I got a ‘written warning’ from my supervisor at work for a design project having ‘multiple revisions.’
Some background: I have been working as the in-house graphic designer for 8 years and we just got a new VP of fundraising, who is really picky and opinionated about design, and who now is the ‘sign-off’ person - not sure if she has any background as an art director or managing design projects, but I doubt it.
This was for the annual fundraising letter, which is typically pretty simple and doesn’t have many ‘design’ elements. It went through about 3 rounds of revisions with her, (changing the color of text headers, trying different treatments of the main page heading, moving the sidebar up and down, etc.) where I responded appropriately to each requested change. The VP communicated all changes to me through my direct supervisor who is not really an art director, primarily a writer. She kept rejecting the stock photo choice in particular, even though I responded to her notes on what to change each time which was very frustrating. After that, there were a couple more rounds of overall revisions from the CEO weighing in.
Does this seem reasonable and is it common for a designer to get ‘written up’ because there were ‘too many revisions’, as if it is the fault of the designer? Or is my supervisor out of line?
A written warning is certainly over the top for a “failure” like this. However, you still occupied quite a bit of time from your senior management (VP and CEO) for something that is “pretty simple and doesn’t have many ‘design’ elements”. Their time is money and if you occupy it too long, you’re hurting the business. You’re costing the business their handsome hourly rate for the time you occupy them, and you are preventing them from doing other more meaningful work to keep the business afloat. Of course it’s unfair to you when they bring that on themselves and then blame you for it. It’s frankly bad management on their part. And what’s making things worse is that your supervisor won’t/can’t take a stand for you, and resorts to a written warning, when it’s actually her job to mentor you and grow you as a talent. Anyway, one thing is clear - you need to double check the relationship you have with your supervisor and the top management, and improve on it. And you need to be able to read the room better and be more efficient.
When it comes to stock photos I tend to show 3-5 options in situ - and if they don’t like them I ask them what they want with a link to the stock site to see if there’s something more appropriate to what they want - they can go and pick the image then.
You’ve given them enough choices 3-5 is more than enough, even if they say I like no.3 but something along those lines, give you a chance to try 3 more similar options and if nothing is sticking just say, maybe it’s best if you have a look as you seem to have a particular image/style in mind that I can’t seem to match.
This gives you 1) A clear shot that you tried to find a an image that they liked. 2) That you found something they might like and gave them three more options 3) They still couldn’t decide so you offered a faster alternative that they take a look to find a suitable image as it’s very specific.
I would be concerned about a written warning. That seems like an extreme escalation for something most employers would consider non consequential. Do you think they are trying to come up with excuses to support your possible dismissal?
Usually it’s me telling people they are going through excessive revisions and ballooning the budget. This kind of sounds like a conversation where the art director should straighten out the VP.
Usually, when they start to find small errors they are looking at…other options for employment.
The others have seemed to have good suggestions. I don’t feel it’s too late and you still can prove yourself.
A few times in which I have gotten a new supervisor or upper management they have always tried to do some sort of power move. Not sure how it works in the design industry but they also can say they are expert and hide behind their title with having no design exp.
What you described is unreasonable, but there’s another side to this that we haven’t heard.
A new person somewhere up the ladder who thinks they know more about the people’s jobs below them than the people in those jobs is always a problem. It’s also quite common for incompetent people to rise up through the ranks then inflict their incompetence on those who report to them. I’ve seen it happen many times.
Then again, none of us have seen your work. We don’t know why they asked you for multiple revisions. Maybe they’re just clueless, micro-managing nitwits. Maybe your work really isn’t up to par and the new person is wanting better. Maybe it’s somewhere in between. I’m not making judgments — it’s just that I have no way of knowing.
If you really believe you’re right and they’re wrong, request a meeting with the VP to discuss it. Establishing a personal connection where you can get first-hand information about what this person expects seems to be important since you’re obviously, for whatever reason, not meeting this person’s expectations at the moment.
The written-up warning seems over-the-top, which leads me to think their might be more to this than meets the eye. Or maybe your direct supervisor is also feeling threatened by the new VP and is under pressure to do something. It’s really impossible for me, or any of us, to say.
It really boils down to a few choices. You can continue on doing whatever it might be that is displeasing them. You can start looking for a new job. Or you can try to constructively get to the bottom of what they’re unhappy about, then make your decisions accordingly.
Getting it right the first time, or final approval at proof #1, is the holy grail of any graphic designer. It doesn’t happen very often I know. I also know there are some (but not too many) designers who tweak their work to death, but that’s another story. All I’m saying is, no designer will wilfully make revisions for no reason at all.
But that’s impossible if the copy you’re given is tweaked all the time.
Policy should be that the written copy for the design is signed off before any designing.
And this is where non-designers who have access to designers don’t realise. They think it’s ok to give a version 1 of something and then keep tweaking the copy until it’s done to death. They can’t visualise the design, they focus too much on it. They want to see it designed before committing the copy.
The truth is - if they focussed on the content and the copy and that signed off as a clear messaging exercise, then the design would come quicker and easier.
Seems like everyone was involved in tweaking this. And I bet the VP wasn’t too happy to keep re-reading mistakes all the time. I bet the supervisor got it in the neck and blamed it down the ladder rather than absorbing the brunt and working on improving communications.
It ended up just being a finger-pointing exercise to get out of trouble.
Where I used to work full-time, all copy must get signed off by Linguistics (French OR English) before passing on to the art department. Still, there were marketing types who would bypass the process and sneaked one on to us.
