So much for collaboration

Today I attended a kickoff meeting about print collateral for a gala event (my design proposal was accepted) and it went seriously off the rails.

Because of one board member’s wife. She deliberately derailed the meeting, then questioned my ability, said in the meeting that she had the perfect piece of art to use, and suggested adding another designer to the mix.

Then she told me that I could come to her office and we’d knock out three concepts in Photoshop, and have them ready to submit to the committee by the end of the day. She said she knows nothing about putting words into design, but she knew what she wanted.

I know designing by committee is challenging… but I’ve never encountered anything quite like this. She is so full of herself and her importance to the organization, or else maybe mental… it would be an ongoing battle of wills.

I would love to do the design for the event, and I’m not a quitter… but I’m strongly leaning toward withdrawing my proposal.

Any words of wisdom?

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I’ve encountered things like that before, and unless I’m being paid a small fortune, I typically walk away if I can’t turn it around somehow.

I’d try to find a diplomatic way to say it, but it would go something like this. “I appreciate your interest in the project, and I’m happy to listen to your ideas. But I’m the designer, and if I’m going to continue to work on this project, you need to let me do my job or you’ll need to find someone else.”

I’m not suggesting you handle it this way. i’m just saying this is what I do when I run into people with strong, opinionated tendencies who have no talent, expertise or logical arguments to justify their over-the-top meddling. I just have a great deal of difficulty working with them.


Bummer it’s not working out for you. I hate it when that happens. Trust your instincts.

I would remind her that your proposal was accepted and that you will not be using her art going forward.

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Thank you for the thoughts so far. I’m going to take the weekend to think about this.

It looked in the meeting like this woman probably is powerful on the committee and in the organization. Several other members and staff tried to get the meeting back on track several times, but she kept derailing it.

I think I’ll put it to the key members that if they can get her away from the collateral design part of the project, I’ll continue as the designer… but if they can’t, I will withdraw.

Ponder… ponder…

If you have the opportunity to do what you just suggested, that sounds like a good plan. You could phrase it in a way that communicates your desire to continue. But for that to happen you need to be allowed to actually do the job they gave to you without someone else trying to do your job for you.

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I agreed to do some pro bono work for a non profit organization. I got along nicely with the organization’s board president. It became immediately apparent after the first meeting that I was not going to get along with a “not a designer but I have a good eye” type of committee member. I backed out and never regretted it. Just sayin’.

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Good to hear, Steve_O. Especially because this is an “In-Kind” transaction, so it would pay my membership fees but not actual income.

I’ve got great relationships with the management, and one director already told me that she would back me whichever way I go. And offered to go with me to beard the lioness in her den.


I’m not the best person to advise on this because I’ve accepted too many jobs that I should have rejected while rejecting some jobs that I should have accepted. I rarely reject a job due to control issues. In those cases, I switched to accommodation mode, acting as a technical production artist with no plan to include the result in my portfolio. I’ve never gotten comfortable enough with my reputation as a graphic designer to think I could afford to reject the many jobs that I should have rejected. The fewer jobs I have rejected, I can’t help but wonder if I’d be better off had I accepted them.

Bottom line, it depends on how confident you are that you can afford to reject it, and that there will be another opportunity after this one. Hopefully, this person isn’t powerful enough to blacklist you.

Not on a large scale DZ, but she may be able to hose me with the Chamber of Commerce. And I do want to execute this project successfully with them, and for them. It would be a strong portfolio piece, and put me in the public eye of many local businesses.

I feel the Chamber itself should take some action to settle things down. I think it’s their responsibility, because she absolutely would derail the marketing collateral for this high profile event. She’s a high-powered political bully, and isn’t going to listen to me.

During the meeting, I explained to her that I’m careful, and like to double-check things and underpromise and overdeliver. She responded with “well, I’m not like that, and here’s what we’re going to do.” No clue about how to design print collateral…

As it happens, I got an email from the Chamber president last night, hinting that she plans to intervene. So I’ve really got my fingers crossed.

I really don’t want to reject it. But even more, I don’t want to be bullied and abused, and that’s what this would be. She was already doing this in the meeting, in front of about 20 people. “Sarah, should we bring in another designer?” “Do you have any experience doing this?”

Even though she had no role in my proposal process and acceptance. She assumed her board-member wife status gave her carte blanche to do whatever she wants.

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I’m not sure I would have been able to control my urge to say something rude, then turn around and walk out the door after a sentence like that.

Oh, it was a struggle!

But I have learned to postpone my reactions. I used to react with anger to innocent comments, and learned to give myself time to cool off. Then I get mad. :grinning:

Considering the importance of this project in getting you involved with a group of people likely to send more work your way, playing it cool was definitely the best approach since you don’t want to be viewed by them as difficult to work with.

But given the importance of it all, your reputation could suffer if she succeeds in bullying you into work that doesn’t represent your best efforts and sets a precedent for future interactions.

If you have good relationships with those in the group who might be able to understand your predicament, you might want to discuss the problem with them. If it can’t be resolved, you might want to consider politely and carefully bowing out in a way that let’s them know your reasons without burning any bridges behind you. It’s a delicate problem.

You could reverse it into ridiculous excitement and scare her (could backfire). “Oh, how wonderful! Yes, let’s design this together! I had no IDEA you were a professional graphic designer! Where did you get your degree?”

Yes, this makes total sense to me. I’m expecting them to help resolve it, or else I will bow out gracefully. She’s off the table.


Oh, if only I had the nerve to carry that off! What a hoot!

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