Nancy Wu Offsetters sketchesSketches from Nancy Wu’s Offsetters identity

If, like me, you’ll sketch anything that comes to mind, from the most obvious to the most abstract, it’s only after sketching when we can separate the good from the bad.

If we’re sat with 100 roughs, with maybe 10 worth further exploration, and three good enough to digitise, what happens when the client, who isn’t a designer, is brought in to choose from the 100? You can almost guarantee that some or all of the 10 ideas worth developing are ditched. So what chance for the three good ones?

It’s our job to single out the most distinctive directions, and show our clients only those ideas that our training tells us are strong enough to work for their businesses.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t show the notepad. In fact, with certain projects showing sketches can save time.

Let’s say you’ve picked three sketches to digitise and present. You then spend hours tweaking anchor points and agonising over typefaces and colours. Now, if the presentation is the first time the client learns about these three ideas, and if she is the “average” client with no background in design strategy, you can bet that your underlying idea will lose impact when your client sees a colour she doesn’t like.

Now imagine the same three ideas first being shown as sketches. You start by telling your client not to worry about typography, colours, or even specific shapes, lines, curves. Say to focus solely on the ideas — how they can flex and grow with the brand and how they’ll work for the client’s customers.

It’s faster for you, faster for your client, and it keeps the conversation where it belongs — on the idea.

But remember, if you’re going to show sketches, don’t throw in the kitchen sink.

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September 29, 2010


Nice article David. I recently worked on a project and was informed that the client would like to see sketches instead of well presented concepts in order to save on time. I politely refused.

I think showing sketches (prior to cleaned up concepts) can be a treacherous road to take. It’s an easy way for a client to rule out potential concepts and then want more…thus creating headaches for the designer. I don’t think most clients will treat sketches as legitimate concepts, which can have disastrous results.

I don’t think we’ve ever shown sketches here, apart from quick ones done in client meetings to explore or demonstrate a direction immediately. One thing we do usually do though, when first presenting brandmark artwork to clients, is to show it in greyscale only to take the subjectivity of colour out of the equation. This gets them to buy in to the concept and story behind the symbol first, see that it works without colour (which all good brandmarks should) and makes it harder for them to argue later! Colour then gets explored later in the presentation, often after a comparative audit of immediate competitor logos, which also helps to reduce subjectivity.

I agree completely with this post.

On the first round, my firm shows a very carefully collected set of rough pencil sketches because — exactly as you say here — it helps save time and delve right into the idea behind the mark.

I find it also prevents clients going down paths of “I don’t like blue, so I don’t like this one”, and “what if we do a-b-c to it?” To this point, there have been times when people “don’t want to mess up” our comps. To which we reply: “But they are comps. They are here to be messed up.”

By keeping things in black and white bitmaps, no one seems to mind doing tweaks and ideas right there on the presentation floor. Sometimes it works and makes the mark better, sometimes it doesn’t, and either way the suggestion is brought to proof immediately.

Great post, David, and – generally – I agree. Showing a range of concept sketches can be risky business. There are few clients who have the vision or ability to see the potential in a sketch. In fact, that’s one reason a professional designer is of value.

If you do present sketches, here are additional thoughts that would help such a risky step to be more fruitful:

* Rationalize your concept sketches with solid reasoning. Refer to observations, research or tangible evidence that supports your concept. This forces the decisions to be made on rationale versus the abstraction or lack of detail in the sketch. Your client will see the scribbly things for what they merely are: quick visualizations of a valid concept.

* Be careful of language used during the review. Never say, “I like this one because,” or “Why don’t you like that?” If you use such language, it steers the conversation into very subjective territory without any rational basis. Instead, try, “This concept works well because,” and “Why don’t you think this direction could work?”

* Leave out as much detail as possible. This true whether it’s a rough pencil sketch or a more finished proof-of-concept. Similarly, this avoids bad judgment made on small details that we all know are quite malleable or even discardable without effecting the broader concept. A side benefit of this “detail-avoidance” is your creativity will explode.

Wow, great post!

