Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Designer–Client relationships
From the awesome website Clients From Hell. Sadly, I’ve actually heard some of these things myself. This one, for example, is very similar to a situation I was experiencing quite recently.

Good: Jailbirds
A little data on the prison-industrial complex (link is a fascinating Atlantic article from 1998 by Eric Schlosser).

Sucker Love: Celebrating the naughty tentacle
Amanda Gannon answers the question, “Would you still do Antonio Banderas if he was an octopus from the waist down?” Needless to say, NSFW.

The Known Universe
This is really cool. Travel from Earth to the end of the known universe, in a scale-accurate animation.

Black Metal Cookies
How to bake the most grim and doom-laden of chocolate chip cookies. [via Jason]

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday Top 5

I’ve been too swamped to post the Thursday Top 5 on time for two weeks. Fortunately, no matter how busy I am, people still keep sending me funny and interesting stuff. A few of these below are recent finds, and a few are from the Top 5 archives. So here’s two weeks’ worth in one post, and I’ll try to be on time next week. Enjoy!

Please design a logo for me. With pie charts. For free.
As a follow-up to last week’s “How a Web Design Goes Straight To Hell,” James sent me this classic piece of humor.

How Twilight Works
In case you want to know what the whole Twilight hoopla is all about, The Oatmeal has explained it for us.

The FlatPak house
A cool prefab system. About / Photos.

Coca-Cola's Quest for the Perfect Bottle Starts with Plants
Coca-Cola has introduced the PlantBottle, a bottle made of PET plastic, 30% of which is sourced from Brazilian sugar cane and molasses. The company’s marketers will no doubt spin this as near to 100% “green” as they can safely get away with, and the vast majority of consumers will no doubt fail to note the difference between a bottle’s claim of “PlantBottle! 100% recyclable!” and the preferable goals of 100% renewable and 100% compostable. After all, the bottle is still 100% plastic, it's just that it’s partly plant-based plastic, instead of 100% petroleum byproduct. But, as GreenBiz columnist Marc Gunther notes, it’s a start. And a pretty good one.

The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody

Carl Kassell is retiring as the voice of “Morning Edition”
Thankfully, he’ll continue as judge and scorekeeper on “Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me!”. Carl is awesome. Enough said.

Rachel Maddow explains Washington D.C. gangs
Wait it out until until about 1:20. You will not be disappointed. PS: I loathe the poseur Joe Lieberman and hope he dies a horrible, burning death.

Beware the Death-Dealing Cockney Weasel
From the bizarre mind of illustrator Ryan Abegglen.

The Tetris God
I knew it. Bastard.

Breakdancing robot

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday Top 5

We Are Hunted
Interesting new music discovery site I happened upon.

Our Dream of Living Streams
A short video about some of the issue facing South Bay creeks from Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition.

Flowers Feed the Soul
A truly amazing Flash-based site for a flower service in Singapore.

Now here’s some yoga I could actually do

Sharing Information With Executives
A good read covering the following Executive Pet Peeves: 1) Numbers That Don’t Tie Out, 2) Misaligned Objectives, 3) Loyalty, 4) Errors, 5) Agenda. Written especially for analysts in the tech world, but containing some good advice for many workplaces. And indicative of many of the reasons to hate the corporate world. Or just people. [via MJ]

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thursday Top 5

Sk8face: The Evolution of Skateboard Art trailer (explicit)
Mostly for Jason A. [via Gary L.]

Robocop Rap
The entire movie Robocop retold as a rap, in 10 minutes.
Visualize how much sugar is in the fruit, veggies, drinks, and snacks you consume.

Cheap. Cheap.
Twitter may have paid $6 or less for their birdie graphic.

You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice
Great blog chronicling designs that have been ripped off.

The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Duffy & Partners

Duffy & Partners has long been one of my favorite firms. They’ve put out some fantastic work over the years, including one of my all-time favorites, the Knob Creek Whiskey bottle (seen below). I bought a bottle years ago just to put on my shelf, to admire and take inspiration from it. Unfortunately, one night a friend opened the bottle and started pouring drinks from it, not realizing I was keeping it for less practical purposes.

Duffy has a new website which showcases their high-quality work very well. It also gives a good insight into principal Joe Duffy’s M.O., which really sees the client as collaborators in the creative process, from the very start, before pencil has even been put to paper. This is central to my design process as well, so I'm drawn to this company on many levels.

