Friday, March 25, 2005

The Reason Men Have Sex on the Brain

Have you ever noticed how men have sex on the brain? Their preoccupation with women’s bodies — always noticing breasts, how big they are or aren’t, or how how much cleavage is showing, is hard wired. I don’t think women notice stuff like that unless it’s really obvious. Women put themselves on display, but it’s almost as much for the benefit of being seen and admired by other women as it is to be admired by men.

Like the other day when I walked into a jewelry store, the salesgirl had a super low-cut top on with her push-up bra cantilevering her boobs up and out like two scoops of ice cream. They were impossible to not notice. Interestingly, she seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she looked like she was serving up dessert on a tray.

It’s mysterious that there is such a difference in sexual radar. Women are all about relationships and seek human connections and men are more like animals. I’m convinced Sex and the City is popular with everyone because it’s all about relationships, so women like it, there’s usually just enough gratuitous nudity to keep men interested.

Several years ago while pondering the cause of this phenomena, the answer came to me in this theory: The reason men think about sex all the time is because they can’t help it. Their genitalia is hanging and dangling and constantly touching things, and this relentless contact with the “outside world” is a constant reminder that their sexual organs are ready, willing and able. Their eyes and brains work in tandem with what’s in their pants, making for a three-bell alarm when it comes to responding to visual stimuli.

Women’s sexual organs, on the other hand, are buried in the body with all sorts of packing material around them. As a result, the notion of sex has to works its way out and up to the brain.

So this could explain the phrase, "he's thinking with his little head."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Good, the Bad and Ugly Bureaucrats

I hate it when people who won’t accept responsibility for what they’ve done. I’ve found whenever I screw up and admit it, it takes the wind out of everyone’s sails and the issue dies down. As I said in an earlier posting, others simply want to find out who is to blame, and once that’s established, they go on about their business. My hero and role model in this regard is a friend, Annie Mar, who worked for the City Water Department. I was working on the Water Department annual report when we met.

It was my first important project for a huge bureaucracy and it was there that I quickly learned about “covering my ass.” In fact, I amassed such an enormous volume of documentation by the time each report was completed, it felt as though several trees had given their lives in the process.

The reason for this was because bureaucrats are fearful people and can only make decisions after first looking over their shoulders to see what other people think. To have an original thought or opinion is to stand out, and people generally want to keep their heads down. So whenever a directive was issued it was necessary to get it in writing and create a paper trail in case anything was ever called into question.

In addition to the annual reports, I had a supplemental contract to design bill stuffers, and worked with a particular bureaucrat named Millie, who took the prize in terms of being a career bureaucrat and mid-management suck up. Millie was almost old enough to be my mother, and was a blithering idiot.

One experience with her involved a bill stuffer I designed about meter readers and how it would be nice if customers kept their dogs locked up so meter readers could read meters without being attacked.

After Millie approved the concept of the artwork, I hired an artist to create an illustration that included a black and white spotted dog with a spiked collar around its neck. When Millie looked at it, she decided the dog’s collar had ONE TOO MANY spikes. This necessitated having the illustrator redo the artwork.

Today this wouldn’t be a big deal, but at the time it was quite involved because he had created an actual pen and ink illustration, with washes and overlays!

After the bill stuffer was finished, I issued an invoice that reflected the charges for Millie’s client-directed alterations. She denied making them. But thanks to the paper trail, the truth was unavoidable. If email had been around then, it would have been even easier to nail her.

But back to Annie one point during the process of working on the annual report, some copy had been submitted that wasn’t current, and the files had already been formatted and laid out on the “mechanicals.” Instead of trying to blame someone else, Annie said, “I goofed up and sent the wrong file to you. I’m sorry, but that was my mistake.” I was totally blown away. She restored my faith that there were GOOD bureaucrats among the spineless middle-management suck ups. Miracles can and do happen.

Monday, March 7, 2005

Vindictive Billing

I'm a self-employed graphic designer, so it's important for me to establish relationships with clients in order to cultivate ongoing work. It's usually easy to do this since most people are basically nice, and often my clients become close, personal friends.

But on occasion you might encounter "the client from hell." -- you know, the one who calls you evenings and during the weekend and emails you at all times of the day and night, expecting you to drop everything so you can finish their urgently important project. Please note, these are precisely the people you don't want to have your home phone number.

