Category Archives: workplace dynamics

Invisible Client Gifts, And Why I Don’t Give Them

Vacant store-front holiday tableau, Westport CT. NYC & CT December 2011

Client holiday gifts are real tricky. And gifts to 3rd parties “in the name-of” are also something to be approached with extreme caution. On the face of it, it’s “Aw, gee, I’m glad that Charity X got $” can be idealistically heart-warming and so on. The flip side is that the “gift” is invisible, not trackable, and open to the dark notion that perhaps nothing at all was truly given.


 What I do is send the client a copy of a book I’ve done that year. Its tangible, its not going to get them drunk if they’re AA, fat if they’re worried about that, and presents your creativity in a different light [perhaps] than what the scope of work calls for.
For instance:


“R2R0: anacardiumphilia”

R2R0: Anacardiumphilia, the artist’s exhibition catalog

…and my first book, “LA1980: a photo memoir”

LA1980: a photo memoir
Yes, that is a shameless plug for me. But these are concrete objects that they can hold in their hands. Let the Dalai Lama sweat the metaphysical crap, we’re here to solve other problems.

Due Diligence

rail crossing

Rail crossing, San Joaquin Valley, Dec 2010

Over the years at various jobs, I had downtime. Sometimes for several minutes, occasionally for days, even a week or two. Reading the papers got old. So I began to practice working on problems.

In the paste-up days, I’d xerox and make assemblages. It kept me nimble. Later when the agency I worked at went digital, I’d set up problems and situations for myself in Quark. Yes Quark, the Error 39 Dark Star of my firmament. While the guys next door were sitting in their office with their fantasy baseball leagues, I was skulling out the business of how this goddamned program worked.

Sooner rather than later, I began to encounter actual old-school typographers who’d washed up into ad agencies. They worked with the invisibles on, frames and all. I was hooked. They willingly taught me about style-sheets. Often times I’d outrun the then-feeble processing capacity of the machines I was working on.

As a freelancer I always had to stay ahead of the full-timers. They had a certain security, while I could be more obviously bounced. That is an unfortunate trade-off, one less and less certain as each new day passes in these grim times.

I too became complacent. Until one day I realized I need to know a whole lot more about Photoshop. So off to night-school I went, and discovered that for over fifteen years I was a mouse gnawing my way around a very large cheese. I’d never cored into the program.

Now I was scared. I went to school for the next 2-1/2 years. Always night, on my own dime. That way I didn’t owe shit to anybody. I’d hear from guys I’d worked with over the years the following statements. You might know them too:

  • I’d go to class if somebody paid for it
  • I’ve been meaning to do this
  • It’s too expensive
  • This shit’s too hard

When I started into Photoshop night school, it was about 18 months before the economy went straight into the shitter. I had several classes, one of which was blighted by a perfect storm of self-centered overtalkers, in over-their-head clueless, and some people who just didn’t take it seriously. One night, I’d had enough, and opened up a can of whoop-ass.

“For those in this class who haven’t noticed, the economy is about to go into the toilet. There are some of us in here who would like to live in a better quality of cardboard box than at present. If you don’t have anything positive to contribute, I’m going to ask you to [shut the fuck up], because your talking disrespects the professor, your classmates, and mainly yourselves…”

Dead silence.

The situation improved slightly. The instructor’s hands are tied, because they can’t tell these idiots to shut the fuck up, because then said idiots would cry that their rights had somehow been violated, and so on. For the record, I’m a stone-cold liberal, but this manner of disrespect I will not abide.

Time took care of them. By 2009 the poseurs and clueless were gone, replaced by a full class sitting stock still, eyes forward, terrified by the economic apocalypse unfolding daily. However the “Special Olympics” mentality is deeply entrenched. Too many expect somehow that just showing up gets them a finisher medal, and a victory lap around the track.

And that’s when getting into a community college was easy. Now that education funding has cratered,  just try getting into those classes. They are probably twice as expensive, and half as long as they were before.

What are your choices? Maybe its what you have to do.

But back to my working life. I make war on bad layouts inside the InDesign Creative Suite, currently 5. I taught myself the mysteries of tables, because where I work, they live and die by them. And I was fed up with working on weird-ass legacy documents where the previous operators had glued all kinds of random shit together with drawn rules, color boxes, tab-delimited text boxes, floating in an ambiguous space, with no definite margins.

Which you’ll never see if you work with the invisibles off.

Here’s the bottom line, ducklings: if you think your skills are the end-all and be-all, you are sorely mistaken. Because they probably aren’t. So if you aren’t going to school, and you go home and drink, watch whatever’s on TV, maybe you ought to slice off an hour and begin to study a problem. Put it on a flash drive, and take it to work, and when shit ain’t happening, study it there too.

All this is out on the webs. Ask the question. And here’s the hook: When you’re sitting at work, surfing, you’re slack. You’re not engaged. Eventually people notice.

But this requires a spark of intellectual curiosity.

So. What are you going to do about it?

Some of What You Need To Know

lost parrot

A wise man once said “I’m going to teach you everything you know, but not everything I know”. Unfortunately, he was eight feet high in a movie theatre.

The following are observations about the print production, agency life, and work in general. Its organized into easily-ignored categories.

The Workday

  • Everyone’s day ends at six, except yours. This explains the 5:59 dump on your desk by someone on their way home.
  • When the word “Family” is uttered, be very careful. You already have a family (setting aside metaphysics for the moment)—everything else are associations.
  • You can and will be thrown overboard—it’s the Family Way.
  • People come to the Studio because its way more interesting than their veal-cube. They’ll want to play in traffic. Watch their little fingers near knives.

The Workflow

  • Similar to a marathon—last files to arrive are the ones that are most screwed up. No, make that a destruction derby.
  • Just because that art director or designer went to a name school doesn’t mean their files won’t be screwed up. Remember, they think they’re Frank Gehry—they get to dream, not to execute.
  • The Inverse Law has many applications. The amount of misery generated by a client/account mgr/customer is inversely proportional to their understanding of the process.
  • The file that has to be FedEx’d rush is the one that is missing something.

Human Relations

  • Agency life revolves around Three Constants: Who’s Cool or Not, This Season’s Fad Gadget, and Who’s Doing Who. This was found taped under David Ogilvy’s desk.
  • Stay on good terms with the support staff and Accounts Payable.
  • 98.6% of office romances end badly. Don’t ask about the other 1.4%. Wait until that special someone works somewhere else, then let it rip.
  • Your problems suck.
  • A good joke lasts forever.
  • Get an outside life.
  • Beware of utopian office schemes that get breathless write-ups in design magazines. Make note who’s got an office with a locking door. Also check to see if there’s adequate ventilation and work surfaces—you are going to be putting together those comps.

The Client/Customer

  • They’re paying the freight.
  • Explain complicated things concisely. Give them a reason to consult you.
  • They know things you don’t. Maybe you’ll learn something.

That’ll do for now.