Getting the most out of failure

Five months out of design school, I landed a pretty nice freelance project. It was a calendar that gets sent out to low-income families, to educate them on keeping their energy costs low. I was so excited, it was my first solo design project and a HUGE final payment. Pretty. Big. Deal.

The client and I corresponded through emails, and we agreed to nailing down the concept through the first spread, and continuing on to the rest of the calendar once January was approved. As soon as I started designing, there were problems. No matter how many variations I would send, the client disliked all of them.




3 versions out of 20 for January.





In order to help “save the designs”, he would offer me feedback like “make it POP!” or “can you make it more eye-catching??” Questions that are difficult to answer when you don’t understand what’s not eye catching about it in the first place, but undeterred, I continued to try and design around it.

This was well before the time I realized the sticky trappings of subjective feedback, but also before I realized that my talents ind ensign were not dependent on a client’s tastes and sensibilities.


February_v1  February_v2.1  February_v2.2  February_v2.5



My favorite versions for February. This Energy Guide image was not to be modified or  manipulated in ANY WAY. I loved the image-as-plug, but lordy the client did not. 


Countless iterations later, the client instituted something I’d never heard of (and haven’t needed since) a “kill fee”. Even now, the words seem scary and harsh–totally sending chills up my spine!

At the time, it was one of those “holy shit what have I DONE with myself?!” moments, but 6 years later I look back with a wide, sincere grin. Had I never experienced this thing called “useless feedback”, I would have never created the subjective-proof process that enabled me to brand 10-19 clients at once through Flosites. I would never be so patient and understanding with clients as they try and talk through visually what they want for themselves, and I would hardly be so compassionate with myself for not realizing the difference.

On the short term, losing the project how and when I did was also beneficial. It allowed me to be free from my exhaustively frustrating schedule to accept a call from HSN to art direct their fall fashion line. The next day. TRUE STORY.

Why something fails may never be within our control, but how we face that failure and ultimately learn from those experiences can turn it from a crash and burn shame spiral into an awesomely inspiring teachable moment. How are you ever going to be “the best” if you aren’t tested?

Personal note: I love this style!  

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