In case you don't know, the clients who are the most trouble almost always are the ones who want to take the greatest advantage of you. In fact, there seems to be an inverse ratio of “pain-in-the-ass factor” to “billable hours/expenses.” The more problematic the client, the more demanding they are and the less they want to pay. The pro-bono clients are the worst, because you often have to bump paying work to accommodate their freebie project. You’d think the people paying you the biggest bucks would be the worst and expect you to bend over and grab your ankles, but actually, they’re usually the most reasonable AND appreciative.

My best friend, A.G., and I have had many conversations about each of our “hemorrhoidal” clients. One of the worst insisted on coming to the studio and standing over A.G.’s shoulder, directing changes until her blood pressure nearly exploded. Twice I’ve had clients like that, and when it became apparent how much they enjoyed twinking with work on screen, (“Gee, isn’t it just the most fun to work together this way?!”) they were banished from my office. I had to explain to them I couldn’t work that way, but would be happy to address their concerns if they would like to articulate them to me in a meeting, via email/Acrobat or fax. (By the way, A.G. eventually fired her client.)

Which brings me to the concept of “Vindictive Billing.” Lots of firms and individuals tack on a “rush charge,” when a client forces a project to the front of the queue. Rush charges are usually double and cover a lot of ground (working late, working weekends, phone calls, emails, meetings, and whatever else is required to get their job done). It’s a reasonable consequence of rushing something.

But Vindictive Billing works like this: when you’re designing for a client who doesn’t value your work in the first place and you KNOW they’re going to jerk you around anyway, it is perfectly reasonable to charge them more. I even know of a printer that has an invoice line item called, “mental-anguish change orders,” for clients like this, penalizing them for making arbitrary or idiotic changes -- usually under extremely stressful conditions. Once when my husband asked a contractor his hourly rate, the contractor said, “$50 an hour if I work alone; $75 an hour if you watch, and $100 an hour if you help.” He practiced preemptive Vindictive Billing!

You can’t always identify this kind of client right off the bat, but the next time you work together — if there is a next time — you need to incorporate the pain-in-the-ass factor into the cost of the job. And if they don’t like it, in the words of Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, “Time to Say Goodbye.”

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Confessions of a Graphic Designer

My best friend and I both are graphic designers. We're sort of geeky because we like talking about new hardware and software (we both idolize Steve Jobs) and sometimes even reminisce about our favorite versions of various applications, like Freehand versions 3.1, 5.5 and 8. (Freehand MX is a pain!)

Since we're both self-employed and occasionally suffer from that odious malady, procrastination, at times we've had to explain to clients why a project may be delayed.

In discussing this universally common situation with colleagues, we found designers have some unique and some not-so-unique excuses. Some of the more believable ones (because in some cases, they were authentic) include:

1. My hard drive crashed and I had to reformat my drive and reinstall all of my software
2. I had a press check or the press check was delayed
3. I had to visit someone in the hospital / go to a funeral
4. My email / network / server was down and I never received the files / images / work order
5. I was sick
6. The Fedex / UPS / Airborne package didn't arrive
7. The Word / image files you sent were corrupt
8. I was out of town
9. I had a photo shoot
10. The disc you sent was unreadable (most plausible if the client is on a PC and you're on a Mac)

Being a graphic designer is sort of like being a doctor on call (except you make heaps less money), so press checks and photo shoots really can occur with pretty short advanced warning, and they're sacrosanct: No one ever questions them. The really pathetic thing is, none of the above excuses would be necessary if people could simply STOP procrastinating.

Which brings up the question of why so many people wait until the last possible moment to do things?

Creative people have a tough job -- they HAVE To be creative ALL OF THE TIME. It's just expected that if someone calls with a project, you will magically come up with the most brilliant solution. How many times have I combed through CA annuals, printing and paper samples and my personal stash of "inspirational" scrap (crap?) in search of something to act as a catalyst? When people say "everything is derivative," I have to think somewhere along the line, someone had to have had an original idea.

But the pressure of always having to come up with the next big idea can be so daunting that it's hard to get started. So, reaching back to my earliest days in this field, I remembered something from a book I read ("How to Gain Control of Your Time and Your Life"), which described the concept of "punching holes."

