, no one cared, nothing happened, and no revenue was generated as a result of all the commotion.

    Great logos, graphics, names, etc.are hard to force from good creative people in short order, and while the point of fast food is speed, consistency, and uselessness, the point of branding is a bit different.

    However, if you’ve ever met some of the great naming/graphic/branding people as I have been privileged to, no one ever had a long deadline.

  55. 55

    WOW! I cannot tell you how often I deal with this scenario every SINGLE day! My boss tends to agree to last minute projects ALL the time. He simply cannot say ‘NO’ (apparently he missed DARE for designers). Anyways….I find myself doing (to put it frankly) half-ass design work that I am NOT proud to put my name behind knowing that I can do better. Unfortunately, these quick jobs are what keep our business going. I fear we are being turned more into a production company than a design firm.
    I’m a young designer and have been in the ‘real’ world for 2 years now pumping out design after design. There have only been several times that I feel proud of what I’ve worked on. The only way I stay really motivated is to come to, look at creative magazines, and surf the web looking for inspiring works I can strive to one day have the time to create.
    They never prepare you for this sort of predicament in school. Everyone has their own way of dealing with this sort of problem.

  56. 56

    Aaron Mc Adam

    May 25, 2009 6:23 pm

    @Jennifer I’m in a similar postion with a web firm that simply don’t understand modern design. I’m rarely given more than 2 or 3 days and there’s not one design I’m proud of at all!

    This article was brilliant tho, gives me something I might just have to show them! lol

  57. 57

    Why the emphasis on ‘Design’ ?
    Do you think that it is any different for technical people?

    “early onset designer burnout” should read: “early onset _of_designer burnout” but I guess you were too busy cooking the fries to proof-read this.

  58. 58

    Smashing Magazine, you once again read my mind. I was so looking forward to this Holiday weekend, which motivated me to keep on trucking through all the last min WANTS and MUST HAVES. Leaving me stuck at the office way past the time of street light turning on. O Goody!

    Now I have a come back to the one, who comment “Its advertising, deal with it…this is why we hired those who rip through things fast. Those who can’t keep up well maybe this is not for you.” -Marketing. “Honey, do you want fries with that logo?” -Me


  59. 59

    On-the-dot, awesome post. Thank you.

  60. 60

    i need a holiday..

  61. 61

    I want to read what should be Part 2 of this article, written by commenter David A (May 24th, 2009, 1:32 pm):

    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.”

    I could not agree with you more, David! Submit your article to Smashing Mag right away. This is a valid point of view that inexperienced designers really need to learn.

  62. 62

    this was a great article, would love to read more like this on smashingmagazine

  63. 63

    Anon North West

    May 25, 2009 11:48 pm

    this is a very good article, and explains so much about the design industry at the moment. EVERYBODY say with me….

    “Time is money…. money is time!”

  64. 64

    Very, very, true…

    Shorter projects never really meet my high expectations.

    My best work tends to be done when I have a little freedom on the time scale to really develop an Idea to its nth degree. Often this is also appreciated more by the client in the long run.

    If you can, tell your clients, it is essential to get the best out of their project and cater for a little extra design and development time, but do this at the start of the tender before the project even starts.

    “Your imagination runs wild if left for a while…”


  65. 65

    Justin Floyd

    May 26, 2009 4:33 am

    I’ve come to love the word “No”. If you make a living doing freelance or subsidize your full time job with freelance you can save yourself a lot of headaches by using the word “no” appropriately.

  66. 66

    There’s an french expression where I come from that say’s «Beau, bon, pas cher» – which translates to : Beautiful, good and cheap. The trick is to ask your client to choose from two out of three. If it’s beautiful and good, it can’t be cheap. If it’s good and cheap it can’t be beautiful. If it’s beautiful and cheap, it won’t be good…and so on. Usually it makes the client think for a moment about the implications.

    And if you face a funny/comedian client who says «I wan’t all three!!» – you know this client doesn’t need a designer but a local printer’s pizza designed flyer done in a few minutes and printed on the fly.

    It’s all a matter of placing the intention in front of the tool. A logo is a tool, a flyer is a tool, but what’s the message? The long term expectation of the business? That takes more than five minute to figure out and that’s why we need time to do good work.

  67. 67

    Mark Hannon

    May 26, 2009 7:32 am

    While I agree with Ms. Orma about warning beginner designers away from these type of “fast food” style design studios, I believe a seasoned professional could benefit from the experience as long as the relationship is short-term. The process of having to produce a logo in an hour could have the effect of sharpening your problem-solving skills once you got back to developing the same work on a normal schedule.