They’ve included some videos on their site too, one of them featuring a few of their clients. I was struck by this comment by Andy Wyatt, CEO of Cornerstone Capital Management:

“We had an idea of what we wanted for our website, and frankly if we would’ve gotten what we wanted, it probably wouldn’t have worked as well. We needed to let go of the reins a little bit and bring in a professional.”

This is the kind of client every designer wants.

Wyatt cut to the core: “Do what you do best, and hire the rest. And let them do it, when you hire them to do it.”

When one is looking for a designer, it behooves one to have this attitude. You may know what you want, but it’s best to hire talented professionals and to let them simply do their jobs. Of course, it’s also best for you to hire a creative team that will collaborate with you, as Duffy does.

But if you had to have your pancreas operated on, you wouldn’t seek out the best medical professional in the field, and then presume to tell him/her how to do his/her job. You’d work with the surgeon to ensure s/he was getting all the relevant information about your medical history, what outcome you were looking for, and what risks you were willing to take.

It’s more useful to recognize expertise in others, invest trust in that expert’s skill, and let them work unfettered to bring your project to the best result in the end.

Whether it’s your pancreas or your new logo.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

The creative economy

American Public Media's Marketplace reports that America's artists collectively make $80 billion a year. Nearly two million citizens consider themselves artists by trade, from architects to musicians and designers to filmmakers, making up one of the largest classes of workers in the U.S.. Their average income is just over $34,000 a year, which doesn't seem very high, but is actually higher than the U.S. median.

Listen to the Marketplace segment (2 min.) or read the transcript.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Know your potential client

Doing freelance design for 20 years has enabled me to hone my client selection skills over time.

What does that mean? It means knowing how to spot whether a potential new client will be easy to work with or hard to work with.

When you're starting out as a freelancer you're often living month to month and it seems like you can't possibly turn any paying client away. But trust me, one of the best things I've done in my career is to hone my skills at determining what kind of client each new referral will be. It has saved me a lot of headaches over the years.

Of course, you don't always know if that person is going to be a micromanaging meddler, or a waffling mind-changer, or any of the other 379 types of clients, but with attention and experience you can learn how to get it mostly right most of the time, and pick clients who will both help you pay your bills and not drive you completely insane.

Perusing the stories at made me think of this one time recently, though, that I slipped up and didn't let the signals and flags alert me to the fact that I had an asshat for a client.

About two and a half years ago, I had decided to take the plunge and look for a "real" job with a "real" company and to stop freelancing. I was sending out my résumé to lots of places and going on interviews and all that stuff. I applied for a Senior Designer or Art Director or something position at this interactive design firm in San Francisco that I'd never heard of, but they called me for an interview, and I drove up to meet them.

I'd looked at this company's site and the work was alright, but I wasn't all that impressed. However, it was a potential job. I was living off a couple small contracts and tiny side projects but was spending most of my time looking for full-time employment and working on my woefully outdated portfolio, so money was going to run out in a few months and I figured I'd better go to any interview that came along.

I probably should have been more selective and maybe put more weight into the fact that their site was not that impressive. Their client list was, however, so I decided what the hell.

I met with the CEO and we had a good interview and I thought it was going well. We talked about my online portfolio a bit and then he asked me for the URL again and I spelled it out for him as he typed it on his keyboard. He was using a Mac, I don't remember what model or anything, but I recall he had a rather old Apple large-screen CRT. I didn't think much about this at the time, until he said my site wasn't displaying right and I came around the side of his desk to see what the trouble was.

For starters, he was using System 9. By this time, System 9 was pretty much an antique OS, so I was a little surprised to say the least. The following flashed through my mind: "WTF is this CEO of an international design company doing using System 9?" but I was in the middle of an interview and didn't want to get distracted by what my mind was saying to me. Mistake #1.

Oh, did I mention that he was also using Internet Explorer on System 9? Okay, 'nuff said.

So the interview continues, I show him some of my print stuff and he likes it, but he says he's not quite ready to hire someone, he's got a few candidates he's considering, including me, and he kind of apologetically asks me if I'd do a contract job for him to sort of test the waters. Five hundred bucks or something, to do one design with three page mockups for one of his clients that needs a website redesign.

I thought this was actually a great idea, because I would get to test the waters too. And while I ordinarily would charge somewhere between $3,000 and $30,000 for such a project, he wasn't actually expecting all the research and associated work I'd normally do, just some quick mockups and only a single design. Plus it was a bit of cash, and I wasn't in a position to say no to any cash, no matter how little. Mistake #2.

