During your 6th semester of the design program I went theory at Texas Tech, you had your first significant critique with all the professors of the department. This is the big one — do you continue in the program or go choose another major.
All my work from the past four semesters is laid out on tables in one of the studios. The five professors walk around the tables, look at the work and grill you about each piece.
Back then I wasn’t quite the confident creative giant I am today. I was rather timid, shy and nervous. I was having a bad time of it.
The illustration professor, Jane Cheatham, was both kind and generous. She knew I was uncomfortable and talked me through the session.
One word of advice she gave has always stuck with me: Talk about your work as if they were your children. You’ve given birth to these ideas, raised them from infancy and now you are sharing them with the world. Be a proud parent.
This idea is permanently etched on my brain.
As a parent with three children of my own, the one thing I have never done with them is play favorites. The same cannot be said of portfolio pieces.
Back in 1995 I designed a logo for a local non-profit that converted run down, vacant lots into community gardens. The group is called Urban Harvest. I struggled for months with the logo. Hundreds of sketches and nothing seemed to be quite right. Not having a real deadline was part of the problem.
But as soon as a real deadline materialized, ideas poured out of me. The final solution to the problem was this:
More than 20 years later, I still could not be more proud of this logo. The tall skyscraper surrounded by curvilinear, organic shapes. A perfect visual representation of the organization: creating natural beauty in the city.
A few years ago, I was walking through downtown Houston and saw a small garden in these huge planters out in front of Shell Plaza. In the planters was also a small sign about the garden and who planted it – Urban Harvest. I beamed with delight, until I saw the logo.
They had altered it.
The gray color that is representative of the building had turned to a golden yellow. Someone turned the skyscraper into an ear of corn. Everything that made the logo great was gone. It broke my heart.
Brands are like children.
You raise your kids and they eventually leave home. As the grow, they change and mature into people way beyond our control. You’ve done the best you can to get them started in life and now you hope you raised them properly. But once they are out on their own, they are gone. Even though they are gone, and probably different, you still love them.
You have to be willing to let them go.
Now, I’m hoping my oldest doesn’t come home from college this weekend with purple hair.