I’m a graphic designer with a non-designer coworker who keeps trying to do my job

A reader writes:

I am an in-house graphic designer for a relatively small (30+ employees) nonprofit, and I care a lot about what I do. I realize sometimes I need to rein it in, but….

The issue I have is a non-designer coworker who has Adobe Creative Suite trying to do graphic design. Since the other graphic designer and I are always busy, she thinks she is doing us a favor by going rogue. 90% of the time we don’t even know she had a project or designed something until we see it in print somewhere. The supervisors (hers and mine) have made little comments that let me know they prefer the designs to be done by me and my designer coworker, but they still have not addressed the issue or don’t see it as worth addressing.

I’ve tried to just let it go, despite her work being unpolished, not-sticking-to-the-brand, etc., but recently she asked me to create a flyer for a certain program we offer. I asked for a deadline and she said four months. I told her I would definitely get to it before then but in the meantime I had already designed a brochure for the same program, and, would that work? She said yes, that would work. A day later, she emails me to ask if I could just send her my InDesign files so she can create a flyer herself….as in, oh, anyone can click a few buttons and create a flyer…forget your four-year degree! (I know that she did not mean it to sound this way at all, but I am tired of people thinking that having Photoshop makes them a graphic designer! I don’t go around grabbing scalpels and offering to repair my coworker’s hernia or giving legal advice to my divorcing neighbor because I just read a divorce law book. Why can’t people show designers the same professional respect?) I thought maybe her supervisor had put pressure on her, but her supervisor is on vacation all this week.

I realize this is a hot button issue for me, and that’s why I’ve tried to just take a deep breath and let it go, but it’s not working. What do you suggest I do? I don’t want to come off as overly-sensitive or overly-protective of my files, but I mean, hey, so say I do give her the files and she creates the flyer. If it’s like all her other “design work,” it’s going to look like a third-grader did it in Microsoft Word and it’s not going to reflect our organizations brand or high standards. Worse, someone might think I did it!

I’m feeling undervalued and under-appreciated, and bitchy/crazy/guilty for feeling that way.

I even tried to explain the situation to my boss, which I hated to do, since he is typically a solve-it-yourself-only-come-to-me-in-dire-emergencies type of boss, a.k.a. let-the-situation-you-have-no-authority-to-fix-just-fester-then-come-to-me-when-it-blows-up. I explained the situation (leaving out the “everyone thinks they can design” part) and that I was only concerned that our organization was not being represented in the best light, that our brand was being diluted, etc., but while he seemed concerned, he didn’t seem to get it. I think he was thinking more along the lines of “how do I get my designer to relax and get a hobby.” Sigh.

Well, you are not alone. This is a super common thing that happens to designers.

Some professions are plagued by untrained people thinking “What’s the big deal — I could do that myself!” Design is one of them, possibly the biggest one.

Here are a few suggestions, from my perspective as someone who has managed designers but isn’t one myself:

1. Figure out how to articulate, in layman’s terms, exactly what the problem is when people design things themselves without going through you. I’m sure it’s completely obvious to you why that’s bad, but it’s clearly not obvious to them — so you need to develop language that explains it in terms they understand. You don’t want your stance to just be “I’m the professional designer and you’re stepping on my turf” — because if they think their work is just as good and you won’t be able to get them what they need fast enough, they’re not going to be convinced that they should wait. You need an argument that will resonate more.

2. Referencing the philosophy you’ve articulated in #1, create a style guide with branding guidelines that all pieces your organization releases should stick to for consistency (ideally with the blessing of your boss). Then, the next time your coworker says she’s going to create something herself, say, “Oh, we need all our pieces to follow our branding guidelines, so I should do it for you. I can have it to you by X.”

3. Recognize that sometimes it’s legitimate for someone to choose speed over perfect design. If you’re busy with other work and won’t be able to get to their project until next week and they need it sooner, it’s not always crazy for them to just put something together themselves. Yes, they will be making a trade-off on quality, but sometimes that’s actually a reasonable call, depending on the context. You will have more credibility if you show that you understand there are other factors in the mix.

