Garbage In, Gold Out

February 18, 2009

Posted in Design.

This post is dedicated to oAk and Jim.

Let’s imagine a white wall in a dimly lit room and a subject standing in front of it (who was recently lying in bed and made it to the photo shoot just in time). Let’s further pretend that this photo will be taken on a cell phone or a point-and-click camera. Of course, the person taking the photo will have absolutely no training in photography, so the white balance will be off, the shot will be poorly framed, and of course it will have a nice flash starburst off some surface. Finally, that person will save the image as a 640×480 JPEG and email it to the designer.

And it’s supposed to be a cover image for a brochure. Or the key image in a website design.

Gold bars photo from

Far and away, the easiest way to make a designer mad is by providing crappy content to work with. Sometimes this is “I’ll just write the copy later” or “here’s the photo you need to use, I hope it will work.” As they say in programming, garbage in, garbage out.

It seems that often design is less about accomplishing your communications objectives and more about pulling off a miracle. It is a testament to the skill of graphic designers who deal with this daily, and still manage to produce top-notch work.

So for all those times I (or any client) provided garbage and expected gold, I’m sorry.


  1. Jim Gosz — February 18, 2009


  2. oak — February 18, 2009

    You forgot “shadow halo from the amateurish flash.”

    I think what bugs us the most is that these are invariably the same clients who will nitpick to the tiniest detail sound design decisions that we make. “Make this a point size bigger. Move that over here. We’d like to see the logo with a green outline. No gold. No put it back. Can you change the font?”

    To me, if you’ve provided crap content you’ve already proven to me that you don’t really care all that much about the quality of your piece, so why can’t you just leave the design alone?

    I’m speaking to you, rhetorical design client straw man.

    Also…as for your apology, Chas…we’ll consider it.

  3. oak — February 18, 2009

    You know what…I’ll bend a bit. Replace the word “sound” in the comment about with “subjective.”

  4. Drew — February 19, 2009

    my fav is the college/department site where the secretary/admin assistant is is appointed as site-author/editor. ..all that work into a design, xhtml/css, and content management tools to boot, and then, ..garbage content.