Lookin’ good

October 10, 2009

My Mentor: Kyla Day
My Mentor’s details: Freelance Designer and Developer

Looking good isn’t easy. Sure, there are a few natural beauties that can spring out of bed perfectly quaffed–every strand of hair in place, looking dewy fresh with breath smelling like hibiscus and roses. But I’m guessing most people’s blank palette is closer to mine–roll out of bed with hair that could be mistaken for a glam band from the eighties, pillow wrinkles on the cheek, a faint stream of dried drool on the chin, and breath that makes you wonder where the cat came from that defecated in your mouth some time during the night. It requires some effort to transform that into something even remotely attractive.

And this doesn’t apply to just people. Making things look good also takes a lot of work. More than most people realize. And this is particularly poignant with the everyday things we see. Websites. Newspapers. Magazines. Logos. Brands. Books. Blogs. And who is responsible for all this hard work? For keeping print and web from looking like this? Graphic designers. These often unsung heroes are responsible for preventing the assault on our senses and infusing art into our daily lives. They give so much to our visual world and we don’t even realize it: order, beauty, simplicity, vibrancy. And unlike a visual artist, who gets to dictate their own vision or inspiration, a graphic designer has to answer to someone. They have to fulfill the needs of a client or a boss or a board. And that’s tough. Because most people have no clue what they want until they see something they don’t want.

The Language of Tact
So a designer needs to gently coax out the desired direction from their client and lead them to an appropriate aesthetic. It’s harder than it sounds. And usually requires figuring out what a client needs and not necessarily what they say they want. After a lengthy discussion intended to decipher these needs, a designer then visually translates it, and hopes that she creates something that is both effective and pleases the client. Since mind reading is not an option, designers have to speak a lot of different languages, and perhaps the most important is the language of tact. Because a surprising number of people like ugly design. Or at least they think they do, until a professional gives them something better.

For this leg of the Roadshow, I got to witness a designer in action: Kyla Day. Kyla’s been a designer for ten years and a freelancer for the past year. Her clients range from political parties to musicians to doctors to marketing firms. On the day I shadowed her, she was doing a layout for a friend’s blog. And as usual, her client had no idea what she wanted.

For this particular client, Kyla didn’t get to go through her usual routine of research and questions. It was a rush job. And the client claimed to not care what it looked like, as long as it was ‘cool’. According to Kyla, this lack of direction usually doesn’t forebode well. While it sounds like free-range artistic license, it usually just means more work to try and decipher what exactly it is the person unwittingly desires.

Indecisive and Difficult
Kyla had put together three thumbnails, each representing a visual direction the blog could take. I sat in on the meeting where she pitched the looks. Normally, Kyla would organize a more formal encounter but since this was a rush job for a friend, things were more casual. But certainly not any easier. As soon as the client looked at the designs, it was clear she was going to be difficult. She was enthusiastic about them all. But unwilling to commit. She waffled. Back and forth. Twenty minutes passed. Still indecisive. She turned to Kyla for advice. “Which one do you like?” she asked. Instead of choosing for her, Kyla diplomatically and patiently pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of them all. It was clear the client was in agony. She was wrought with worry because choosing meant committing to something that would become her brand, her visual representation, her face to the online world.

After another 15 minutes of flipping back and forth Design Two was rejected.

Design Two

Design Two

Another 15 minutes: Design One was rejected.

Design One

Design One

But with conditions. The client wanted to combine parts of Design One into Design Three.

Design Three

Design Three

Revisions are more work than you would expect. It’s not a simple click of the mouse. It’s labour intensive. It takes time. Some changes, regardless of how minor they seem, might involve hours of work to achieve. But Kyla maintained her calm and professional manner at the requests. At this stage in the design, revisions are expected and encouraged. And can be done quickly. It’s when the client begins making revisions to the revisions that things get sticky.

Again, because the client was a friend, things didn’t follow the normal course of action. Kyla would usually take the client’s feedback and then rework the design on her own. But in this case, the client sat in on and directed the changes. But since she didn’t know what she wanted, her directions were vague and indecisive. She made suggestions and then second guessed herself. She wanted things changed back, and then changed again.

“I’m just not sure about the colours,” she said. “What if we change the yellow?”

“And maybe a different font?”

“Okay, no. I like the yellow.”

“I’m not sure. Which one do you like?”

“I hate the yellow. Can we change it?”

Design Four

Design Four

After an hour the original thumbnail was no longer recognizable. It was amazing to watch the transformation. Kyla created something brand new from the ambiguous suggestions. She had managed to piece together the client’s cloudy vision and give her not only exactly what she wanted, but also what she needed to look good.

Looking good isn’t easy. But with a professional’s artistic eye, even a pillow-wrinkled, drool-covered mess can emerge into something attractive and dewy-fresh.

Final Design

Final Design

To contact Kyla Day, you can email her or check out her website at www.kyladay.me.

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3 Responses to “Lookin’ good”

  1. Niki Brown Says:

    Ha… thanks for linking to my ugly website contest post 🙂 For the record i’m not a fan of ugly design… well ok i am… but only if its for satire 🙂

    • Helen Stortini Says:

      Thanks for the letting me link to your post! It’s hilarious. And yes, I realize your love for ugly websites is rooted in satire! I think my readers will too.


  2. […] Swing Sous Chef for an Underground Supper Club Stockbroker Transportation Planner Business Reporter Graphic Designer Line […]


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