4. Develop templates for the most common things people need. You might be able to mitigate some of the impact of #3 by providing templates for the most common types of pieces people need, along with do’s and don’ts for using them (like “do not have more than 200 words of text in this box”). That’s not perfect, I realize, but at least if they’re working from your template, the final product is likely to be better than if they start from scratch.

5. When you discover bad rogue pieces out there, address it. For example, if you discover your coworker created and used a flyer that you never saw and it’s bad, go to her manager (who has said in the past that she prefers stuff to go through you or the other designer and say this): “I just learned your department has been using this flyer that they designed themselves. It doesn’t have our branding (or our look, or whatever other issues you can point out with it), and I wonder if there’s a way to ensure we see this stuff before it’s used so that we can ensure it’s consistent with the rest of our materials.”

6. Accept that you’re not going to be able to control everything. You’re just not going to be able to. Unless someone higher up in your organization is willing to give you the authority to control all the visuals the organization puts out, there are going to be rogue pieces out there. You can only do so much here, until/unless someone with authority is willing to step in and make a different call.

{ 237 comments… read them below }

  1. K.*

    Funny – I’m in marketing and PR and frequently, particularly during/post recession, you’ll come across job listings that require graphic design experience. Late in the game at my old job, we were given Creative Suite and told to start designing things. It was entirely because the company didn’t want to pay people to design stuff (or for us to really learn to use Creative Suite). It drove me crazy because I know I’m not a designer, neither were my teammates, and the company’s stuff would look much better if done by people who knew what they were doing. These were fairly complex pieces too, not just one-page flyers – so it would take us longer to do than it would a pro. I sympathize, OP.

    1. Ad Astra*

      As soon as I read this, I wondered if OP’s coworker comes from a company where real graphic designers weren’t available. I’m one of those people who has a decent idea of how the Creative Suite works, but I have no natural talent in art or design, and it shows.

      1. Chinook*

        “As soon as I read this, I wondered if OP’s coworker comes from a company where real graphic designers weren’t available”

        Ditto. Heck, I have worked for a newspaper without a graphic designer and learned how to create ads, from scratch, for our advertisers. It gave me new appreciation for what the professionals do and taught me very quickly how much I don’t know about why what I designed looked just a little “off” until my boss (who had been doing this for 20 years) tweaked it. Luckily, the same boss would explain why she did she dis when there was time.

    2. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

      Since the recession, as well as the advent of the “Everyone Owns Photoshop” era, it’s become increasingly common for graphic design jobs to require lower and lower degrees of education (and pay less and less money), as well as the graphic design task being lumped in with general marketing positions. The entire industry has become cheapened through mass desktop publishing. Also frustrating is that graphic designers are often expected to be web designers, even though graphic design and web design are very different beasts. (Funny how not everyone with Photoshop is an instant web designer.)

      1. T3k*

        Not to mention all those sites that have diluted it further by offering graphics for insultingly cheap prices.

      2. James M.*

        Also frustrating is that graphic designers are often expected to be web designers,…

        That gets my goat too. Usually it’s when I see job ads for <web-related title> with a mish mosh of responsibilities ranging from social media marketing to database architecture.

        1. esra*

          What, you mean you can’t design for print, web, program in html5, c++, build databases and copywrite for 38k?

      3. Cucumberzucchini*

        I’m in the field, and I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think that there is an appreciation for true design work and it still demands an appropriate salary. But just like everything else there are a bell curve to it and some people on the left side of the bell curve don’t “get it”.

        If anything I think the availability of design programs allowing laypeople being able to try to give it a whirl and realize how much work it is, and how poorly their own creations come out improves the perception of skill-level of graphic designers.

        1. Three Thousand*

          I know it worked for me. Any fantasy I might have had that graphic design would be easy if I just had the right software was completely demolished as soon as I tried my hand at Photoshop for the first time.

      4. College Career Counselor*

        Ditto on everyone with access to content management software is not a web designer/content manager. But we’re all expected to be in order to feed the content beast. I’m not opposed to learning new things, but I don’t particularly think it’s efficient for me to grind to a halt and teach myself web posting intricacies (and trouble-shoot, especially when the institution’s preferred browser is the one that blows up the program we’re expected to use). This involves calling for reinforcements because it because it doesn’t work right the first eight times I do it. I’m not sure why that vs. sending COPY to someone is inherently BETTER.