Totally agree, I never show sketches until I choose the ones worth pursuing and showing to the client. Then we can sit down and tweak the direction of those chosen designs together, this gets the client involved and prevents you from going down the wrong path, as you mentioned in your post.

I’ve never been asked by a client in 18 years to see sketches!

I have never shown then either. I will tell a client an idea over the phone. If they ‘get it’ I know it’s a good idea.

All true, a good logo design is simple right? The best logos of all time are the simplest; apple, nbc, abc.. on and on. But when a client views a final design without knowing the work put into it, I usually get “it’s so simple” or “I could draw that.” I’m venting!

Good idea to show your sketches first.

For corporate/business clients I agree 100%, roughs can be dangerous, I never show them. However, for my agency clients, I may show a few sketch ideas. Of course, in those cases I’m usually working with a creative director who understands the process.

Good point David.
I’ve been designing logos recently and I too commit to sketch every ludicrous concept.
What’s tough, though, is when a client has requested you develop only one concept. You have to present a digitized ‘sketch’ and if that doesn’t work, well, you’re screwed.
I’m thinking about offering two concepts as a minimum but of course the higher price turns most potential cliens away.

How many concepts do you guys start with usually?

Nice subject for an article.

I have found over the years that more and more clients are not used to seeing sketches. Many of them get nervous and have very little imagination of how this little pencil sketch could work as a logo design. Years ago, clients were required to have a slight leap of faith that the work would evolve into a nicely crafted logo design. There seemed to be a lot more trust. The blessing and curse of today’s technology.

In my case with logo illustrations, and with the gross potential for wasted hours, I will require the client to review and approved my sketches before I proceed to a vector version. It is far easier to make adjustments to the sketch than potential reconstruction to a very involved illustration. This is not to say that this always goes well. There is a lot of selling and hand-holding that still happens.

If you do show sketches, I would have to agree with the earlier comments – the client should only see your selected sketches for review. That way, you still have some control of the final outcome and what you can deliver.

I usually sketch 50 ideas, then narrow those down to 10. I then discuss the 10 ideas with a co-worker to narrow down further to 5. I then start to develop those which generally brings out a couple of nice variations.

I then take all these with me to the client, showing them initially 3-5 solid mostly finished concepts, but have all the others on me as back-up if the conversation goes that way.

An amateur’s point of view – Right now, I am just learning to design and doing amateur/pro-bono design work for people who are aware of my amateurish status, and I have quickly come to realize that I should not show anything other than the near-final design to the client.

While a lot depends upon how good you are, who the client it, and how well you and the client understand design concepts, anything half-baked and sketchy had led to a lot of headache and downward-ugly revisions for me. So I guess that if you are only an amateur, you should be really careful about revealing your sketches.

Kevin, that sounds like a few discussions I’ve been in.

Here’s a relevant post on Ace Jet 170, referencing a useful quote by the late Paul Arden:

“Rough layouts sell the idea better than polished ones.”

Worth a read.

Richard, good additional thoughts. The language designers use when presenting plays an often overlooked role in the process. I talk about that in my book, with help from the very well-versed Blair Enns.

Lee, where my projects are concerned, more often than not the sketches are kept on my side of the table. But I guess I’m asked the odd time because of my blog content (sketching is mentioned on my process page, in portfolio entries, in one or two guest posts, and elsewhere). So I bring it upon myself to some extent.

Andrea, I feel the same. Delivering just one concept means it’s all or nothing for the client — take it or leave it. Two concepts, on the other hand, offers a greater choice, giving him/her more involvement in the final decision. It’s mainly dependent upon budget (as you’ve discovered).

Leighton, you’ve been in the profession much longer than I have. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, too.

Tathagata, I think that you need to be careful no matter what your level.

Thanks for the viewpoints, everyone. I enjoyed the read.

Really interesting topic and great discussion.

I have only shown sketches to a client once (upon their request) and will likely never do it again. It didn’t go too well. Admittedly, my sketches weren’t that great but the main problem was that the client could not visualize the design.

If you are really great at sketching and have a really solid concept, it may work. I am going to keep my sketches to myself however.