Punching holes is this: Imagine your task as a sheet of paper. Then take the huge task before you and break it into pieces.

1. The first thing you can do that is easy is to start a folder for the project by putting the project name on it.
2. Maybe one of the pieces is viewing and editing a batch of images to see if any of them are usable.
3. The next could be starting the document in the application you're going to use to create the project and just labeling it and saving it.
4. The next piece could be printing out all of the word documents the client has sent and arranging them in the folder.

You get the idea. You "punch holes" in this virtual piece of paper until it resembles a piece of Swiss cheese. Then when you look at what you need to do, you find a great deal has already been accomplished, so the project isn't so daunting.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? It is. But even so, the temptation is to find any excuse to get going. Some of my favorites:

1. Clean my office
2. Go through old job folders/envelopes and toss out stuff I don't need anymore
3. Re-arrange my discs
4. Look for something I haven't been able to find
5. Import music into iTunes
6. Go out to lunch with a friend
7. Go shopping
8. Read
9. Wash and detail my car
10. Cook or bake something

In thinking about this, I've come to realise something: If graphic designers act out this anxiety-provoking behaviour, I wonder about personal injury attorneys, tax accountants or sous chefs? I mean, everyone must have their job-related secret behaviours. What are yours?

Saturday, March 5, 2005

The Death of the Democratic Party, and Civility

Friday night my husband and I had dinner with friends who are former urban dwellers but now live 50 miles outside the city. It's tricky to talk to anyone about politics, because even if you're talking to Democrats, some are so stark-raving liberal that it's impossible to find common ground. But even so, we found ourselves talking about the sad state of the Democratic party today.

Whatever happened to heroes like JFK -- or in our state, Senators Henry Jackson and Warren Magnuson? By today's standards, all of them would seem like Republicans. The Democratic party is now so far left that it alienates moderates from both parties. Why can't the DNC promote a candidate like Ben Nelson, Jr. Senator from Nebraska?

Right now there is a dispute over the authenticity of Washington State's newly "elected" Democratic Governor, Christine Gregoire. I'd voted for her in the past for attorney general, but none of us had voted for her for governor. The reason I didn't vote for her last fall was because of a missed filing deadline that occurred in the AG's office while she was at the helm, costing Washington taxpayers nearly $18 million. Gregoire attempted unsuccessfully to blame it on an assistant (which ended up costing our state even more money when she was found innocent) when she should simply have admitted the mistake. Why is it so hard for people to admit mistakes, anyway? Doesn't everyone know, ALL that people want is to find out WHO is to blame? Once someone takes responsibility, everyone is happy and can move on. Otherwise it necessitates finger pointing until the culprit is found. (In a similar vein, I'm convinced Clinton would not have been impeached if he'd just admitted to his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky!)

In any case, we moved on to the topic of civility and how nowadays many people seem rude, uncaring and self-absorbed. It's not caused just by the cell-phone phenomena, although I'm sure that's a contributing factor, but many people don't seem to care about good manners anymore. You can take someone out to lunch and you're lucky if you get an email or phone call acknowledging it. For some reason this kind of behaviour is especially true of people under the age of 30. Maybe it's caused in part by the impersonal way we communicate. Email is great -- incredible even-- for staying in touch with dozens of people daily. But often there is a mindlessness about email, especially all of the forwarded materials -- much of it thoughtless, time-wasting, lazy and not even particularly amusing or informative stuff. The real killer is the email consisting of a message thread that goes on for five or six pages, and the ONE thing that pertains to you is buried somewhere in its midst.

I think part of what's causing the erosion of our society is the fact that in many, if not most, cases, there is no longer a stigma associated with behaviours that are bad. In fact, "bad" is bad -- you can't even really use that label anymore because it is deemed "too judgmental." So people can behave badly, and you can never call them on it.

When I was in high school, if a girl became pregnant she went away to a home for unwed mothers. Today you see pregnant girls walking the hallways, sometimes with their babies in tow. So things that once kept behaviour in check are no longer in force, and the result is a society where people are unconcerned about how their actions are perceived by others, and consequently do whatever pleases them. Today I was talking to my husband about the weird teenagers and young adults who vow to remain virgins until they are married, and he pointed out that that used to be the NORM. They are now considered FREAKS!

Can things get more strange? I'm afraid so...

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