15 Awful Mistakes Made by Designers in the Music & Apparel Industry – 2 of 3

This is part two of the 3-part mistakes series. The first one, in case you missed it, covered issues such as undercharging, typography, unprofessionalism, over promising, and the lack of understanding of apparel production. It was well received and a lot of people posted their comments. It was a pleasure reading all of them.

I’ve picked the brains of 9 great designers:

Rob Dobi Dan Mumford Derek Deal
Jimiyo Geoff May Justin Ryan
Laurie Shipley AJ Dimarucot Jimmy Heartcore

So without further ado, here are 5 more mistakes made by designers in the music and apparel industry.


Some designers have developed a style that is instantly recognizable such as Shepard Fairey, Rob Dobi, Derek Hess, Hydro74, and Angryblue. They’re highly coveted and sought out for that style. A lot of designers today simply try to mimic the style of others, and oftentimes, it is the client asking them to do this! Like I said in an older article, I get asked to “Make it look like Affliction” all the time.

Don’t completely cave in to what clients ask for, you have to leave a little room for your own aesthetic. If a client wants a certain type of imagery, make it your own rather than doing the obvious. A big mistake is failing to establish your own style, your ultimate goal as a designer should be to have someone see a shirt and instantly know it is yours. – Rob Dobi

Be Yourself

Rob also goes on to talk about biting trends:

No more silly shirts with huge text, food, cartoony animals with sunglasses, and anything else that looks like a third grader doodled them in their notebook. This style will look dated and completely immature in a few years. There is a reason why tees didn’t look like this in the punk / indie community a few years ago, mainly because it is a passing trend among fifteen year old girls who will flee the scene just as quick as they came. Glamour Kills has this market down to a science, every other brand that imitates it just ends up looking like they are riding GK’s coat tails. – Rob Dobi

If a designer can develop their own style, or spin on another style, this will greatly benefit them in the long run. Also, if a designer is TOO versatile, they will often be overlooked because nothing they do stands out from the crowd. Being a jack of all trades but a master of none only gets you so far.

I think some designers are so eager to break into the industry, that they end up just re-hashing tired concepts or ripping off other people’s styles. Most of my favorite designers infuse a lot of their own personalities and interests into their work, which in turn separates them from a flock of would be designers. I don’t think there’s any reason why you can’t be an ‘artist’ as well as a hired gun. Just be honest with yourself, maintain your own personal aesthetics and if you’re luckily you’ll start getting more work that vibes with your personality. – Derek Deal

Slater Rip

In addition to just following trends, there are people who call themselves designers who outright steal or rip off other people’s hard work. You are seeing this more and more today. There are countless threads on Emptees about various instances and websites completely devoted to pointing out design thieves.

But what constitutes ripping? I know I have a few designers I admire whose techniques I study and try to implement into my own work. Is that ok? Everyone knows that every creative piece of work done today is a copy of something else in the past.

I think sometimes designers use inspiration for a piece (which is totally cool), but then unintentionally use too much from it, thus resulting in a rip. – Chris Sandlin

Westside Mordor ManticoresAs a result of the constant ripping that is pointed out on Emptees, a little “club” called the Manticores was formed. The Manticores (short for West Side Mordor Manticores) were formed to help police and publicly shame individuals who steal or rip off other artists. Sometimes the acts are completely embarrassing to the individual who decided to steal someone’s design, and this drastic measure of public humiliation might deter thieves from ripping in the future. I called myself a “member” of the Manticores, but I personally try to keep my opinions professional and mature. If I get ripped, I try to go about it in a professional manner. In fact, I wrote an article about what to do if you get ripped. I haven’t been following the Manticores much lately, but from what I heard, they no longer exist.

This is a great thread by Edgil who is an amazing illustrator. He admits to ripping off another artist in his early career and how he didn’t think it was so wrong until it happened to him. It’s a good honest story. He’s since become one of my favs on Emptees.

What about using stock artwork? As you know, Go Media sells vector packs and other stock on the Arsenal. We promote them to other designers and encourage them to use the artwork in their designs. Using stock is completely legal when used within the terms of use, but isn’t that being unoriginal?

Not necessarily. You can be original and use stock to save time on your project. Think of new ways to utilize it. We would much rather see someone buy our stock and use them in a way we haven’t seen before or add them to an illustration that WAS original. I’m sure other designers who create stock artwork feel the same.

7. Not Following Directions

No Skulls Idiot

You’ve always heard that communication is key. Young designers and even experienced ones lose jobs because they don’t follow directions or listen to what the client really wants.

It is better to err on the side of communicating too much than not enough. During business affairs, make sure to communicate often, ask many questions, and make sure you get a clear idea of what the client desires. There is no shame to say that you aren’t certain of the direction the art is to go, if you validate the seemingly negative statement by letting them know that you want to ensure they are getting the product they desire and will be totally satisfied. – Jimiyo

Here’s a common situation to avoid: You get a new t-shirt design job for a band you’re really excited about. You jump in and start drawing and before you know it, you’re 4 hours in and really tightening up your linework and colors. You post your first set of proofs and the client writes back and is upset. What the heck happened? It was one of your best designs yet!

