s Inspiration Archives | Ponder Consulting & Web Design

Clients: It’s Not Their Fault

November 2, 2010

I’m lucky to have connected with Clare Ultimo of Clare Ultimo Inc. back in August 2008. We worked on a project together for a mutual client and have remained in contact ever since. I consider her a mentor, and a great one at that!

We speak multiple times per week bouncing ideas, new concepts and trends as well as the occasional personal story off each other. We often laugh and sometimes cry but more importantly we learn from each other. Just last week, Clare brilliantly pointed out that everyone’s in business these days and she’s right. I had never compared the modern era of entrepreneurism to the corporate era when Clare opened her studio in 1987 but it’s different. It’s this very point, that makes me value her insight – as without her the thought would have never crossed my mind.

Let’s hear what Clare has to say about “Clients: It’s Not Their Fault”:

Only a few years ago, clients that bought communication design services were well educated in the design process. Many of them went to design school, later deciding they would be happier buying the work than making it. They were vested in the marketing power of branding and spent years developing their own skill in a marketplace that looked, at that time, “stable” to them. They followed standards that would seem rigid to us nowadays; standards that nonetheless made the work easier and profitable for everyone to do.

These clients won design awards and actually cared what other corporations thought of their visual branding. They understood stuff like corporate color palettes and spoke all the technical lingo of their time. You knew in advance that these clients would be clear about what a “kill fee” was, they understood usage (and planned to pay for it in advance) and they knew that what they paid for did not include endless rounds of revision unless you were billing them. In short, you as designer or developer did not spend ANY time educating clients about your work. They came to you already understanding the business of communication, of design, of branding and marketing…and all you had to do was what you did best: invent, design and produce a fabulous “thing” that made them look good to their higher-ups. They actually paid you for this (very well, in many cases), and you didn’t spend a minute explaining what “comp” was to them. Ah, The Good Old Days…it all changed so quickly, we didn’t know what we had.

The New Client

Corporate meltdowns eliminated a lot of jobs and created a new breed of client: the entrepreneur. These are brave folks with their back against the wall and new dreams to realize. The only problem is that most of these folks had little if any contact with the visual purveyors of their previous corporate entities. They never had to deal with the blurry edges of the creative process, or for that matter, the hard structures of deadlines, clear communication, design briefs, budgets, and all the rest that makes great communication design projects. So while the potential and the need for design is greater than ever today, the folks buying it are less informed about it too.

In 2010, design clients are ubiquitous. Your Aunt Tildie is a client because she wants to sell her cookies on the internet. The guy who walks your dog needs a website. An economy who can no longer take care of it’s corporate shareholders opened the floodgates, and now clients are everywhere and everyone, whether they know what a kill fee is or not, needs a logo. Designers and communication experts need to be smarter than ever before, and much more saintly too, if they want to keep their sense of humor about all of this.

I once knew a design firm that fired Prince. When I asked the principal of the firm about it, he said “well, not every client is right for us and you have to maintain your standards”. (Boy, would I love to have been a fly on the wall during that termination meeting!) That firm has long since broken into smaller pieces, unable to carry a huge overhead and forty employees through dwindling corporate design budgets, the meat of their income. And while we all need to be picky and careful who we give our talent and time to, corporate America, traditionally the fountain of great design, ain’t what it used to be. This new breed of client is a victim of a system that isn’t working so well for anyone anymore.

So it’s not their fault if clients don’t know what they’re doing, or we have to explain the process over and over to them, right? Right! Annoyingly, we’re all in this together. But in the end, I think we’ll be in a better position, no matter what it looks like now. We all may have to do more than what’s expected of us for a while, (and that means clients too!) but when we begin to surprise each other with the integrity we always knew we had – business will be better than ever.

Great point Clare! Thank you for your insight. I would like to hear what you think about this article! Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Clients: It’s Not Their Fault Article Courtesy of:

Clare Ultimo Inc.



Since 1987, Clare Ultimo Inc. has been on the forefront of graphic design, corporate communication, and branding, as an award winning Graphic Design Studio located in New York City.

The Importance of Vision and Leadership

June 11, 2009

Baker Middle School Gym

Baker Middle School Gym Photo Courtesy: Kristin Wolf Isenberg

Yesterday on Facebook, I wished a friend from high school, Tina Manzano, a happy birthday. She replied with:

“the best troy PG there ever was!”

