Exactly Who is the Design For? Or : “The Tale of a Terrible Mistake We nearly Made”

For ourselves (our egos)? Or for the client?

OK, so imagine you come up with a wonderful idea for your client, and now you also worked it up into a gorgeous full-sized – maybe even full-colour – design

And the last thing you (you, a designer, an artist, a maker, a glass painter, a student – or however you see yourself) will want to do with this wonderful design is … muck it up and kick the !>@?! out of it, right?

Yes, right. But also wrong. Because of course it all depends.

Goodness me, yes, it’s hard to “wreck” a design. But sometimes that’s what you just must do to show you understand what’s needed.

Of course it’s difficult – because you’ve spent so long on it. And we often want people to see how clever and talented we are with paints and brushes. (It’s only human. Goodness me, how human I am.)

But – mostly – that’s not the point.

Mostly the point is, to show we understand.

Especially when we’re being paid, yes paid to make a window our clients will live with, or worship in front of, or work beside for many, many years to come.

Our own egos don’t matter here – because we’ll be designing and painting other windows (and getting our joy from that) when our clients, their friends or colleagues or fellow-worshippers are still enjoying that window we designed and painted oh! so many years ago.

So sometimes you have to do this with designs: you have to use all your energy to make them “perfect”, then – trash them / pull them back / let them go their own way / muck them up and kick the !>@?! out of them.

Whatever: whatever it takes to show you understand what the building needs – what the people who use the building need.

Just so the other day …

David had finished the most lovely, clean, bright and readable painting for one of our clients:

The tycoon's rose window - work in progress

The tycoon’s rose window – work in progress

We were about to send it off and get the contract sealed with that most pleasing sign of commercial trust, a 50% deposit, when we remembered this client doesn’t like things to look new. In fact he loathes it: he hates “new”. Sure, things must be newly made, but they mustn’t look like that. They must appear authenticated by time. It doesn’t matter if his “new” things are falling apart with age – if they’re well made, and after 500 years they’d be falling apart, then that’s exactly what he wants. Even though you painted them last week.

Now maybe you already know it’s David who designs and paints, and I – I copy. I don’t mind that at all. I have full and majestic admiration for anyone and everyone who has devoted their life to art. But I have not done that. I am not ashamed, nor am I proud. It is just how things are. Anyway, so David had prepared this most gorgeous painting.

And suddenly we both thought, to seal the contract, well, actually, we’d need to muck it up and kick the !>@?! out of it.

You’re maybe thinking, that’s not hard at all. “Just spill some paint … Easy!”

All I’d say: it’s very easy doing this to someone else’s work! (Imagine doing it to your own!)

Before the "damage"

Before the “damage” … the tycoon’s “new” design (diameter 1.25 meters / 4 feet and a few inches)

By the same token it was easy for me to encourage David, to whisper in his ear, to strengthen his conviction that, when he “destroyed” his painting, we were actually showing our client … we understood!

If we are cruel, and I know we often are, it is always to improve our understanding of what it is our clients want: it’s like gladiators vs. slaves in Ancient Rome. We really do attack ourselves. And always because what matters most is – to get the right window in this particular building, with a sense of what this client wants, plus a wise guess as to what later generations might wish to see.

The point is, not to let self-satisfaction get the better of us. It’s the window which matters, and the eyes and soul of everyone who gazes at her.

The approved design

This is what the Tycoon wants – and this is what he shall get!

Is such violence justified?

Extract from this morning’s letter from the client’s architect:

Dear David, I am delighted to confirm our acceptance of your quote as listed below …

Result to David – which it would not have been if he hadn’t “wrecked” (a copy of!) his original design.

And so ends the tale of a terrible mistake we nearly made. Boy, it was such a near miss: we had been so pleased with the “new” design and nearly didn’t see the terrible mistake we might have made.Stephen Byrne


P.S. Of course the “new” design will not be wasted because it’s exactly what we need to do our work.

P.P.S. Next time, more about design because last Monday we fitted some fine windows which the client loves but – goodness me! – it took a huge amount of work to agree what it was we should make. What did we learn from this? Yes, we’ll tell you everything (especially our mistakes). And if you’re interested in design or how to handle clients, it will definitely help and “strike a chord” with you. Until next time when we begin the tale of “The Literary Agent’s Sitting Room Window”. Yes, many mistakes – because people are wonderfully complex.

Like this article?

Join our blog newsletter and we’ll email you each time a new article comes out.

We’ll also send you the other email tips and free videos we publish here.

The newsletter comes out once a week: really useful tips, techniques and demonstrations for all glass painters who use a kiln to fire their work. Join here – it’s quick and easy.

