A sense of perspective

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An expletive-filled rant by an overly precious restaurant critic has made Jim Davies re-evaluate the behaviour of designers. Seems they’re not prima donnas, after all


Designers have a certain reputation (how can I put this tactfully?) for being a trifle over-sensitive. Footballers have their metatarsals, but with designers the prevalent injury is punctured pride compounded by bruised ego. Every studio in the land has witnessed its fair share of hissy fits, as designers take umbrage at barbarian clients, long-in-the-tooth creative directors whose ideas went out with the Ark, or hard-nosed project managers who simply don’t understand.


But I’d like to set the record straight. Designers aren’t pampered prima donnas with ricepaper for skin. Quite the contrary. They are level-headed pragmatists, used to taking the rough with the smooth. And by the end of this column, I intend to have proved this. I bring to the stand one Giles Coren, sometime TV presenter and food critic for The Times. He recently had a run-in with said newspaper’s subs desk, which had the temerity to remove a word from one of his precious restaurant reviews. This wasn’t even a big word. In fact, it couldn’t have been any shorter – it was ‘a’.


In a Bernard Manning-blue letter to the unfortunate subs (mysteriously leaked to The Guardian), Coren ranted and raved how this minuscule cut totally changed his meaning.


‘Go for a nosh’ had become ‘go for nosh’, so a subtle joke about a blow-job had appar – ently been lost. What’s more, the carefully worked cadence of his sentence had been destroyed. He found the crime heinous enough to fulminate at length, claiming he’d become so worked up he couldn’t sleep at night, and that his entire weekend had been sabotaged.


Eventually, there were no toys left to throw out of the pram. Now there are a couple of ways of looking at this. Either you can admire Coren’s perfectionism and passion (that’s an overused word, but entirely appropriate in this context). Or you might think how ridiculously precious and over the top he was being. There are times you simply need to take things on the chin and move on.


And when you compare it to the compromises designers have to make every day of their working lives, it’s trifling.


Clients (God bless them) pay the bills and always have the final say. You may have come up with the idea of the wheel, but if the client says it’s too round, you’ll have to put some edges on it. With a smile on your face, of course.


Designers want to make the best of every opportunity. But they’re still realistic enough to know that there are reasons every project is at least slightly flawed. You may have been asked to make a silk bumbag out of a sow’s udder. The billion-dollar budget isn’t there to realise your spectacular vision, so you have to downgrade it.


Deadlines are tight, so corners get chopped. The client has a hangover, and your concepts make his head pound even louder. You’re caught in a power struggle which means your idea is pulled this way and that way, until it is entirely shapeless. You are made to use the client’s accident-prone brother who’s a printer/photographer/illustrator.


There are a thousand reasons a piece of design won’t achieve the perfection that is strived for. And most designers manage to take these compromises in their stride, making the best of the situation, moving on to the next job with as much hope and enthusiasm as they started the last. That takes resilience and a sense of perspective. So maybe it’s not designers, but us touchy writers you’ve got walk on eggshells for.



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