        1. Ad Astra*

          And, in that vein, a proficient content manager does not a web designer make. I can post stories and add images and links and even manipulate some HTML. I can help you decide where each post should appear, and I can even adjust those choices based on analytics.

          I cannot build you a new website. Even with tools like Wix or WordPress themes, I can set up a website, but I’m still not the best person to make it look pretty.

        2. Sammie*

          Oh boy–I am with you here. Our webmaster refuses to have anything to do with the posting of content. So I fight the good fight with WP.

          And he gets all snitty if you ask him a question.

      5. KSM*

        > Also frustrating is that graphic designers are often expected to be web designers, even though graphic design and web design are very different beasts.

        I work in a web dev agency. We don’t do in-house design. Our clients always choose print designers.

        Hoverstates! Mobile/tablet designs for responsive sites (go to your favourite site for a company with thousands of employees; if, when you goof around with the width of your browser window, the side shifts and moves to accomodate it, it’s responsive)! Building on the grid (it’s a 12-column grid, pretty flexible) and not arbitrarily breaking it! Showing text treatments!

        None of these things are provided by print designers because they view designs as entirely static. The web ain’t static, folks.

        1. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

          That’s what I mean; I think it goes one way and not the other. From what I’ve seen on job boards, employers who are hiring a web designer aren’t expecting them to double as a print designer…but many, many print design job postings want the person to double as a web designer.

          1. jules*

            Oh yes. I am fluent in three languages, and decent at a fourth, and it took me several years to emphasise to my colleagues that fluency doesn’t equal ‘being able to translate your latest blog’. It’s a skill that requires fluency, but also a LOT more than that.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Don’t even get me started on editing… But writing is the gateway to DIY publications that should be done by professionals. (I’m including all aspects of publication in that, both text and visual.)

        2. K.*

          Yep. I battled this a lot at my old job. A lot of my colleagues were, frankly, terrible writers – I’m talking about not having basic grammar down. Stuff would come to me that was embarrassing to read.

      6. Dynamic Beige*

        “Since the recession, as well as the advent of the “Everyone Owns Photoshop” era”

        I can tell you exactly when design became dependent on computers in my area. It was 1990 and we were teetering on the precipice of what was going to be a massive recession. For other context, Smells Like Teen Spirit hadn’t hit the radio yet. Photoshop hadn’t been invented yet (I don’t think, or it wasn’t for sale commercially, I don’t remember seeing it for a couple of years after that and there were no layers), but you could get Illustrator 88, Freehand 1 and I think PageMaker. Loads of people who had a bunch of money bought a Mac SE/SE30 (or more) and a laser printer and a bunch of fonts and set themselves up as “Desktop Publishers”. Companies of all sizes went to them in droves because they were so. much. cheaper. than ‘real’ designers. Oh, did my college teachers bemoan what had happened to design and how terrible it was. Eventually, the economy picked up, people saw that non-designers designing things was crap and it became something that professionals did again. Until the software dropped in price so that anyone could buy it (or buy a copy on eBay), and the economy tanked again and…

        I have seen the same cycle repeat itself for Photography, Video, Presentations (which will never revert back into the hands of pros only), Audio. The only one that hasn’t really hit hard is 3D, but as the software gets cheaper (or the cheap software gets better), that will change. Compared to how much it costs now for decent 3D software compared to in oh, say 1992, there are pockets going on, but it’s not on everyone’s desktop. Yet.

    3. NJ anon*

      I couldn’t even do a one-page flyer! I tried, it was awful. My son, who does some graphic design, did one that looked a bizillion times better.

  2. AnonInSC*

    I’m not a designer, but sometimes need to attempt to be one….I hate it. I would love to have your help!

    Does your organization have someone in charge of communications? From my perspective, if I was the communications person, I would be annoyed that the branding and communication guidelines were being disregarded after I spent time putting them in place. If you do have someone in that overall role (and it’s not the wanna-be designer), they may be willing to help from the perspective of managing the brand. That at least limits the coworker from putting things out without your knowledge, and should help keep the designing where it needs to be.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      My first thought was something similar. If your boss won’t do anything can you go to the communications/marketing person and explain what is happening?

