Was it my fault or was it the agency's?

Hello everyone.
I’m creating this thread today to ask for your opinions and maybe your advice on what I should improve.

A little bit about my situation:
I graduated from university (majored in Engineering, graduated top of the class) in March 2021, and after that, I received an offer and started working at a certain agency in Tokyo, Japan. It was a newly (?) established creative agency, and after joining, my first job was to redesign and recode the agency’s website (the old website was created in Wix in… 2008 with no SEO, no proper sitemap (and the homepage was named untitled4314.html)). At the time of my employment, I was the only designer, and also the only programmer at this agency. Despite having been in business for over a decade, this agency works more like a hub to outsource work from clients to other agencies. Most of the jobs it has been receiving are odd jobs like designing a pamphlet or tracing a premium template (yes, creating the exact same design as the given template/image) for other agencies. Despite all of this, I wasn’t discontent as the agency’s owner promised me to start steering this agency into a proper place with proper projects, and towards this goal, he decided to hire me.

The weird situation starts after I completed the rebranding project for the agency. Despite me being the only designer and programmer, the manager suddenly came to me one day and say we are going to start providing web development services, against which I stated our difficulties (with facts, I explained the development flow, the importance of proper coding and quality control and how our agency lacks the manpower to keep up with all of these processes). However, he said that he’s going to ask for help from a web director who’s also his friend. It’s important to note here that this director is not an employee at our agency, but strangely enough, the manager has been asking and taking advice from the guy without listening to his employees’ words. By employees, I mean to include all of the employees working at the agency.

Things got a worse turn as we started a new project, which is to create a website for a certain event. Despite being the only designer, I received no brief about the project including information about the event and the client, as well as the website’s specification. For some reason, our manager passed the information to this external director, and the only thing I received from this director was … a pdf created using PowerPoint. The director called it an “image proposal,” which, for me, was a foreign term. Based on this proposal, I created a prototype for the website, which was then declined by the director, stating that I didn’t follow his instruction. I contacted him saying that I followed the proposal he sent, against which he started accusing me of being uncooperative before belittling my value as a designer. I asked him, with sincerity, about what I did wrong to make him accuse me like that, but instead of reasons, he kept on belittling me. I asked our manager to step in, but this manager also started accusing me, stating that it’s my fault for failing to communicate.

Due to the stress and the difference in vision, I decided to leave the company after only 3 months of employment and my contract with them ended today (making it 4 working months in total). I’m writing this post here hoping to ask for your opinion if it was my fault, or the agency’s fault, or this director’s fault, and if there is anything I could improve on to prevent such a situation from arising again.

Thank you in advance.

Well, that’s a bad sign. I wonder what the previous 4313 homepages were like. :grin:

Based on your description, their incompetency and blaming you for the failures they set in motion are to blame.

However, we haven’t heard their side of the story, which is certainly different.

There’s no way that I can tell who was right or wrong. More than likely, there are various issues at play, and both sides share some responsibility.

That said, you’ve posted here several times over several months. You have always impressed me as intelligent, capable, articulate. and someone who would be great to work with, so with that said…

Agencies are difficult places to work, and personalities often clash. This is especially true when the agencies are under financial stress or going through changes.

I’m not saying the following is the case, because I have no way of knowing, but some variation of what I’m about to write might be at play. The agency is relatively new. It hasn’t grown or developed as the owners had hoped. They’re under pressure to pay the bills, and they decided on a course of action that they desperately want to work. Unfortunately, they’re great at dreaming, but poor at execution. In other words, they don’t quite know what they’re doing.

They’re beginning to come face-to-face with their shortcomings, which puts their insecurities on high alert. They need someone to tell them their ideas are wonderful. They also need someone who can take those ideas and make them work.

Then there’s you — a younger person who seems to know what he’s doing. You’re smart, savvy, competent, and you expect the same from them. Maybe you’re failing to see the bind they’re in or appreciate their limitations. Instead, you remind them of their shortcomings. Their egos won’t allow them to blame themselves, so they need a scapegoat — someone to blame. They’re under stress, and you failed to make their way of doing things succeed.

What I’ve described isn’t your fault. You’re not a magician or a mind reader. You were dealt a lousy hand and could only do so much with the mess you handed to you. They’re in charge. They don’t want to accept that they’re primarily at fault. You’re the obvious scapegoat, and you’re the person in their line of fire when their tempers reach a boiling point. Rather than give you practical reasons why they’re angry at you, they resort to belittling because they have nothing else — just frustration, anger, and a need to save face.

Perhaps you could have been more understanding of their situation. Maybe you could have helped them out with a more cooperative and positive attitude. Maybe you could have acted more like a partner in making sympathetic suggestions and less like an adversarial employee who reminded them that they weren’t quite up to the task.

Really, though, I have no idea.

I could make up plausible-sounding stories like I just wrote for the better part of the morning. Only you know what happened. Being as objective as possible and trying to see things from their point of view, what do you think happened?

