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Back to the Drawing Board: Learning to Design for Clients

Posted March 11, 2014 in Classes & Presentations

Guest blogger and Graphic Design major Abby Bedford writes about her experience designing for Laughfest 2014. Learn more about this collaboration between KCAD and Laughfest here.

LaughFest is a really great community festival tied to an even greater organization: Gilda’s Club. My grandfather died of cancer when I was ten and he was probably one of my favorite people on this planet. I really feel connected with the mission of Gilda’s Club to help people through the difficulties of terminal disease, so when an opportunity was presented that would allow me to create an original design to be used on posters and t-shirts for the festival, I jumped at it. Throw in the fact that my work would be seen by a whole lot of people including big-name celebrities, and I was excited, to say the least.

Abby Bedford

Abby Bedford

I met up with the other three students who were selected, and once we came up with a great concept to tie all four designs together that was approved by LaughFest organizers, we were all eager to get started on our individual pieces. We ended up with really great designs, and I was especially happy with how my piece turned out. I thought it really communicated one of the core tenets of the festival. But when the designs were presented to the executive committee at LaughFest, they felt the concepts fell short because they didn’t express the festival's ties to Grand Rapids.

With a new deadline of one week, we all went back to the drawing board. I kept getting frustrated because every idea I came up with was something I would not be proud to display in front of thousands of people. Needless to say, there were a few late night sketching/brainstorming sessions that produced a lot of terrible ideas. Feeling the pressure, I hurried to get a concept together in time for me to be able to meet my deadline.

But alas, round two was also rejected, leaving me even more frustrated. There were times where I wished I could just use my original design and be done with it, but didn’t want to give up that easy. I wanted badly to give the LaughFest organizers what they wanted, so I put my head down and kept working, focusing all my energy on capturing that essence of community that the LaughFest organizers wanted people to associate with the event.

Abby Bedford's LaughFest design

Abby's final design, found across West Michigan on posters and t-shirts

After a grueling period of trial and error, I finally came up with a concept I knew would work: a mosaic of the State of Michigan. I spent hours individually placing the squares and getting everything just right, and while there were certainly times where I was kicking myself for coming up with something so tedious, I’m glad I put in the effort. The final design is one I am proud to put my name on and one that satisfied the desires and vision of my client.

The reality of designing for clients is that you need to have a deep understanding of the message or the idea that your client wants to put out there. You need to understand that as a designer, your role is to communicate that idea in a way that grabs attention and prompts engagement, not just with the design itself, but also with the very identity of your client. Often times, that means learning to be less possessive of your own creativity. That's a hard lesson for any designer to learn, but I’m glad I did.

Abby Bedford models the shirt she designed for LaughFest

Abby models the t-shirt she designed for LaughFest

Moral of the story? There’s more to design than can meet the eye. Sure, classes have deadlines and professors can have high standards, but nothing really compares to the experience of working to satisfy the demands of a professional client. Fortunately, KCAD has strong ties in the community and is constantly working to provide these kinds of real-life opportunities for students. While this particular experience was stressful, the knowledge, exposure, and confidence I gained from it were well worth a few sleepless nights.


  • Halsey Mollhagen March 11, 2014

    Nice job, Abby!

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