16 thoughts on “Exactly Who is the Design For? Or : “The Tale of a Terrible Mistake We nearly Made”

  1. I know the feeling and how frustrating it can be. I’ve occasionally written a really good chapter for a book when I suddenly realised I’ve got carried away and forgotten the target audience I’m aiming it at. So I’ve had to take it apart and write it again (with a few expletives mentally interspersed!).


    • Exactly! And I’m sure your work ended up all the better for that. It’s another reason why David and me are fortunate to work together: it’s far easier to pick up on important things than if we were working on our own.

  2. Stephen,

    Thank you for all the wonderful newsletters. I really appreciate all the tips along the line. And I also hope you had a wonderful birthday.

    I would like to go off-topic here and ask a question which I Googled but couldn’t get any relevant results …

    I have just finished an inspection of an Anglican church and found a strange name on one of the windows that needs to be restored.

    The name is “W. M. Pepper & Co., London”.

    I do not know the age of the window but there are some Hardman and Mayer windows as well. One specific window by a local is dated 1913 but that is one of the smaller windows. In total there 73 stained glass windows in the church. So lovely! Do you perhaps have any idea during which period Pepper operated?

    Thanks again and keep up the good work!
    Daniel from sunny South Africa

    • Hello Daniel,

      I’ll check our reference books with David on Monday morning!

      All the best,

      P.S. “Off-topic” like this is absolutely fine and potentially very interesting to us and also others!

  3. Hello every one, this article shows new painters like myself a most important business attitude which we may also one day face with our own clients. So thanks for sharing your life-time experience with us.

    And yes indeed this keeps all our studios full of fresh air all the time – sharing, I mean 🙂

    Regards to all of you,

    • Hello Hassan,

      I know you are a lawyer in Kuwait City, so I believe you will already know this lesson in your own experience at work in the Department of Justice. And as you say, it also applies here, with this activity we love – designing and painting glass! It’s just the way things always are. Art is art yet it is also a discipline.

      Best wishes from us,

  4. And I just HATE old looking things. When they are really old, polished by the years, that can be beautiful, but create things to look old? not my style at all!

    • Fair point, Ilana, so far as one’s own taste is concerned.

      Thing is here, the commission is to make something that fits into this ancient mansion and looks as though it’s been there forever.

  5. As artists and designers, a large and great part of our job is to act as a transformational conduit. The client presents us with an idea which we need to process into an artwork which satisfies the client’s surroundings but also reflects our personal artistic aesthetic. Often it is a challenge to merge both but a delightful and rewarding challenge as seen by your recent rose window anecdote.

    As always, thank you for your wonderful insight.

    • Karen, I’m absolutely with you on this one because here it comes down to the fact we’re/you’re working for someone else. Yes, I know there are many important distinctions to be drawn but all the same I myself believe it often happens that a better design emerges by virtue of constraint. By contrast, self-indulgence without due self-criticism (however painful) often results in mediocre work, whatever one’s immediate sense of myopic intoxication.

      All the best,

  6. Dear Stephen and David,

    I’m so very impressed with your DVDs and website.

    I’m 72 years of age and have read many many instructional books and DVDs and as a result have critiqued many as well. I can honestly say your instructional materials far surpass all others .

    Am I going to be a talented painter? Not likely, but only due to my own limitations: very shakey hands and other shortcomings. But I will be as good as I can be.

    And regardless of my limitations I long for knowledge in many areas. I now know so much more about painting glass than I ever imagined.

    I do look forward to all the e-mails. I especially enjoy your sense of humor. I don’t know how you do your artistic work and the communications as well. Thank you for sharing.

    Keep up the good work and God Bless.

    • Hello Philis Heldstab,

      When I read your comment, I could hear my fountain pen shouting at me to be uncapped, so I have written you by hand.

      Best wishes,

  7. Wednesday? I went ahead and made the mistake on Tuesday, so on Wednesday I had to redo my art work to look like the reference I’d been given by my client. I didn’t “get” the importance of letting my ego stay under control until I had to redo the work. Glad I, at least, had the sense to get approval on my drawing before I had forged ahead. Was my art better? Not this time. But I did enjoy this story.

    Thank you for sharing. Hope your work is going well.

    • There’s so much to talk about here, and tell one another our different anecdotes, our anecdotes about the whole and varied process of getting a design approved …

      We ourselves are more and more moving to a sketchier approach than we first took eight years ago (when only full-sized full-colour water colours would do). I think a sketch so often allows the client to “come with us” – we take them by the hand along a path one step at a time, so to speak (as opposed to throwing them in at the deep end with a “completed” vision – one that we’ve worked through, but which necessarily comes as something of a surprise to them).

      The tale I want to tell about the publisher’s sitting room windows is a case in point …

Comments are closed.