It was the early 90’s and my career as a full-time designer hadn’t officially begun. I was doing small logo projects on the side while I worked my day job driving a forklift. I had designed logos for restaurants, bars, flower shops and auto body shops. Through some random connection I was introduced to Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine Band. Sure, disco had been dead for 20 years, but Casey was a disco god. Even if you’re not a disco fan, you’re probably familiar with “Boogie Shoes” or “That’s the way I like it”. This stuff is timeless, right?
Mr. Casey was soon to release a compilation album from several live shows and needed help with artwork for the cover. I know, it wasn’t the Rolling Stones or Bowie, but it was an album cover. And for a young designer the thought of seeing my work in a record store was beyond exciting.
So now what? In a small nondescript condo in West Seattle I sat and listened. Madly took notes in a small notebook and tried to make sense of the direction that was coming my way. I remember him sweating a lot. He never sat down. There was a collection of Barbie dolls in the corner. It was a lot to take in. At the end of our brainstorming session it became pretty clear what he wanted because he mentioned it more than anything else: rainbows.
He couldn’t have really meant rainbows. I was sure that if I showed him something different he would be on board. I’m not coming back with rainbows. I was on the cusp of creating an amazing album cover. My friends would see this. My family would be impressed and share it with their friends, I can’t destroy this opportunity because of some poor direction. So, I set out to work in my home studio. With his last “Greatest Hits” album playing in the background (he sent me away with a stack of CDs for inspiration), I began crafting my masterpiece. It was graphic. Hard edges. Bold colors. Strong type. Definitely not rainbows.
Proud of my progress, I returned in a few weeks and gave one of my first real presentations. It was horrible. Silence. Confusion. More sweating and pacing. Then a lot of things were said that I didn’t hear. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I do remember his last words, “I just want it to have rainbows and stuff.” I awkwardly collected my laser prints and tried to gracefully excuse myself. A few days later I received a phone call from the guy who connected me with Casey. He let me know that he was headed in a different direction, and had another artist working on the cover.
Looking back, I’ve realized how this seemingly meaningless botched design attempt was a case study in what not to do. As it turns out, the client does actually know quite a bit about themselves, their audience and how their brand should feel. As creative strategists it’s our job to listen closely and avoid allowing preconceived ideas to influence the direction. Sometimes we need to find an inventive way to take the client’s ideas and interpret them in a new way. I have learned over the years that you can always put your best ideas on the table, but it should be next to an interpretation of their vision as well. If I can’t prove that a different direction is better, then maybe it isn’t. Sometimes you just need to give them the rainbow that they are desperately looking for, because that’s the way, uh huh, they like it.