Flipping this a little David I think there is a time and place for clients to see the work that went into the actual finished identity. Seeing how much thought has gone into the design can only help to positively reinforce their reasons for choosing to work with you in the first instance.
As we’ve been discussing it can be pretty tough trying to differentiate yourself in a market awash with quick and dirty off the peg logo designers.
Demonstrating ‘the process’ even after the fact is one way to do this.


When you sketch. Do you only sketch for Logo Clients. Or do you recommend sketching for Flyers & Posters as well?? I am a current Graphi Design student, and I have done flyers, posters, business cards and brochures for different people – however, I normally don’t sketch those types of projects out. I could see how that might be helpful, but I wanted to know if you had any thought on Sketching for those types of projects or the process to make a flyer ‘good’??… thnx

Good point, Bernadette (about showing the process afterward to help differentiate).

Duane, I know that’s something you do, too.

Robyn, I think it’s worth sketching for any design project, be it a website wireframe, a poster mockup, a logo…

Gone are the days in print design where you show a sketched layout/concept. I can barely comprehend the hours that I burn on highly finished designs that get just a few seconds and are then discarded. I agree though, finding another stage between your initial idea sketches and a “designed” layout is a great idea.

@rob sutton:

We actually do have a “middle ground” as you’ve described. We develop and present initial concepts using an approach we call, “minimum requirements,” which eliminates as much detail as possible during concept development. That way, less effort is needed to bring the concept to a “finished” state of presentation understandable for the client audience.

You can read more about it here:
Keep Things Simple

Great post David!

As designers, the truth is we can look at the sketches presented above and visualize them in their digitized form and get a good grasp of their application with little to no effort. The client can not.

I am open to the suggestion of showing the final 2-3 solutions, that could save a lot of time digitizing. I may try that with the client I’m working with now.

Unfortunately when I’ve shown my sketches in the past (fortunately only 3 clients have asked this of me) they have wound up costing me more time, or in the worst case a client. The first I was able to explain the process to and they left me alone content that I was putting their money to good use. The second had delusions about combining elements of about 10 making something incomprehensible, I talked him down but when I presented the solution, he remembered a sketch he really liked from the time I had shown him. It was a stupid idea that just needed to be exorcized through the sketching process, but guess which one got digitized and used by the client? And yes, as you read above, I lost the third client over my sketches. The reason: “Anyone who has to sketch so many ideas clearly has no idea about my business and is waiting for lightening to strike, I don’t feel comfortable paying for this. I want out.” He then went to a crowd-sourcing site…in hind sight, money was the object all along and he probably had his words chosen before seeing the sketches in the first place…but man, did that throw my head into a tailspin for a while. There were some good sketches in there.

Of course all of those examples were before I handed out a copy of your book at projects start. Since then, no problems! ;)

My policy is to show only the sketches that I feel aren’t dumb. I’m a little looser with my standards than I would be if I were filtering things out to be actually brought into the computer.

I think showing sketches is extremely valuable. They prove to your client that you aren’t just messing around on their dime. I wouldn’t show them my very first rough sketches because it might undermine my credibility, but I think presenting your clients with an idea of where your heading is a great idea.

Still loving how you do that, Chris (give my book to your clients). I think you’re right about the client who ran for the valleys. Money is definitely the motivator when design contests are brought into the mix. And I’m sure many of us have had requests to mix-and-match.

Interesting article David, as always. I totally agree – sketching is a massively valuable part of the process but usually I find that amongst the useful ones there are always some complete duds which you just KNOW the client is going to pick and get stuck in their head! ;)

Often I battle with the decision to show quick sketches vs do a simple mock up which is more likely to get the idea or style across more clearly. I guess it’s a case of gauging each case by its own merit.

Hi David,

Great topic – and I agree with you, but there are certain times I do share an early sketch or two with my client. Like most people who have commented here, I too usually keep my sketches to myself, after all it is the developing thought process.

