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The Case of the Designer Obnoxioso

A steady but flaky designer-client takes advantage of his repeat business, and his sign company partner must decide their future.

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CHANCE THIAGO HAD mastered the art of lofty, confusing descriptions in his 25-year restaurant and retail-interior design career. His communication style was peppered with trendy expressions and frivolous clichés.

In the past, detailed drawings formed the backbone of architectural design. But, of late, creators like Chance had gotten lazy, typically directing projects by clipping “inspirational” references from the web, and supplementing these with napkin-style sketches and vague descriptions.

From client to client, Chance offered semi-regular work for a select group of professional contractors who had stood by him, still willing to play his game of design charades, because of the business he brought them and the belief that they could, more or less, interpret his wishes. But, with each passing year, this game was becoming more and more of a gamble.

One spring afternoon, the design team at Ridgemont Signs sat around Chance at the company conference-room table, trying to make heads or tails of his latest request — an interior logo sign for a chic new restaurant.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are NOT a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LAWRIN ROSEN is the president of ARTfx (Bloomfield, CT). Email him at [email protected]

Chance began by saying, “So we need a potent bluish color for this guy’s logo that, you know, is an LED/neon kind of arrangement that’s dimmable in case the glow interferes with the wash-lighting above, because I’m super into an overall 3500 Kelvin type of gig.”

Seemingly not noticing the confused faces around the table, Chance said, “Okay, that’s obvious. You guys know exactly what I’m getting at.” No, it wasn’t. And no, they didn’t. But Chance moved on quickly, deciding now to boast of his role in picking the restaurant’s name.

“The client was going to call the place The Wiggling Pig. But I came out with The Wiggly Pig. Then he comes up with The Giggling Pig, and then instinctively, I’m in there with The Giggly Pig,” he said.

That is the kinda mojo I bring to the table,” Chance added. “A really insane, value-added clairvoyance.” The Ridgemont team stared back at Chance, each person clearly trying to muster a response more appropriate than “WTF?”

Finally, Ridgemont Project Salesperson Gary Muldoon broke the awkward silence, saying, “Alright, Chance, could we hone in on methodology? Do you know if you want actual neon tubing or LED faux neon?”
Chance pulled out a valise full of downloaded search-engine images. He fingered the prints until he found a blurry graphic of a smiling pig. Throwing the piece of paper down on the table, he responded, “Whatever conveys this silly little critter the best, I guess.”

“Do you have a vector image of that file?” questioned Ridgemont’s Art Director Lance Longly.

“Who, me?” guffawed Chance. “Vector, shmector…”

Muldoon walked over to a display table in the conference room and hit the switch on a lit display of argon, neon, and faux-neon tubes. “Can you identify what you’re after here, Chance?” The group moved toward the display. Chance immediately pointed to a bright-blue, clear-argon tube.

“I freakin’ dig this!” he shouted. “Look how the gas in there swirls about. It’s so trippy. I think this is the vibe I want. There’s nothing like the real thing — neon … a dying art, indeed! The client is going to flip, and you people and I are destined for greater fame!”

Longly explained to Chance that the drawing would take some time because the file required careful digital recreation on the computer. “Okay, that’s fine. Just make sure we get an ear-to-ear smile on Mr. Piggly,” chuckled Chance, who finished up with, “I assume you need me to sign a proof or something?”

Muldoon then stated that he must modify the contract to reflect two additional hours required for vectorizing the pig. Chance agreed and signed the revised contract before leaving Ridgemont for his office.

Over the following week, the art department supplied Chance with three renderings. Finally, the third proof was signed, and the Giggly Pig neon request was forwarded into fabrication. Ridgemont’s glassblower spent several days hand-blowing the figurine, blocking it out, and mounting it on an acrylic backer for the installation.

Fortunately, and unlike many of Chance’s installations, the work on-site went smoothly — no glitches and within the predicted time allotment. With the job complete, Muldoon emailed the final billing to Chance, who would in turn most likely add in a small mark-up before sending his bill to the restaurant owner.

No sooner did the bill leave Ridgemont before the phone rang at the office with a frantic Chance looking for Muldoon.

“Dude,” Chance said, sounding on the verge of panic. “Something backfired! The client is not digging this unit. He says that he saw something in New York City that has more of a soft, even glow. I guess it actually was that faux neon. I don’t know if you f’d up or if I f’d up or if we both f’d up, but we have to change it ASAP!”

After a short pause to refrain from reaching into the phone to choke Chance, Muldoon answered firmly, “Listen, Chance … You’re gonna have to cover this. You picked the product and signed the contract.”

Chance paused, then answered in a flatter tone. “Well, I will cover your base costs, but you have to remember I am a repeat client, and I never ask you guys for commissions. Can’t you offset this little mistake by charging a little more on the next job, which, by the way, is in the tens of thousands? I’ll email the contract to you,” he said.

After hanging up and taking a minute to calm himself, Muldoon received the email from Chance — a new contract offer for $63,000. Now rattled and confused, he went to the office of his sales manager, Stella Artwatzinger, for advice.

“Tell that eccentric meathead to pay up and to stay the hell out of Ridgemont Signs for good,” Artwatzinger said. “He’s nothing but a waste of our time — a grand mal pain in our asses!” bellowed the disgruntled sales manager.

Muldoon started to say that Chance was ready to sign a big, new contract.

“I don’t care,” Artwatzinger said. “Get rid of him. That’s it.”

The Big Questions

  • Is Sales Manager Stella Artwatzinger right and the best thing for Ridgemont Signs is to get rid of Chance?
  • Or is Project Salesperson Gary Muldoon right to want to accept Chance’s new, high-dollar project?
  • If so, how can they ensure that similar communication problems don’t happen again?
Rick R.
Sanford, FL

I agree with the sales manager. They are wasting time and money chasing the next project.

Steve A.
St. Louis

Yes, the eccentric meathead is at fault. He saw the layout and [signed] off on it. We can’t read minds. If the customer orders a pepperoni pizza and got pepperoni, then all is good. If he ordered pineapple — which is not a pizza topping btw — but wanted peperoni, he needs to speak English and proper sign description lingo and read the sign off. I may discount the next order but make sure he comes in and signs off on everything.

Rocco G.
Pennsauken, NJ

He should have run the actual design by the client. Since he is marking up the product, he’s responsible for the final look because he’s now a reseller. It’s no different from a sign company ordering product from a wholesaler. If we order the wrong thing, we’re stuck with it. He should be responsible for the full cost of any changes because it was fully his fault. As far as kicking him to the curb, it may be the right choice. This next job has a decent price tag, but how much will the company actually make, especially if there is the chance of a major snafu like with the pig? On a $60k+ job, the possibility of a major loss looms on the horizon with a designer like this. It’s like going out to measure rigid plastic faces and getting within the nearest couple of inches — close, but not good enough. If we were to take on this large project, the designer would tire of signing his name on all revisions.

Rob B.
Norcross, GA

The sales manager is right — and someone should have delivered the pleasant, business-like version of “go screw yourself” to the customer long ago.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a signage and graphics company in the US or Canada, you’re invited to join the Signs of the Times Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute survey each month, you will receive access to some of the industry’s freshest data on sales — including your fellow members’ comments on what’s selling and what isn’t — and can make your voice heard on key issues affecting the sign industry. Sound good? Sign up here.

Lawrin Rosen founded ARTfx Signs (Bloomfield, CT) in 1983. The company focuses on artistically based production of signs, awnings, architectural elements and corporate art. Contact Lawrin at [email protected].

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