    As for beginners, these assembly-line design companies have a lot of factors working against them. For one, new designers need a solid mentoring environment which is often lacking in companies who put little importance on quality. Having worked for several of these types of studios when I was starting out, I found that these places can have a detrimental effect on a new designers self-confidence at a time when they need some confidence building. For that same reason, even seasoned designers wouldn’t want to stay too long.


  68. 68

    This is good stuff – but its so hard to convince people who know nothing about creative work, and dont care to learn, that creative work is important to a company. If a freelance client needs asap jobs, you have the luxury of charging more or simply saying NO to it. Cant let people take advantage of you.

  69. 69

    Excellent. Thank you so much for this post.

  70. 70

    While I was still in college, I took a position as a sole designer handling all product labels, advertising, trade show, you name it – I designed it. The guy was a mental case and asked for the most ridiculous things in a minimal amount of time. But it sure set the pace for learning everything on my own. I agree, the design was not brilliant at that point of my career, (the competition in sports nutrition 11 years ago wasn’t all that great either) and none of it will ever see the light of day in my portfolio now! I have to say that it certainly was a confidence booster that I still was able to manage getting all of that done, but I really needed others to learn from. I’ve moved on to many different positions since then, and I now have developed my design skills and work really well under pressure since it’s all I ever knew. I do get burnt out on occasion, but I actually have a harder time when I have too much time to think! Go figure. I still do think though that an hour for a logo is an unfair request. I was asked to design one in 20 minutes once. The client just happened to be stopping by for a visit and he wanted to show them something! Crazy….

    @john – you sound like a “marketing guy”

  71. 71

    Excellent post. It pertains to all creative jobs, but since this is design-specific, I couldn’t agree more. For those designers in a position to say no, you’re VERY lucky. For many of us, we work in sweatshops that grind our creativity into the ground and often afford us little if any power to say no — at least if we want to keep our jobs. I recently went from full- to part-time at my day job, where I have no ability to manage/control my workflow. I now fill in my other time with freelancing again, and boy howdy is it nice to be able to manage my clients and projects, plus have the time to stretch my creative wings again.

  72. 72

    when i was in school (c1974-79), a regular assignment was to do as many thumbnails as possible in 10 minutes. another project/discussion was having to turn out finished art in one work day, then three hours, then an hour, then “immediately.” this was before any computers were being used for design, can you reconcile that? the exercises were meant to prepare us for the very thing this article discusses. unfortunately the truth is that burnout used to be a normal part of the business. revolving doors and massive turnover was huge back in the day–anyone remember the statistic on alcoholism and suicide in the advertising/design business?

    i absolutely agree with this article however, even if i was “trained” to do exactly what the author addresses–how effective can you be by continually running as fast as you can. eventually you can’t run at all.

    fast forward to the “modern” era, a cd and i once came up with the idea to build out a mobile home, and do “design on the run.” it was a joke, but had some validity when you consider some of the stories posted, and experiences we’ve all had–my career spans over 30 years, and believe me, i’ve done a whole lot of fast-food design. another idea posed in the early eighties was the concept of a fast-design shop, that exactly resembled a fast-food restaurant, where clients stand at a counter, and order off of a big menu board…

    one thing to address is the fact that although one would like every piece to be portfolio-worthy, that’s not realistic in the long run. over 30 years, a great deal of my work will never be identified as mine. ones book should represent the very best work. this eliminates more than 75 – 80%, if you’re honest.

    having more time would be nice. time for the proper research to do the best job (which designers just seem to forego these days anyway), for the best return on investment to the client (best work for the designer). but consider the term “client education,” and how that will always have to be done, and will never, ever end. bottom-line concerns for business will always cast a huge shadow on a great deal of work, no matter how you slice it. as kenny rogers sang, “you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” unfortunately, often, we have to take work we can’t walk away from. the end-product of most of these projects just stay clear of my memory, and the book…the tramma of the process, however, often stays in my head for a very long time. this is a part of doing too many of those that help fry you out of a career.

    vacations, breaks, music, etc. help, but face it, eventually one just can’t run any more.

    stay clear if you can, or just do the minimum to get the job done, put food on the table, keep the electricity going. ones proper mindset can save your life in the long run…

  73. 73

    This reminded me of something my high school band teacher once said:

    “The only way to kill time is to work it to death.”
    -Stan Mauldin

  74. 74

    sometimes we young designers don’t have a choice. I’m currently stuck in a print shop, simply because nobody else is hiring. I’ve created a campaign and sent it to all the major firms and I’ve been stopping by regularly, but they are all hurting for work right now. I need desperately to get out, i feel my design soul being sucked away! HELP

  75. 75

    I guess a bit experience doing this kind of “fast-food” design jobs won’t hurt, it’ll add experience and perspective of things that (ideally) shouldn’t be done.