However, inspiration can hit at random. There are times when I’ll sketch out ideas with my notes in a preliminary discussion with my client. Some ideas tend to come very early and I try to capture them as they come. Depending on the nature of the meeting, I may show my client some of the sketches as we discuss ideas. But that’s it, we discuss these sketches as ideas – not as finished work. The next sketch they see would be a tightened comp.

Overall I agree, your developing ideas shouldn’t be shared until they have taken a more definitive form.

Great post once again David and some interesting discussion.

I’m in two minds with this and it really goes down to you knowing your client I guess and what amount of vision you think they have. It’s a bit like viewing a cluttered house when you’re looking to buy. Some people can see though the clutter and some can’t. If you think your client can buy into the concept and message based on your sketches present them as it’ll probably save you time. If you think they’ll not be able to see through the rough edges (80% of the time in my experience) go in with something that’s worked up digitally but only in mono initially to save colour confusing the messaging. I’d probably still have my concept sheets as a back-up in the hope that I’d create some discussion.

It seems much the same also applies in the process of an illustrated character design… I often find (although this negates the very term “sketching”) that the better the concepts are drawn, the better a client buys into the idea. Again, best sketches only, and limited to a few! It sure beats “hours tweaking anchor points” as you stated here at the beginning… Some great feedback. Always good to read fellow designers personal accounts. Martin

Hi, David

I agree that it is our job to sort out the good ideas from the bad and then utilize them to meet the client’s request.

Like you, I always sketch anything that comes to mind no matter how ludicrous it seems. You could generate an idea to use a certain sketch days from the moment of its conception. That’s why I never throw away an idea.

I personally would show my client only the sketches of the concept designs I present to them in order to show them how I came up with the designs. Everything else isn’t necessary in my opinion.

Best regards,


Hi David,
Just found your blog and am now following it, some very interesting articles.
I recently actually had a positive experience with showing sketches to a client. I had already come up with the main concept, we knew where it was going and the client was happy with this. But I needed to adjust an illustration in the logo but the client was having trouble explaining what exactly she meant. I was sitting in the meeting flipping back through my sketch book to show her something when she suddenly stopped me and pointed at a rough sketch I’d doodled a few days before. “That’s it!” It was exactly what she was trying to explain, so based on the sketch I sent her my changes and it was instantly approved.

However in saying that, I generally never show sketches, mainly for the reasons outlined above. There’s a reason why I haven’t brought the sketches to the vector stage, it’s because they’re bad, why would I show bad ideas to a client?? They’ll invariably choose the bad ones if given the choice! :)

PS I’m back again! On a related sidenote, in a meeting with a potential client recently I was asked to send rough sketches/written idea on the general direction I would propose for the project along with my quote. So bare in mind I’m not actually guaranteed the job here, as they will be looking at other designers ideas and quotes too. This hasn’t happened me before. Does anyone have any opinions on submission of sketches BEFORE being given the job?


NEVER and I mean NEVER give sketches or artwork away before a deposit has been made at the start of a job! A nice proposal or design brief is all that should ever be needed…if they ask for more, you will be ripped off, guaranteed. Run!

I did a sketch for a logo for a client who was Aldo’s friend, and he showed it to his boss as the final logo. Then he played with it, took ideas from it, and used them towards improving an existing logo. Then asked me to let him know what I thought about his final logo. I haven’t said a word. I’m never sending anything to someone no matter how nice they are or if they say that depending on that they’d hire me. What’s the best way to avoid that situation?


That’s called spec work. It is a ploy to get you to give them ideas up front without having to pay for it. Unfortunately, it is innocently veiled as a ‘deciding factor’ in their decision, however it is often used as information to provide to the lowest bidder upon awarding the project. Great ideas without paying extra.

Providing estimates should be merely an exercise in generalities and should not be too specific in exactly what you will DO, but more about what you will PROVIDE upon completion of the job.

Additionally, I have been caught in the recent situation where the client or agency wants to know how much a ‘sketch phase’ will cost prior to taking the work to finish. After a couple of times being told that my contribution was complete immediately after this phase, I wised up. They were using my sketches to have someone in-house finishing it in vector form. Another cheap way to go, but I’m sorry, nobody can take it to finish better than the creator.