    2. Charisma*

      As a graphic designer I really appreciate communication professionals and it REALLY bothers me when clients expect me to do the work of the copy writer/editor. I drop in the copy the provide me… that’s it. I will make it beautiful and compelling and I may catch a typo here or there or make the suggestion to cut down on copy (because that’s usually where they go wrong with advertising). But I will NOT write it for them. I’m not a word smith. And I’m certainly not responsible for misspelling so and so’s name (after I copy pasted it) when they are too cheap to invest in having someone look something over and just blindly send something off to print after a first draft. I’ve got way too much on my plate to worry about switching gears and trying to go from visual artist to written word. I work on sometimes hundreds of pages a day… They think I’m going to read all that?

      Why do they keep trying to get us to do each other’s jobs? Oh right, because we are “creative types” and it’s all transferable.

      1. Mockingjay*

        As a writer, I’d love to write the copy and leave the design to you.

        Unfortunately my company does not concur. They
        bought Adobe InDesign and asked for “volunteers” to learn it on-the-job. Because tech writers and IT technicians know design and creating a 30-page brochure should only take a week.

        My voluntold colleague has done admirably in learning to use the functions and features of the program, but lack of knowledge on how to effectively display content and graphics means the brochures are jam-packed from edge to edge. They look horrible.

        I saw a thread sometime ago on AAM in which a reader recommended that companies pay a good designer to provide a set of solid templates. A good suggestion which I passed on when the company wanted to refresh its logo. Unfortunately they hired the IT guy’s son-in-law, who does “design on the side.”

    1. esra*

      This here. If you can’t stop her from mucking about, at least a strong brand standards guide will give her direction + give you something to point back to when she goes rogue.

    2. TCO*

      Style guides and templates have really helped me design basic pieces when my organization doesn’t have the resources to professionally design whatever minor handout I need. Speaking of nonprofits, I know many of them operate on a “limited resources” mindset. Could it be that your rogue coworker sees her design efforts as a money-saving technique, since it frees up the professional designers’ time for more important projects? If her products are for clients, in particular, she might think that they don’t really care about design and that your time is better spent on products for donors, etc.

      Very early into my first job, I was asked to make a quick poster for an event. I created something on my own, only to be gently redirected to my organization’s style guide about color and font choices. I had no idea such a document existed! It was a really valuable resource–that said, it was only helpful because I actually cared about aligning with our graphic standards.

      Over time I’ve come to understand that I’m a very middling designer, and that I shouldn’t be attempting anything complex or needing a really polished appearance. The “pull in the pro” line is different at every job, so it’s always an adjustment when I start somewhere new.

  3. voyager1*

    Wow. Being the your company is using her work, I don’t think there is much you can do. Unless this stuff is being published without anyone approving it or seeing it before hand.

    Honestly this letter comes off as a little bit of an overreaction to me.

    1. 42*

      Maybe, but if someone continually tried to do your job and did it poorly, wouldn’t you be miffed too? Especially if it may be attributed to you!

      1. T3k*

        This. It’s like if you are the one that generally cleans the house, but then a stranger who doesn’t know how you like things went and cleaned it instead, using the wrong products, putting things in different areas, and other mistakes, meaning you’ll have to go back in and fix it up yourself and thus the stranger really didn’t help out at all and is seen as more of an annoyance than anything.

        1. 41*

          The site doesn’t require registration, so names don’t belong to anyone. People generally try not to use names they know are in use, but anything fairly common is likely to be repeated by someone sooner or later.

            1. Other 42*

              Whoops, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. I won’t use it again! I’m not a frequent poster and was just trying to come up with the first thing that came to mind, which is pretty much always 42.

              1. Charisma*

                Yeah, I’ve been reading AAM for a few years now, but only comment on here maybe once or twice a month. I’m on my third name right now. I’ll be using a name that I’m POSITIVE no one else is using and then BAMM, someone else will start using it more prolifically than me (and I have no idea whether or not they had it first and I just missed it, even though I read AAM all the time). So I’ll come up with something the new next time I feel that I have the insight to comment on a post again. I honestly don’t know how I’ve kept my current name as long as I have. Although there is another commenter in the community whose name is only a few characters off who I sometimes see and have to do a double take.