“I told you in the beginning I didn’t want skulls or anything related to the human form. I said less than 3 colors on a shirt color THAT IS NOT BLACK.” – angry client

Woops. You just failed. You look back at the project description (or email in some cases) and see it was all explained already in plain English. The client is not happy and thinks you’re an idiot. This is a sure fire way to lose clients. Not to mention you wasted 4 hours of your own time that you’re probably not getting paid for.

Make sure you read directions and listen to your client. If you’re not sure then ask!

8. Not utilizing the medium to its fullest

When designing for print or apparel, designers often forget or ignore the medium that allows them such creativity in the first place. Mr. Mumford had a strong opinion about this as well. In this case about doing CD Packaging:

I like to try and think carefully about what’s placed next to what and how you can use the on-body design of the CD sitting in the tray to good effect or tell a narrative throughout the booklet. I generally do all layout for the CDs and vinyl I work on, and because of that I always try and make as complete a package as I can. – Dan Mumford

Print design is more about just pretty graphics

And Go Media’s own Chris Comella has a passion for packaging. He’s a really hands-on designer and is often seen printing and folding his own packaging mockups out of plain paper. He adds:

Now that people are downloading all their music, its forcing designers to add value to the tangible CDs they work on. Alot of artists are cutting down their CD runs and embellishing their actual packaging…making it more of a ‘collectors item.’ This approach opens the floodgates in terms of production techniques and finishes that transform run of the mill packaging into more personal experiences. Alternative packaging and specialty productions really nail down the idea that the good is in the detail. – Chris Comella

I like the way Chris appreciates the physical medium of the project. Not just the graphics or what can be done in Photoshop or Illustrator. I am actually going to get him to write a complete article on packaging and how it makes you a better designer. Look for that soon.

As far as apparel goes, the past 5 years have seen major improvements. It’s no longer just the front and center chest graphics. With printers like Design by Humans and Amb3r able to print just about ANYTHING, pushing the envelope of what can be printed on a t-shirt is as important as ever. Just for an example, Oliver’s Concentric Downpour tee utilized both the front and back in a unique way. And AJ Dimarucot (aka Collision Theory) is someone I see that enjoys experimenting with apparel medium.

9. Lack of respect for fellow designers

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster by Oliver BarrettMost designers that email me are usually very nice and respectful. But some out there can be little brats that need a spanking.

These brats are seen trolling message boards, calling people faggots and telling people that their designs suck and they’re rips of another designer’s style. These are the same people that commit the ripping/stealing mistake. They do not care about other designers or their property. They are out to get attention. In fact, I shouldn’t even say they are designers.

Laurie Shipley told me she takes offense when other designers try to make her divulge client contact information:

I’ve noticed recently that a lot of designers just starting out are asking some more experienced designers to offer up their contacts like it ain’t no thang! This is absolutely a huge FAIL in art community etiquette, it’s mind blowing. You gain knowledge and insight by working within the industry. Building up a contact list doesn’t always come easy, and to have someone expect you to just hand it out is disrespectful. – Laurie Shipley

Karma.  Enough said.

Another example is after we spend a few days writing a tutorial, we have a few people who like to spoil the show and rip into it. We appreciate constructive criticism but we laugh when we get comments like this on Dave’s Gigposter Design tutorial.

Yah, that was like, “Take trite design convention #1, add Trite Design Conventions #2 and #3, and blamo.” Also, you didn’t put The Fall Of Troy first because you like them more. You put em first, because the design problem here would have been to put the Deftones first (they certainly would have been the headliner). So instead of solving a design problem, you used a bad example of how to work-around your issue. It’s obvious that if a promoter came to you with this project, that it would be rejected. He’s more worried about the tickets the Deftones pull in, not Fall of Troy. As a design tutorial — C+ As a design problem solved? — F- – Some insecure designer

Showing respect for your fellow designers can benefit you in the long run a few ways.

  • They refer clients to you if they’re overworked
  • They link to your site from theirs
  • They offer their own tips and advice

10. Delivering Files before Getting Paid

This seems like a no-brainer but it happens. It happens to us from time to time and it costs us a lot of money. There is nothing worse that spending 10-20 hours on a design and then sending out the print ready files before you get paid. The client is NOT going to pay you once they have received the final files, unless you’ve already established a working relationship with them and know they will pay later.

If you’ve given the client artwork without getting paid, you might be out of luck. If the client doesn’t want to pay you, and they have your artwork it might not be worth it to you to pursue legal action… It’s an expensive lesson to learn. – Jimmy Heartcore

I did this once and learned the hard way. They didn’t pay me fully because they claimed that they didn’t use the art. Nowadays, I only send final art after getting fully paid. – AJ Dimarucot

Get Paid First

To sum up, be original, pay attention and follow directions, experiment with printed materials, show respect to fellow designers, and never release your files before getting paid (unless you have worked out a deal you both agree to).

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