After that fiasco, my sketch phase weights the job very significantly over the finished logo. Live and learn.

The same happened to me by a so called friend. I’m just starting up my business so the deal was that I was going to use the final logo in my portfolio. He gave the sketch to someone in-house and blatantly told me he “played with my ideas” and they had created this new logo! And had the balls to ask me what my thoughts were. I’m gutted! I worked over Christmas for nothing and I haven’t even got the final product to put in my portfolio. I’m bnever again showing sketches unless there is a contract in place.

@David, Chris and Leighton

Thanks for responding! Leighton, that ‘sketch phase’ ordeal sounds awful! That’s just blatantly taking advantage, very unprofessional on the part of the company you were dealing with.

I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot for the past few days since the meeting I mentioned and I agree with many of the points raised here. The sketches, although not a final usable artwork are, I think, the most important part as these are the ideas behind the logo. Anyone who can use Illustrator can draw a logo, it is the idea that makes the difference between an excellent logo and an awful logo in terms of both concept and layout. Which is what makes it the most valuable part of the design process, in my opinion anyway!

After reading your responses and also searching for ‘spec’ on your blog David, you’ve all confirmed my thinking that I should most definitely not submit any ideas, I will submit only a quote with a link to my portfolio so that they can base their decision on my previous work. I’m only starting out as a freelancer so unfortunately I’m learning many of these things the hard way, but you may just have saved me from another painful experience! Thank you for your help :)

Nice article, that’s the way i do it, i sketch everything that comes to mind, circle the best 3 and refine better sketches for those 3 than i show them to the client; you said it on my words, doesn’t matter the type (at least if it isn’t a typographic logo) the colors and the shape, just focus on the concept/idea presented.

Great post David, now how do we make sure every potential or existing client on this planet get to read it too ?

Some of my clients are simply not visually inclined. When they asked to see a visual to help them to make decision, I’ll always get my studio to produce hand-drawn sketches instead of computer-finished artwork. When a client sees a hand drawn sketch, somehow they understood that the big idea is still in the brewing stage without me saying so. Therefore, they are more inclined to listen to the picture that I am painting to them verbally. At this stage, they are open to ideas and equally open to providing their feedback freely without taking an offensive or defensive stand. And, if I somehow misunderstood the client’s brief, I have lots of rooms to make amend right there and then- simply because my presentation is in sketches. :)

hi david! from atlanta…

i was trained old school, doing 100+ rough sketches before ever working on refinement etc. i think this issue relates to two main considerations: 1) managing client expectations, and 2) the creative process.

with respect to managing client expectations, and the core aspect of running a profitable business, showing sketches opens the door to involving the client at a point in the process that could derail the proficiencies you may have refined over the years of practicing the trade of design.

i find that most clients see themselves as being at least somewhat creative, or at worst, wanna-be designers. either of these present a scope of deep sticky mud that can bog down a process that has served a distinct purpose, taking years to develop.

in terms of running a business – a profitable one, managing client expectations is really the core task at hand if you ever want to earn a living. sad to say, but creativity takes a second seat to managing expectations. i’ve seen plenty of mediocre designers make plenty of money producing lackluster designs. why? because they have learned how to make money first, and produce great creative second. if you want to make a lot of money, AND do kick-ass design, be prepared to fine-tune your persuasive skills big time, or just expect to become an artist and hope your work becomes popular. are there exceptions to this rule, absolutely. but the rule is indeed the most prevalent, and rarely featured in award magazines etc.

no doubt, a suitable balance is an optimum goal. but, how realistic is it to expect to be able to balance these dynamics without wearing yourself out? in the end, i feel that unless the client is satisfied, no matter how good your creative is, you’ve failed at the primary objective of business: profitability. a satisfied customer is a repeat customer, and your best advocate. the challenge to this lies within the whole subjectivity vs objectivity discretion, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

so, how does this relate to sketches? to me, it has to do with a client’s ability or inability, to visualize. you’d have to be awfully keen at gauging a client’s ability to visualize your idea, based on any manner of rough sketch – the spectrum of rough is widely open to interpretation – or you are going to quickly find yourself chasing a client back to reality, and to rely upon the expertise he hired.

