Motivated by a desire to teach my son about design, but mostly the need to shame those other kids’ parents for producing such shitty cards, I relented. This wasn’t going to be just any card - this was going to blow their minds.
I tried to approach this like I would any client project. First I needed to figure out what kind of design the client (Micah) wanted, and what the project requirements involved. Let’s start with the goals and competition: He wanted a card that would stand out from the crowd and persuade other kid's parents to RSVP.
Being a smart marketer, I knew imagery would be the most effective way to reach his audience. Also because they can't read.
We sat down and sketched the concept out on paper. We started with some of his basic requests: Must have Batman, Spiderman and Sonic. At first I tried to convince him to stick with one theme instead of several but at his insistence I relented and agreed this card would feature multiple characters, continuity be damned. I needed to remind him to leave room for copy as he wanted to “fill the empty space”. It wasn't the first time I heard this.
Then came a doozy of a request: Micah asked for separate designs for boys and girls, one with superheroes and one with princesses respectively. This was the first of our many discussions about scope creep. Thankfully, I was able to talk him out of the idea while preserving the relationship. Happy with the sketch, we moved on to the computer.
We spent some time discussing colour. While Micah's first preference was a dark blue, after he saw it on screen (as is so often the case) he went with my suggestion of a lighter blue. I also found a trippy cityscape pic on the internet and decided to use that as the background.
Next came for the characters. Thankfully, all of his choices have high-res renderings with transparent backgrounds available on Google images. For those not in the know, Super Sonic is like Sonic the Hedgehog, but golden yellow.
Next came Batman. This part was pretty fun.
I wasn’t thrilled about adding Spiderman here, as the illustrated comic book style didn’t mesh with the pseudo-realistic 3D renderings. Also I’m not sure Batman would ever let someone’s hands get that close to his ears.
A birthday card isn’t complete without balloons. I got the placement right but realized I’d need to finish the strings later.
Now for the copy. After a short discussion we settled on something simple and to-the-point.
Surprisingly, Micah didn’t push back on the choice of fonts. I was trying to find something fun and appropriate for children whilst remaining clear and legible. I didn’t dare even show Micah what comic sans looks like.
Next came an unusual request: Add a sun into the mix. I felt this threw the card completely off, seeing as our backdrop featured a city at night. Where does a little happy face fit into that scene with the goddamn Batman? Once again, I picked my battles and added the smiley face sun. I even threw a glow effect on it for shits and giggles.
Still, for all of its excess the card was missing something… It was missing Micah! We decided his face would be on it. Yup, there’s no way the audience could miss that this was Micah’s birthday.
We set up a makeshift photoshoot in my bedroom. I was attempting a green screen by placing a box for a fan from Walmart in the background. This didn’t work at all and was really hard to cut out due to the terrible lighting.
Voila, Micah’s face on the card. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I suggested we create separate versions of the card and place all his friend’s names on Micah’s hat. This would come later.
This was still missing something though. I know, an explosion!
I felt this was ready for primetime, but still Micah wanted more. “How about dinosaurs and stuff?”
First off, he said “dinosaurs” - plural. Just how many dinosaurs are we talking here? Secondly, “and stuff”? So much for clear client feedback and direction. We settled on one dinosaur and Cosmo from Fairly Odd Parents.
I was pretty tired at this point, so I did a less than half-assed job of extending the balloon strings down to Super Sonic’s hands. The client didn’t notice (thank god).
We were done, and not a moment too soon as price came into the conversation. I suggested that for design and printing he’d pay $150 as this was more than fair. He balked at the price and countered with a $1 offer. Less than 1% of my price. Typical.
Micah needed me to explain how printing works, so I told him I’d go to the office and there’s a special machine that the invitations would come out of. This blew his mind.
Micah’s invitations were a success - his party was jam packed - and as the designer, I received zero credit for it and didn’t even get my $1.
This process has taught me one thing that all professional designers can learn: if you’re not careful about the clients you choose, you’ll soon realize that working for bad clients is pretty much exactly like working for a five-year-old.
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