  76. 76

    Your situations shows how poor your company’s management methodologies are. Get the hell out of there and go work in a company listed in the top 50 most admired companies in the world.

  77. 77

    This is very much how many firms around my area work. They want fast design, they will allow more time depending on what the client asks and so on. They will also tell you not to spend too much time on a design that hasn’t been paid a lot. So if a client wants a cheap logo, they give them a cheap looking logo, if the client wants a very well made logo, they pay for the time invested in that logo and they can *maybe* spend a little more time on it.

    All in all, the problem with the current state of the industry is all those logo factories, for example, that offer already made logos, that aren’t really tailored for the client. So then clients will demand high speed to the designers who tailor the logos and design for them.

    Of course speed is essential, the problem is that a business consisting of creativity is being treated, yes, like a fast food business. Just remember that, however, while a client in a fast food doesn’t give a damn about eating the same type of food the person next table is eating, they might give a damn about another company having the same logo…

    So speed is essential. Time to do something proper is even more important.

  78. 78

    Line of Design

    May 27, 2009 5:04 am

    Wow – lots of comments!!!

    There is however a plus-side to theese fast-food-jobs. :)
    The Client have to accept the offer you brings at the deadline.

    In the opposite situation where you have a lot of time on your hands to the project you have a client, that wants corrections all the time…! And in the end the design is not even my own – but the clients’….
    Therefore: If the job is on a tight deadline, I tend to make better products than I do when the job has no – or a far away deadline.

    So that’s the upside of the situation. :)

  79. 79

    I work in news at a Fox affiliate (think Family Guy, not Republicans). Daily workflow means making stuff as freaking fast as possible, and often producers don’t give yo a heads up on stuff that could look so much better given more time to work on it.

    Part of my skill is being fast, and in any other medium, knowing how to work fast is key.

    Bottom line is, every car on the track is going fast, it’s the good driver that wins. See what I did there?

    That means knowing your programs inside and out, and utilizing shortcuts. Being able to cut something out with the pen tool seconds flat. Using a stylus with ease. KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS. Having an arsenal of elements ready to go, and organized to find easily. And most importantly, not over thinking. If you have five minutes or a day… you aren’t going to put out that ultimate deign, and this isn’t “the one”. Sure it’s annoying when you design something and say “damn, no way this shiz is going in my portfolio”…. but when it’s done and gone, all that matters is that it looks decent. If you can make it look decent and still be above par compared to other designers (god, look at that crappy drop shadow/glow/crappy cutout/bad curves) then you’re money.

    There’s something to be said for designers who can pump out this stuff… and underneath the design is squeezing every spare second out, mostly by using the program speedily. Oh, and non-destructive editing. The ability to go back at any point to any element and alter the ORIGINAL image.

  80. 80

    Finally, someone writes what I’ve been thinking. I’ve spent 18 years working on magazine editorial and marketing projects for which ideas were discussed, concepts marinated, execution was thoughtful, results were measured. I’m sickened by the trend of the 1-hour logo where there is no strategy behind the design, and I’m troubled by the fact that so many agencies no longer value good design or designers.

    What companies don’t see is how much business they’re losing by slapping out poor-quality work that can’t begin to accomplish their business goals. And I hate to be the designer perpetuating the problem.

    I agree with Stephanie: steer clear if you can. If you can’t, her suggestions are worth taping inside your desk drawer for the occasional pep talk. The best thing you can do for the industry and the design profession? Educate your clients.

  81. 81

    I’ve been in the “fast food” aspect of design for seven years now. How I am not burnt out yet I will never know. I do know that you shouldn’t stay in the screen printing business for a lot of years. It’s absolute murder on your portfolio. Thank goodness for freelancing. I just wish I could get enough of it to go full time.