say you show a simple set of penciled thumbnail sketches. vague type-styling – not serifed nor sans. just shape, composition et al. some clients might look at that and say “wtf is that?” and, “wait, i thought you were going to show me something that’d knock my socks off.”

or, some might look at a thumbnail like that and grab a pencil and start sketching themselves. danger zone. not only from a creative direction standpoint, but also your proces has been disrupted and you’ve lost control of a finely tuned process. one that has allowed you to create work that you can be proud of, and fees that pay the bills and afford you to live.

now, a lot of old schoolers, including my mentor, would say you are doing a disservice if you don’t sit down with a pad and pencil and go through the machinations of thumb-nailing dozens of rough ideas. i don’t do that. i don’t have the patience, and more than that i design in my head. always have. of course i’ve had to do the dozens of thumbnail process, but in the end, i am much more proficient and creative by sitting down in front of THE machine and cranking out concepts. i am much more proficient on the computer. simple.

in the end, i will share 3 “rough” concepts, no color, to a client when appropriate. i include a short, concise rationale and address the intended final execution. i never show anything i wouldn’t be happy producing; that’s the one they’ll always choose. always.

there is one drawback to showing such tight “comps,” in that a client can sometimes assume that the rough is so “tight” that their perception is what they see is inflexible. when in fact, it is no less flexible than a sketch. meaning they can sometimes take the “comp” too literally. but managing that falls in the hands of proper expectations management.

ultimately, i have to first get the client on the same page in terms of strategic rationale. then agree to the direction to pursue. i will even tell them what i intend to pursue in terms of conceptual direction.

this way, what i show them is indeed – to some degree – what they expected. mostly, except i intend to deliver a much more sexy execution at that point, and often at least one of the comps is outside the box. along with the rationale behind each concept, they should still be one the same page. we are working through this together. i find this important, mainly because if they switch gears at some point in this process, i can address the change from a billable standpoint without much room for disagreement. i’ve established scope and direction, we’ve agreed and i am following suit. business and profitability again.

so, it might seem a bit challenging to navigate. and, well it is. time and experience ultimately work in your favor. someone with years of experience once said to me, “the formula is; out of three things, you should have two of them to establish a worthwhile project – you have budget, creative autonomy and generous timeline. if a project affords two of the three, you usually have something worth moving forward with.

plenty of time, and a great budget? oh yeah! lots of time and total creative autonomy? sure, good opportunity for a nice portfolio piece. plenty of money and creative autonomy? oh yes! get the idea?

i have projects i’ve made a ton of money on, and wouldn’t show them to a blind donut baker. and other’s i’ve made little money on, but am very proud fo the outcome. some i have that absolutely met the business strategy outlined, paid well, but just aren’t something that features much more than competent design supporting solid business strategy. balance. profit. sustainability.

great blog, and really compelling subject matter. although i should probably be working on deadline instead of blathering endlessly on a blog.


As usual for a David Airey blog…good conversation on an important topic. I have a tangential point to tack onto Liz’ question about spec work…

I do freelance when I can but I’ve been primarily looking for a fulltime position. Recently, I had an interview with a Creative Director for a major television station which seemed to be going really well – she’d complimented my portfolio and we were generally having a very nice, relatively stress-free talk about my qualifications and their needs. I was feeling pretty good about things and was taken around the place for a tour and introductions at what I thought was the conclusion of our meeting. When I arrived back at her office, however, she threw me a curve – asking me for additional samples of what I might do with their brand. I was flabbergasted. When I managed to ask her what she meant…what she wanted to see…she didn’t want to pin that down. She just said she’d like to see some examples using station branding and that they should be “cutting edge.”

I don’t like working on spec any more than any other designer. But everything else about the interview had seemed so positive that I decided to put something together and emailed a couple concepts to her a couple days later. After that…nothing but silence.