A written warning for multiple revisions is certainly over the top.
Were you briefed correctly to design a new look for the newsletter?
Although I don´t know the ins and outs, to me it sounds like the VP becoming the “art director/designer” without really knowing what she wants, having you try all her changes and you winging it until you get it right.
Somebody has already mentioned it on this forum but with this many changes you get the Art Director involvedor better yet you speak directly with the VP to work out what it is she is after.
Also, you mentioned that you have been the in-house designer for 8 years.
Have you had problems like this with other projects?
I would speak to your supervisor about the written warning.
The VP talks to my supervisor and tells her what changes she wants made to the current draft. My supervisor then relays those notes to me. I implement those changes and send a new draft to my supervisor, who goes over it with the VP. Rinse and repeat.
Unfortunately, all the meetings with my supervisor are done via video conference (Zoom) and changes are relayed verbally, sometimes worked out live via a screen share, so I don’t really have a paper trail of requested changes other than some notes I have scribbled down.
I do however have a history of pdfs to show each round of revisions, and I have been able to piece together a list of changes requested at each round. I have a meeting with the head of HR on Friday and intend to state my case. I would go directly to my supervisor/VP but frankly I don’t trust them at this point. After 7 straight years of ‘Above Expectations’ performance ratings, they just gave me a review of the lowest rating possible, full of the same type of illogical B.S. accusations. And followed it up with this ‘written warning’.
Just to give you an example of some of the requests:
-‘move the sidebar down’ (later, ‘move it back up’)
-‘add more color’ (later, ‘those color blocks are too heavy on the page’)
-‘add a photo to page 1’ (later, ‘remove the photo from page 1’)
-‘change that color from green to orange’, etc
It does seem illogical to penalize me for following directions. I didn’t make any mistakes or do anything other than what they asked for. This VP seems to be a micromanager, communicates to me through my supervisor via a game of ‘telephone’ and she’s turning me into a pixel pusher. Excessive revisions are on her when she keeps wanting to try different things and adds new instructions to each round of revisions.
I was actually asked to begin this project with ‘three different designs’ without being given the content or any direction. When I protested and asked for us to do a creative brief, I was written up for ‘not knowing how to do my job’ (“you should know how to do an Annual Appeal by now”) and classified as ‘resisting work.’
I think your diagnosis is dead-on, that the VP is trying to play art director without knowing what they want. I don’t think she is able to visualize things in her head until she sees them on screen/paper. It further complicates the process when I can’t deal with her directly.
Unfortunately there is no Art Director where I work - I am the only graphic designer and while my supervisor used to be the de facto AD, signing off on designs that I made, the VP has stepped into that role now. Neither of them come from a design background.
You’ve been there eight years. Why do you need a creative brief written by someone else to tell you how to do the sort of thing you’ve been doing for eight years. Write your own creative brief and run it by them.
You might not have the title to go with it, but from what you’ve described, it sounds like they’re expecting you to step up to the plate and serve as the equivalent of the art director without them having to tell you how to do your job.
Why not? Have you been forbidden from talking to her directly? If so, maybe it’s time you had a talk with your supervisor — not to air grievances but to address the problem of needing to talk to the fundraising person directly.
I’m not there and have no clue other than what you’ve written, but have you considered that they’re asking you to work with them as an equal to figure out how best to do things. The writer you work with isn’t a designer. The fundraising person isn’t a designer, and she likely just wants materials that she feels will help her do her job.
She has fundraising experience, but not design experience, She needs your help and you need her help. Work together and figure it out.
I’ve worked with lots of fundraising people. They’re typically aggressive, a bit loud, and a little pushy, but that’s the kind of personality required to do their jobs. If that’s the case with this person, don’t let it intimidate you — work with her and bring your direct supervisor so she/he doesn’t feel left out.
Seriously, be proactive about this. You’re the designer and the de facto art director It sounds like they’re just asking for your help. You’re supposed to have the expertise to work with them as a partner where you all share your respective talents and experience to develop a product that accomplishes a goal. If it’s a fundraising goal, great — put your two heads together, share your collective expertise and come up with a winning solution. That’s what art directors do and, from what you’ve written, that’s what they need and are asking for.
After eight years at the same company, you should know the system inside and out, yet you’re sounding like you still want to be the new designer who needs guidance and hand holding from others. It sounds like they’re asking you for solid, convincing, well-reasoned art direction ideas and getting frustrated that you’re not rising to the task. So step up to the plate and do it! Work with them. Show you care. Show that you bring expertise to the table that will help them accomplish their goals. Argue your points — not defensively, but from the standpoint of you knowing what will work best. It’s a joint endeavor, so be their partner.
Here’s what I do when I get instructions verbally at a meeting. I make notes. And before committing to any changes I email the team to say - please find below all the changes requested in the meeting, if there is anything else or something not right please let me know by amending the below.
Once I get the a-ok from this that’s when the work begins.
If doing changes over screen share - I relay the changes back to the person in email.
Always keep a paper trail. It’s saved me countless times.
We would store items in a warehouse, so there might be 250,000 leaflets stored in a warehouse for a year, nobody has seen the light of the day of these things.
Then somebody notices there was a change and the question comes back to me - why did you change that. Usually I remember the requested change or I don’t remember, that point is useless, but I have an email of every single exchange of round of changes.
Even a year later or two years in some cases I can say “Mr X” requested that change on the 11 November 2017 at 1.10pm.