    2. Cambridge Comma*

      I work in the creative industries, and (although the tone of the letter is a little more worked up than most other aam letters) I don’t think it’s an overreaction. This kind of job carries with it a responsibility for all the design work done for the firm, whether the OP does it or not. The amateur colleague is sabotaging the work they do and destroying the brand identity and diluting the image the company creates with its customers, making it harder for the OP to achieve their objectives.
      The coca-cola logo is always the same not through sheer luck but because guidelines exist and are enforced. Branding has to be consistent to create recognition and through recognition, sales.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        I would also rope in your other designer colleague and provide a united front. If no one is going to promote you to be the boss of this person… well as “wrong” as it may be, this screams to me as a situation where it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission, especially if your manager is of the laissez-faire variety. If “Jane” is constantly wanting to do your job, then it’s going to have to become part of your job to manage her, even if it isn’t or it isn’t fair or you don’t like it/want to — don’t think of it as “Management” but that you’re taking her under your wing and teaching her how to do the job properly. It’s Mentoring. Also, start keeping a record/hard copy of everything she’s done in a file.

        There are 4 ways this always plays out:
        1. Get a new job, where you’ll have to deal with someone else (who may be more senior than you) who does the same thing
        2. Things keep going on as they are, which will slowly drive you mental
        3. The constant supervision over what she gets to do (because you will be assigning her the tasks, instead of her deciding to do them, or other people coming up and asking her to do them) will get her knickers in a knot and she will whine and cry to whomever about how unfair it is and she’s only trying to help (at which point, the above mentioned folder of Bad Things That Have Escaped the Branding is brought out). At which point, she will either run off in a snit as someone finally agrees with you that It Is *That* Bad/Because You Are Mean and not do anything any more. Or, it will become your responsibility to ensure that she gets trained.
        4. She sees that you’re trying to help and flourishes under your guidance. By keeping a close eye on her and monitoring what she is doing, you are able to funnel things she can do, stop the bad things from getting out there and are able to state in meetings that Jane is the one who did that flyer for the ______, so if there is any credit, she should be getting it. Which underlines who is doing what.

        The other reason for the Folder of Bad Stuff is that it may come up on your timesheets/performance review/whatever that you aren’t producing as much as you should… at which point you bring up how you have been mentoring Jane in how to be a Junior layout artist (or whatever title is appropriate) because you felt the need to ensure that all materials that left the company/were produced for the organisation were of the same quality and standard. Feel free to write up stuff for whatever objection you feel you might encounter. “That’s not your job” = “She was coming to me asking me questions on how to use X, Y, or Z and so I thought I should monitor how she did the project from start to finish since I know that according to our Branding…”

        It would be so awesome if well designed templates and branding guidelines and a folder of “Start Here” stuff already laid out and set up was enough but… people who don’t know, don’t know. When you don’t know how to follow a template or branding guideline, you don’t. It takes more than just a document to keep things on the right path. If all it took were some branding guidelines and good templates to follow/use, we would never see any bad design ever again. But people don’t follow those things because they just don’t know how to interpret that information and apply it critically with new content.

        I’ve been dealing with this kind of thing for 20 years now. As it happens more and more, you get worn down and kind of meh about it because once you’ve hit your 100th person who thinks all you do all day is sit around and have fun, you realise that you are never going to be able to educate everyone that their perspective is wrong. Seriously, there should be some sort of club card “Deal with 5 people who think they can do your job and your 6th project will be completely without anyone else interfering!”

        1. Young Grasshopper PMS 369*

          Best.Reply. Ever. If you can’t beat them, mentor them. I love this idea of how to best turn things around. Thank you so much! You are very wise, Dynamic Beige…or should you go by Sensei instead? ;)

    3. Meg Murry*

      I think it really depends on what the flier is for. If she is making the flier that is going to hang in the break room announcing when flu shots will be, or a handful of signs/fliers announcing an internal event, then yes, OP probably needs to just let this one go, or make up a template for future use.

      But if this is something that is going to be hung up for the public to see, or mailed out, and especially if it will be sent out to a print shop, I agree that OP should either hold firm on designing the flier, or at a minimum, make the template and have the final approval before it gets sent to the printer.

