I'm working on a big project at my day job. I've been on it for at least a month or two, and development will likely carry over into 2011. Lots and lots of people are involved. My portion of the project is essentially to design and help implement the user interface (UI). That's not only what the buttons and background graphics look like, but also the overall structure and layout.
A little while back, one of the managers asked me to work up a couple of mock-ups, mainly so everyone had a central place to begin some discussions. I came up with a couple designs and passed them along. She said, "Thanks. Looks great." But then she asked if she could get a variation where I had the main items run horizontally instead of vertically. I gave her a flat no; I said that it wouldn't work. She pushed back and I reiterated my point. I told her that it wasn't that I didn't think it would work, it was that there was absolutely no way possible to get that to work and still remain usable, and that it would be an absolute waste of my time to even bother trying. And I was quite sincere in my belief that her suggestion wouldn't work. I don't mind doing multiple mock-ups or variations, or even trying ideas that I'm skeptical of. But I was 100% certain her suggestion would not work, and I told her so as politely as I could.
Which, if I'm honest, was probably still ruder than it could have been. I was, frankly, offended by her repeatedly asking for something after I said it wouldn't work. I've been doing graphic design longer than not at this point, and I was hired to work on precisely this type of thing. Questioning my unusually firm stand on this point tells me that my judgement as a graphic designer isn't valued. And if that's the case, what the hell am I doing there?
Ultimately, a contractor, working on another portion of the site and having little background in graphics, created a mock-up using her suggestion to showcase some other functionality. Her reaction was immediate and visceral, "I do NOT like that. I don't like that at all."
It was REALLY hard not to say, "I told you so." Out loud. My inner monologue provided a rather more enthusiastic, "IN YOUR FACE!"
That mock-up was shown to a group of about ten of us, and we discussed what worked and what didn't. She said at one point, "I know that's exactly what I was asking for, but I didn't realize how that wouldn't work until I saw it."
Which reinforces a point that I've apparently forgotten or set to the side for a while. And that is that most people do NOT think visually. They can't imagine disparate elements and see how they'll work together on a page. They can't judge distance or color or flow or balance or any of the other things that I check for without even putting much conscious thought into any more. They can't even begin to guess whether or not something will work visually or not until they actually see it with their own eyes.
For me, now, that's frustrating as all get-out because it means that, in order to convey my points about WHY something won't work, that means I have to take the time to create something to show them. Which, naturally, gives me less time to work on things that I think at least might work.
But what does this have to do with comics?
Well, it's a message directed towards comic artists primarily. If a writer or editor comes back and asks to see a different page or panel layout and you KNOW it simply won't work, it might ultimately be quicker to sketch the page out to show exactly why, instead of pissing them off by arguing your valid points verbally. Fortunately, that co-worker and I already established a good working relationship years ago, and the frustrations weren't long-lived on either side. But you might not have that benefit.
I know, I know. You've done that type of thing before, and they ALWAYS think the crappy looking one is better. I've been there. And in those cases, it sadly boils down to your preference for artistic integrity or a paycheck. But while is seems like it always works like that, it really doesn't in reality and you probably have more wins than you might recall. They might be hard-fought wins for something that should have been a cakewalk, but you can at least retain some modicum of dignity in those situations.
And from time to time, you even get the opportunity to say, "I told you so."
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