He was probably having a couple of his other interviewees do the same thing; then he'd have three or four design directions to present to his client, and he'd only have to pay $1,500 or $2,000 to do them. Ordinarily, I'd frown on this sort of thing, but I made a compromise in this case, thinking, hey it might lead to a job. Mistake #3.

It turned out the client was one of the world's biggest manufacturers of Flash memory, but they had a totally non-impressive website considering this status. So I headed home, reviewed their site, and with basically no direction and no assets, I created three really good page designs. I delivered them via email to the design firm, and they really liked them, and told me they'd get back to me in a few days, after their meeting with the client.

I uploaded a tiny screenshot of the homepage mockup to my blog and wrote a brief post about it. I sent my bill to the design firm and went back to sending out résumés and working on my online portfolio.

A week or two later I get this angry email from the design firm's CEO, saying that "somehow" the client had come across my post on my blog, and they were angry and it was unprofessional of me to post it and implying that the client was threatening to sue him and demanding that I take it down right away. And oh, by the way, we haven't gotten your bill yet, can you send that right away? Thanks.

First off, I'm thinking, "They 'somehow' came across it? Have you ever heard of a keyword alert, dumbass? Like Google Alerts?"

Then I'm thinking, what exactly is this company worried about? I put a homepage design on the web. A homepage design. Not a product schematic. Not the plans for a nuclear device. Not their patents for the past ten years.

The homepage mockup contains absolutely no sensitive information. In fact it only contains text that's on their currently live homepage! Plus some improved copy that I wrote. And their logo. And a photo. A photo that I had to get from my collection, you asshats who didn't give me anything to work with.

I reread the email and I realized that he'd mentioned that my post was "insulting as hell," which must've been because I slandered them oh so mightily by describing the client as "the market leader in Flash memory, although you wouldn't believe it from their current website".

Which was, um, true. Their site was really bad. This was a multi-billion dollar international company. And their site barely functioned. Not just ugly. Barely worked.

I imagined the scenario that set this guy off. He's sitting in his office, in front of Internet Explorer running on System 9, and the client calls him up and says, "Who the hell is this designer writing about our company and our website all over the Internet and putting up the mockup you just showed us last Tuesday?!"

And the design firm CEO guy can only say, "Huh? I have no idea what you're talking about! What? Where? On a blog? What blog? How do I get to a blog? Can I see it on my Internet Explorer?"

And he goes and (with some difficulty, I'm guessing — probably by following a link in an email sent by the client, and certainly not by doing a search to find it, or, y'know, actually knowing I had a blog in the first place) finds my post, and reads it, and sees the tiny little mockup there, and fires off this angry email at me because he felt like a complete dope for being embarrassed in front of his client.

Which I can understand. I'd be embarrassed too.

But I mean, c'mon. Let's not overreact here.

A) I put up a tiny mockup. That I designed. For starters, that entire design, with the exception of the client's logo in the corner, is owned by me under U.S. copyright law until I get paid for it, buster. Which you haven't done yet. You are a professional in the graphic design industry, are you not? You do understand copyright law, do you not? Asshat?

B) My post was insulting? As hell? What, by implying that a huge company such as your client should by all accounts have a very professional website and it's surprising that they don't? Well excuse the hell out of me for being honest. I can see how they'd be rightfully ashamed, but insulted? Methinks you need to examine your emotions a little bit more closely, friends.

C) What exactly were you angriest about? That you looked like a fool in front of your client because you'd hired some contractor to do your work for you? Or that you looked like a fool in front of the client when you didn't know that it's pretty common for designers these days to actually have a blog, and *gasp* even discuss their work on their blogs! Or was it that you were embarrassed that you hadn't asked me to sign any sort of nondisclosure agreement or even implied in any way that this homepage mockup design was some ultra-secret project that had to be kept from the world at all costs?

Look pal, I could understand them and you being upset if I'd posted something important, but it's a damn homepage with a couple paragraphs of marketingese on it. Get a grip.

(Mistake #4: Not realizing that a guy who uses Internet Explorer on System 9 is probably a few years out of touch with the way the design community — and in fact, the world — operates these days. It's about transparency, pal. It's about sharing, and community, and writing about what you do.)

Okay, so I took the screenshot down, and I deleted the client's name from the post, but I'd be damned if I was going to censor my own (truthful) post. At that point, job be damned, it was pretty evident that I didn't want to work for this asshat if this was the way he did business.

Luckily, I never had to work with him again. Although it was many months before I finally got my measly $500 out of him.

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