I realize this is off the topic at hand. Sorry. I guess what I’m trying to say is while I’m not sure what I actually should have said to her in the moment, of one thing I’m certain – and that is that spec work, indeed, does NOT pay. In any sense of the word.

Hi David,

Interesting post as always.

When producing pencil and paper ideas, if there is a name or a word in your logo presentations, would you try to copy a font by drawing it or just show the image idea and present the fonts separately?

Completely agree. I’m a student and recently was asked to help design a catalog for my brother. Knowing i’m not very good in computer skills, i try to do some things manually like painting and etc (I have all the ideas and design in my head). My brother and I live together and he saw what I was doing. Immediately said “NO, drop it, here are some pictures i found in the net, i want you to cut and paste.” I cry as I work on his lame designs.

So what if you get someone that you’ve done sketches for, they’ve seen the options on 2 rounds of sketches, and they decide to go elsewhere to finish the job. They’ve paid the deposit, but that’s it. Do you give them all the sketches or what?

JP, if a client breaks the contract with you, never give them anything! You retain all rights. In fact you should probably revise your contract to contain a “kill fee” to protect you in such instances. As you know the logo design process is a creative PROCESS and that is what the client is paying for. If you are already in your second round of sketches then you’re likely pretty close to completion of the process, minus the few hours it will take you to create the usable vector logo. The client should be paying you a lot more than just the 50% deposit at that point. A good contract is everything, and it took me years to figure that out.

I always keep my sketches well out of the way, and only show a client something that has been honed down to two or three possibilites. That way, you don’t have to waste a lot of time. Thats what you job is all about anyway – you are not asking the client to be the designer! You will have gathered their ideas before you started anyway.

Hello David,

Second one today, please excuse me. I was wondering if the sketches apply to a client wanting a website. Is it procedure to show a wire diagram or soemthing before starting to design the site?

Thank you,

Best wishes

Arghhhh, sorry David I forgot to check the ‘Notify me’ after my last post, is it possible get the feedback?

No need to be excused, Graeme. I’m no Web specialist, having only worked on a few client sites, but from what I see and read elsewhere, having a wireframe agreed upon before the online development will save a lot of headaches and time.

Graeme, it’s funny, you were the first person to comment on this post in almost a year and it happened right as I’m wrapping a job that pertains directly to this topic. Guess I should take that as a sign to share my story? I apologize in advance for the length, but maybe someone will learn something or at least commiserate with me. ;)

A long-time client of mine (5+years) hired me to design a logo for their new skateboard company. Because of our history together I was a little more lax with protocol than normal and opted to sign his consulting agreement instead of pushing for the terms set forth in my own contract. I’d done this numerous times before with him and never had an issue. This was, however, the first time I was asked to design a logo for him, while all previous projects had been illustration based (light bulb, where were you?).

A few weeks into the job I had completed the majority of my R&D and was getting ready to narrow down, fine tune, and vectorize 3 ideas for approval. Before I could get there, he demanded to see what I had been working on. This request was made at 4pm on a Friday. I told him that the project was not in a stage where sharing was an option yet and I asked him to give me another week to deliver results. Satisfied, I left the office for the weekend.

Now might be a good time to mention that in addition to this being my first logo job for him, it was also the first time I had required a deposit from this particular client. In the past I knew I was protected by the consulting agreement and collected the entire amount C.O.D. Doing things differently this time actually changed our client-designer relationship, and since I had signed HIS agreement over mine I had effectively given up my control and authority on the project . . . Of course I didn’t realize that at the outset.

Friday night I was about to sit down to dinner when I got a call from said client. Figuring it would be short, I answered. His response to my request for another week was very unexpected (especially considering I had given him a 6 week turnaround): He lectured me about our relationship, explaining that since he paid me, he was my “boss” and explained what my duties entailed in the presence of said “boss” and that if I didn’t do what was asked of me, then I would face termination from the project, yadda, yadda, yadda. This pissed me off something fierce, and I let him know it. So, instead of having dinner with my wife and children, I excused myself and spent a half hour re-explaining the logo design process to this power-tripper and told him in detail why showing him what I had now would be a very bad idea. The client backed down and I thought we were through.