PG refers to point guard. This meant a lot to me. Probably more than she or anyone will ever know. I am confident if the WNBA was around when I was in high school I would have pursued a career in it. Basketball was my first love. Starting at the age of 8,  I played from the time I walked out the door in the morning until sundown and sometimes later.

By the time I entered sixth grade and started Parks and Recreation, I was the one of the best players on the court and I had never played organized ball. Some of those girls had been playing organized ball for 3 years, some longer.

I’ll never forget my first game. No one ever mentioned the rules. In the first half I was called for the 10 second in the back court penalty. I was upset, it was embarrassing but I scored twice in the first half.

At the start of the second half, I scored for the other team because no one told me we switched directions. I was really embarrassed! A great basketball player but no one prepared me with the rules. If my memory serves me correctly, the final score was 10-4 (we won).

I went on to play in 7th grade at Baker Middle School. I was playing for the best coach I ever had Mr. (Mike) Vagnetti. He had five undefeated seasons prior to this season. I was the point guard. We pretty much flew through the season with no problems until Boulan Park Middle School. They had 2 girls who were already 5’8, Karen Merritt and Kara Kesler, and I was barely five feet. Tina (mentioned above) was also on this team. This was the last game we had to win to succeed as the sixth team in a row to be undefeated at Baker.

If you don’t read anything in this article, you must read this:

At the end of practice, the day before the big game, Coach Vagnetti had us all lie down on the court. With our backs to the floor, he told us to close our eyes. He told us to envision 3 seconds left, we’re down by 1 and we make the game winning shot. I got the image in my mind. I was nowhere else but in the game winning moment. I believed it could happen. He gave us a vision and taught us the secret of visualization.

It’s now game day, I don’t remember the score with 14 seconds left, but I do remember we were down by 3 points. Lena passed me the ball at the foul line and I threw up a shot that bounced around the rim and went in. Down by 1 with 9 seconds left.

I was defending Boulan’s Karen Merritt who was bringing the ball up the court when she was called out of bounce. She disagreed with the ref’s call and forcefully threw the ball in his direction. She was called with a technical foul. Mr. Vagnetti made the decision to have me shoot the two technical foul shots.

The pressure was on.

These moments define superstar’s from athlete’s. Anyone can play a sport but you “gotta have heart” to come through in the clutch moments to win the game.

With less than 5 seconds left, I made the two foul shots to put us in the lead by 1. They didn’t have enough time to bring the ball up the court and WE WON.

My point here is Coach Vagnetti gave us a vision. His vision coupled with my positive thinking and “heart” was a formula for our team’s success.

I went on to have many more defining moments as a basketball player but only under the leadership of great coaches.

The same is true for leaders of successful organizations. You must have a vision and positive thinking to prepare your organization to be “the superstar” and not just your average company.

I encourage you to continue following our blog to find out more about our vision.

Impact: The Power of One

May 7, 2009

IMPACT: The Power of One

IMPACT: The Power of One

During the last week, I have been considering a new “joint” business venture. And while I won’t disclose the specifics, I will say that I am still on the fence about it. It’s constantly filled my mind since it was presented.

Each week I take a trip to Gaylord to visit my friends at the Detroit Coney Island and eat coney dogs. I am originally from the Detroit suburbs and there is nothing better to me than authentic Detroit Style Coneys (there is no substitute). It’s my reward to myself and I get a chance to socialize with friends.

On the way to Gaylord, I phoned a friend and he said something very simple, yet so profound. He said, “What will you get out of it and what will the other person get out of it?” Brilliant.  Almost instantly, I made up my mind but continued on my journey for coney’s.

After I ate my coney’s I went to OfficeMax to purchase some office supplies. While making my way around the store, trying everything out, I came to the mouse pads. One instantly caught my eye (see top right). Perhaps it was the water, it is so “Ponder” and so much like my business card and website header. But then my eyes dropped to the bottom to read:

“IMPACT The Power of One”

I thought, YES the “Power of One.” I bought the mouse pad but what I got that is far more valuable is a gentle affirmation and now perhaps I will make a better decision. And to think, I almost grabbed my pens at the front of the store and headed out, but I stuck around. It was well worth my time.

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