Thanks for your great reply!

I do share your point of view. Even after having gone through the experience, I would still say that the biggest problem was our different views (and that’s why I wrote difference in vision). As a designer, I always value the clients and end-users more than the agency itself. The clients come to us because they need help to grow their business or to connect with their end-users, and as an agency, it’s our job to do our best to help our clients even if that means no immediate profits. A project can last for many months, years even (though I don’t know how large a project could be if it takes years) but as long as the clients need it and we can do it, I want to provide them with the best end results. This kind of thinking has always been the basis of my decisions when working as a freelance designer.

I do know, however, that the company has been struggling financially, and that’s why I didn’t ask for compensation or anything similar. I didn’t mention it before, however, even though I am their only designer, I had to bring my own laptop and drawing tablet to work (they, however, provide laptops and necessary tools for other employees working in the Sales team), and I have to pay for my own subscription to Adobe for the CC Suite, and of course, all the resources and courses that I need. I didn’t voice any objections when they didn’t give me any bonus for completing the rebranding (and I even went as far as setting up Google My Business, SEO, and analytics tools for them without asking for surcharges) project 1 month ahead of the deadline. The most dreaded thing was when they tell me that completing the project ahead of the deadline was my own responsibility and because of that, they wouldn’t accept it even if I ask for compensation. Nonetheless, as you can see, I did my best to assist their financial situation, which I didn’t have to.

However, as I said before, whatever the situation is, bringing the best results to our clients is the only surefire way to ensure the business’s development. At least that’s to my perception. If we were to deliver a defective product, how should we answer our clients when troubles arise? Ultimately all of the responsibilities would fall on my shoulder, so of course, I can’t help but voice my objection knowing that I could never fulfill such tasks without resources.

Still, I do believe the most vital issue was the lack of a proper communication channel. The manager didn’t explain why we need to listen to someone who’s not part of the agency, and the director didn’t acknowledge his fault for shutting down all communication when it’s needed the most. Alas, all of our communication was done through messages and no face-to-face conversation, it would be a miracle also if we could establish strong teamwork, which is vital in this line of work.

Hard to know without being there and knowing what was said back and forth.

But I would say - I would have taken that powerpoint and developed a small portion and sent it back for feedback.

Taking each step and requiring feedback before continuing.

I never do anything over the phone, no changes, no instructions, if you want me to do something put it in an email or in writing - annotate a PDF - I don’t care - put it in writing.

On another note
Without much direction I would have asked for more direction before even starting. And submitted a request in writing. If I didn’t get any then I’d be back to what I was saying at the start.

Hi and thanks for your kind reply.

During the designing and development phase, I made many suggestions to the director in charge and asked him for his feedback and so very frequently. However, as I said before, the director shut down all communication and only replied: “Just design it base on the image proposal I sent.”

It is important to note here that for this website, our agency was in charge of creating everything, from the concept stage to copywriting to the final development and quality control/maintenance. As such, our agency had full control over the project (which is a rare case for a Japanese client) and can do everything as long as the client approves the final delivery. Even though I’m not sure who the client was (the agency also prohibits communication with clients), from the conversations with the manager, it seems to me that the client was an acquaintance of the manager himself.

At the start of the project, I made the suggestion to first research and create a style guide (which is essentially a moodboard with adjusted styling). Also, I suggested creating an information flow and hierarchy for the typewriting just to ensure that users could easily find the information they need. In essence, I asked to follow the basic steps in UI/UX design and only need approvals to conduct all of these tasks by myself (since I’m the only person in the development… team). The project started in mid-May and needed to be completed before August, so we have more than 2 months, which is essentially more than enough to follow all the proper steps. However, as a reply, the director just sent me the “image proposal” and asked me to create a design based on it. This image proposal, for whatever reasons, contained all of the information similar to a half-finished prototype (almost all of the visual elements were drafted, and the typewriting was done… the only thing missing was animations and interactions, which are impossible to create in a PDF). However, all of the elements in the proposal are questionable and the overall flow clearly didn’t consider the end-users. For example, the copywriting didn’t explain what the event is about or what its purposes are, while the visual elements are poorly drafted and could badly affect the website’s performance and SEO in case they are implemented. Below are some images from the final website (which the director completed on his own).

*the hero section is visually unattractive and showed nothing about the event. The colored text employed span text with manually inputted color codes.

*after looking at the source code, I noticed that all of the bold text are, in fact, H1 level headings.

*a sudden change from left align to right align, and an unusually large gap between the two sections.

If you are interested, please give the site a visit: https://www.goglobalarts.net/

I, of course, voiced my concerns, but again, the director ignored it and tell me to design things based on the proposal anyway. After a month, he talked to my manager and they decided to put me off the project. The manager accused me of “failing to communicate” and decided to put me back on odd jobs in an isolated room with no other colleagues (in essence, a completely empty place with the only visitors being… janitors who come by to pick up the trashes… though I always clean the place myself).

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