Midnight! I’m awakened by a text: “I was thinking about what you said and know it’s only a cover for the fact that you haven’t started this project yet despite taking my money three weeks ago. I am demanding you show me what you have NOW! No more excuses!” Really! I ignored him. A slew of texts came through sporadically between then and 2am all elaborating on the same topic. Eventually I replied: “Are you drunk? Look at the time man!” and turned off my phone. Fuck it, I was done dealing with this idiot!

The next morning I turned on my phone and a slew of new messages popped up from him. I erased them all without even reading them. Later he called, I dismissed it to voice mail. Upon reviewing the message the guy gave a convincing enough apology, chalking the night before to an argument him and his wife were having and his kid not respecting him, etc. I texted him back “No hard feelings. Talk to you Monday.”

Did we make it that far? No, no we didn’t: Saturday evening the texts came again. Not at all hours of the night again, but enough so that they were disrupting the enjoyment of my weekend. Had we signed my contract, this would have been the point at which I killed the project, I have a “kill fee” in place for this very purpose, BUT because I signed his contract, I had little-to-no options except maybe to verbally mutilate him over the phone. Having already spent the deposit, I wasn’t ready to go there yet.

By Sunday I had had enough and went into the office specifically to scan and send my sketches and notes. I didn’t take the time to call him and explain what he was looking at, nor tell him what direction I was leaning, lest I lose any more of my weekend. I honestly just hoped he’d get off my back long enough for me to finish the project, get paid, and sever ties with him.

Sunday night: “We need to terminate the project, return the deposit amount to my Paypal within 10 days. I am open to working with you again on future projects, but your heart obviously isn’t into this one.”


I waited to reply until Monday, like a DECENT HUMAN BEING. This whole thing was so out of character for my client that I wondered if he was in the throws of a newfound mental illness. Seriously. Before contacting him I reviewed the agreement I signed . . . I was screwed if I couldn’t complete the job. I checked my email, he had decided to give me another chance and had attached a mock-up of exactly what he was looking for. In it, he Frankensteined the shit out of my sketches, combining differing concepts and destroying any integrity the project may have had. I did exactly as he asked. He ended up with an illustration, NOT a logo. I still gave him logo options mind you, because I’m that type of guy, but he ignored them for the 6 color illustration he asked for . . . Which we are now in the third and final revision for . . .

Lesson learned.

P.S. – Graeme – wireframes are a life-saver in web design.

Wow Chris, that’s amazing and I thank you and David for sharing this. I would like to thank you and commend you on your stance with this project and I wish you and your skills all the best.

It’s crazy how that small change to your working relationship seemingly had such a huge affect. Either that or there were some serious issues behind the scenes.

Rather you than me, Chris. Sorry it worked out like that.

This is really interesting to me! I make my living mostly as a caricature artist now but for many years was a political cartoonist and had to take in rough sketches to the editor to pick one to finish for the newspaper I was working for. I did HORRIBLE roughs, rougher than rough, because I found that if I went beyond the most minimal sketch, my final drawing would suffer greatly. By holding off on coming even one-tenth of the way close to a finished version when doing the rough, I was able to play and explore and come up with much funnier ways and better ways of doing the final version when I actually sat down to do it. Now, editors are totally left-brained people with no visual imaginations whatsoever, so this made it VERY hard to “sell” the ideas. You really had to SHOW them an almost-finished version to get them to accept them. So the best periods for me were when I had editors who gave in after a few weeks and just resigned themselves to trusting me to pick the best idea and do it. Different from design work, because I was signing my name to my opinions in the cartoons, anyway, more the statements of an individual artist. At least that was the ideal situation. When the editor wanted the cartoon to be more the editorial view of the paper (usually meaning HIS personal view!!) then it was problematic.

It’s almost as if walking into a 31 flavors ice cream parlor. There are just way too many choices to finally settle on one.

I’m having trouble showing my sketches right now. They can’t see past the style to the idea. Its so frustrating because I can’t get any direction from them other than, “this isn’t the style we are looking for.”

“Do you want a hummingbird or a cat?”


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