Course Wrap-Up: Defining Client Needs

Sep 29, 2014
Melissa Gridley

Going into this class, my goal as stated in my Mastery Timeline last month was to “Gain in-depth understanding of how to discover the needs, wants & objectives of clients.” While there will always be more to learn about people in general and clients in particular, I’m definitely leaving this class with more information than I had going in. Three of the most important things I’ll take away:

1. Branding basics simply explained.

brandgapcover One of the most interesting and informative sources of insight came from Marty Neumeier’s books The Designful Company and The Brand Gap. They’re both packed with great information presented in an approachable, accessible style without a lot of jargon, so I think anyone could pick up either book and learn a lot from them.

What stuck out most to me was how he breaks down basic branding concepts in The Brand Gap, into almost a step-by-step recipe for success. He describes how companies often get it wrong, why they do so, and how to do it right; three points any potential creative director or brand manager would find crucial in justifying a course of action in the face of what Neumeier calls ‘spreadsheet thinking’ (2009). By addressing the gap between how clients often think and how designers think, Neumeier provides practical ways to put the information to use in a real-world setting.

2. It does pay to invest yourself in your work.

Of the videos we watched this month, the most inspiring was Simon Sinek’s TEDtalk How Great Leaders Inspire Action. It was full of little ‘a-ha’ moments for me, especially when he speaks of hiring employees who care about the work they do. In my own experience with the corporate mindset over the past 20 or so years, I’ve observed how most people think getting emotionally invested in your work is a liability—that you have to stay detached in order to be professional and objective. I can’t count the number of times a colleague rolled their eyes at me and said, “It’s a job. Focus on the paycheck and try not to think about it.” Not only is this counter-intuitive for me, it also makes for a really boring workday.

simon-sinek-tedtalk I was relieved to hear Simon Sinek insist the emotional investment of employees is a critical factor in an organization’s success. He says, “…if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears” (2010). It makes sense that an employee who believes in what he does and feels his contributions are value will invest more than a bored clock puncher. While I know there are going to be times when I have no choice but to disengage (or risk losing my mind) going forward, I will no longer apologize for caring about the work I do and how I do it.

3. Keep taking design risks, but keep the basics in mind.

The design projects were a welcome reminder to get back to design basics. It’s easy to forget the foundations of good design and form bad habits when you’re rushing to meet deadlines and stay under budget 40 hours a week. It was interesting, too, to see how much my approach to design exercises has changed; I found this time around I could relax and really enjoy the creative part without having to consciously think about heuristics.

The typographic hierarchy exercise challenged me to be creative without all the ‘extras’ I rely on every day like color and imagery. This reminded me a lot of my first exercise in typographic hierarchy in my undergraduate program, so I dug up the design to compare (far right).


For our Romeo & Juliet poster, I opted to develop sketch #2, and initially I was pretty satisfied with it.


Yet the longer I looked at it, the more I felt something was missing, that it might be too clean. In the tutorial Foundations of Layout and Composition, Steve Adams points out that ornate, playful compositions with a lot of disparate elements can be balanced beautifully. This is something I need to keep in mind to work on going forward and experiment with as I continue to develop my own style.


Adams, S. (2013, October 31). Foundations of Layout and Composition with Sean Adams. Retrieved from

Neumeier, M. (2006). The Brand Gap: How To Bridge The Distance Between Business Strategy and Design (Revised Edition). Berkley CA: New Riders.

Neumeier, M. (2009). The Designful Company. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Sinek, S. (2010) How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Retrieved from

2 Comments. Leave new

This assignment was great in my opinion. I found your commentary very insightful and heartfelt. In addition, you provided a view of what to expect in this course. Again, great work!


EDITORIAL DESIGN – LAURA BUCHANAN – Ciaran Mc Daid Graphic Design Blog
January 13, 2016 1:53 am

[…] Melissa Gridley shares some of the typographic hierarchy thinking that forms the basis of her work. When putting my article together I asked myself how would I use a hierarchy? […]


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