  82. 82

    So true, all of it. I started tinkering with design and code at the age of 22. I was obsessed with it, the wild excitement and the feeling of endless possibilities of expressing your imagination through software like photoshop, illustrator, flash etc.. couldn’t get enough. That was Freedom! I could do anything. At my daily job, as a helpdesk agent for a telecom company, i was able to install trial versions of those programs and play with it while there was no work to do. After work, i’d get home and play with it more, often times till 6AM when i needed to go to work again. That time was fun, .. learning, making cool stuff, experimenting, seeing what other creative and talented people are doing, etc. But that time ended when i quit the annoying helpdesk work, and started looking for a design job. It was not at all as i expected it to be. The first design job i got, quit after only one month. At the interview, they seemed really interested at my two fake club flyers and half a website (i didn’t have anything to show yet, so i made up a club and designed flyers and a website for it :)) ), but as soon i started working the first day, they were trying to make me produce stuff like i was a veteran designer, and i just couldn’t deliver. I felt like sh*t and thought how bad i was and this is not for me, but i was just starting out, all of that was new to me, i was not discouraged and the design bug remained. I continued learning and experimenting, and grew more and more, but was forced to do various other jobs to be able to pay for food and rent as i knew that i’m not yet good enough to work in a high quality production company. My skills developed rapidly, as i was working on it, day and night, but couldn’t find a design job. After a while, i finaly landed a job which seemed decent, salary was hefty and the folks seemed nice. Wrong. After a half a month later, i realised i have just walked into the Satan’s Asshole, where they were pumping out two websites a day. A DAY! Having no place else to go, i was forced to do that job until i finally snapped and left. Fast food all the way baby! Pretty much the same for other design firms i worked for. I continued my search, but no luck so far. Still working for a fast food company, working on a tight schedule and trying to make (a lot of) money to pay for my degree in aerospace engineering and the private pilots licence. After i graduate, i have a good chance of landing a nice and well payed job in the aerospace industry and i’ll maybe continue to design in my own free time, just for fun. Or maybe not. I like airplanes and flying better, anyway.

  83. 83


    May 28, 2009 2:41 am

    I really understand what you’re saying.. I have a fastfood-type-job right now and it really is a pain at times. When I can deliver a piece of nice design though in this limited time I’m kind of proud of myself! That is a little plus to all the negatives ;-) I’ll be using the fries-comment in the future! Thanks for that one!

    Cheers Don

  84. 84

    Antonea Nabors

    May 28, 2009 6:43 am

    This is one of the most useful articles I’ve read in awhile! It is so realistic. Sometimes the temptation of money and the stress of needing money just win sometimes and you get suckered into this sort of design routine for way too long. I would recommend to any designer searching for a job to seriously consider what they are getting into. Especially when you are overlooked by a non-creative. Their obligation is for you to pump out work quickly so you can make them money and start designing the next project quickly so they can make more money. Working in an art department of a corporate company sucks! Always aim for jobs run by creatives.

  85. 85

    What can I say that hasn’t already been said.

    Great article, and very relevant to my current (first) job in the REAL corporate world.

  86. 86

    Someone wrote: “How much are you worth! that’s what you need to ask.” The issue is, someone else will happily fill your role and undercut your value because they’re happy to be worth less. It’s insanely tricky.

  87. 87

    Thanks for sharing. it’s good to find people that can understand what designers are really thinking. At my company, I am the only designer there and I don’t like it when they come to me and ask for a design in less than 25 minutes.

  88. 88

    Been doing this for 8 years now. Every single day.

  89. 89

    meg mckinley

    June 1, 2009 12:39 pm

    Thanks for this very timely information. Creatives understand that as these jobs contrinue to be the norm you can feel yourself losing your creative footing – take control of your talent and your creativity!

  90. 90

    It seems like this kind of “fast food” design is everywhere – whether you’re a freelancer or a steady employee. I think in three years at my current company, where I am part of the in-house marketing department, the longest amount of time I’ve ever been given to work on a project is one week. This includes the redesign of a 60-year old corporate logo (which in fact I was expected to do in one afternoon). I am constantly running into varying degrees of an attitude that it’s “simple” to just throw something together, “what’s the big deal,” “it doesn’t take THAT long to do [insert large project here],” etc. Definitely has compromised the majority of my work…

  91. 91

    Marlyse Comte

    June 20, 2009 6:23 pm

    Great article. Yes, it’s funny that some people think so little of creative work and think you shake it out like salt or pepper and don’t realize that fantastic design at times has to be thought through and grow. Quickie design can be very stimulating but done as a regular is complete death to inspiration and growth. Treat it like you’d do with a great drop of wine. But then of course there are people who drink it by the gallon.

  92. 92

    Time is money.

    The quicker a client gets the work the less they pay – its a commercial reality.

  93. 93

    Hi guys! nice post and interesting comments! I am a self employed designer and have been doing this for the last 10 years, it’s my passion, my hobby and my income. I closed my office with 4 designers cause in business there are just no time to ooh and aah about someones work, fact is .. there is a project, a time limit, quoted price and a full explanation on what the client requires. I ended up working for my employees to meet deadlines (i am proud to say that i did not miss even 1 deadline for all my years in this game) .. If you listen to what your client needs, give him just that, your own input in a small way are welcomed but normally the people have a good idea of what they want! Unless you are asked to come up with designs. If a designer gets to go his own way he will most likely end up with a long faced client that are shocked with your enthusiasm. Ask your client to show you different elements that they have seen and what they like, then you listen! take the pieces and put it together. Then, congratulate your client on his brilliant design skills and watch him “love” what he sees, after all, that is what he wanted and he will walk away thinking it was his idea, and you will be paid .. and that is all that counts. :)


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