      1. caryatid*

        i was going to ask this as well.

        OP may need to have some flexibility if this is for internal-only designs.

        if this is external facing in any way, though, there DEFINITELY needs to be a style guide and more control over the branding.

      2. Anna*

        Exactly this. I’m no a designer, but I can put together a decent looking flier that’s just being used by us or partners. I don’t need to hire a designer for that.

    4. Chickaletta*

      “Honestly this letter comes off as a little bit of an overreaction to me.”

      This is exactly what feeds the guilt that we (myself as a graphic designer also) feel when we get upset when other people belittle our work by doing it themselves, or hiew their nephew to “do a logo in Photoshop”, or offer $10/hour for a job that requires a 4 year degree. What the LW describes is very common for graphic designers, and honestly I don’ t know a designer that hasn’t dealt with some version of it.

      Here’s why graphic design is important: because poor graphic design just doesn’t look bad, it causes real problems like:

      – Miscommunication
      – Misunderstanding
      – Confusion
      – Negative perceptions
      – Wasted money

      Consider how these create problems not just for a mom-and-pop shop or online t-shirt company, but also for hospitals, government agencies, elections & ballots, application forms, educational institutions, medicine/pharmaceuticals, etc.

      A good graphic designer knows how to create visual communications that achieve the right goal. We work closely with communications and marketing teams to interpret and understand their vision and translate that into a visual concept that reaches the end-user. It takes talent, patience, and a strong ability to remove yourself emotionally from the design and focus instead on what makes sense for the project. We’re not artists. We don’t make things “pretty”. We’re an important part of a team that makes things successful.

  4. Ad Astra*

    I work in marketing at a business that does, well, not marketing… and you would not believe how often someone thinks it’s ok to purchase ad space or design an ad without running it past marketing. People just don’t know what they don’t know.

    The key is to emphasize that this is a problem with your workflow, rather than a problem with the quality of your coworker’s designs. I love Alison’s suggestions to create branding standards and templates, so non-designers can have some autonomy and flexibility with one-off tasks.

    OP, has your coworker expressed a specific interest in graphic design? Do you think she’d be open to your critiques and suggestions, or is this more about doing things herself in order to speed up the process?

    1. Evergreen*

      Out of interest, what is the problem with buying an ad outside of marketing’s purview?

      My job is so far out of this sphere, I’d be keen to understand more :)

      1. TootsNYC*

        You might buy it in a publication that reaches the wrong demographic, for one.
        You might miss out on the extras or any rate discounts, for another.

        1. Ad Astra*

          These are both possibilities. Other possibilities:
          1. You might spend a ridiculous amount of money on an ad space that’s so tiny that it won’t even fit our legally required disclosures.
          2. You might give money to an organization our company doesn’t support.
          3. You might commit to a due date that’s unrealistic and forces marketing to work late or put other projects on hold.
          4. You might buy an ad that is not really in line with our overall strategy.
          5. You might make it difficult for us to keep track of where our ads are appearing and how our budget is being spent.
          6. You will be teaching this publication/organization that YOU are the right contact person for advertising, which basically guarantees 1-5 will continue happening.

    2. OP*

      The problem coworker is kind of a know-it-all who thinks her stuff is great…i.e. she would not take any suggestions for improvement even if they were coated with sugar, honey, AND corn syrup :) She’s taken ONE course on InDesign…and then thinks this gives her the right to get into my design files as change things without telling me…and there are no “track changes” in InDesign…at least not that I know of. I asked her nicely at first…and then directly to please tell me when she changes something, but to no avail…so with my boss’s permission, we moved all of my files to a locked-down folder. However, she is still designing her own projects…and not internal stuff….when she does decide to play designer, she either A) doesn’t tell anyone about it until she’s designed it and sent it around (and, being a nonprofit, we are just understaffed enough that everyone is just glad it’s done and/or is afraid to speak up) or B) purposely waits to email the designers until the very last possible minute, knowing that then she can say, “well, I know you’re really busy and won’t meet my deadline so I will just do it.” My boss is the communications director, and the marketing director is afraid to speak up because she does not oversee this person (the rogue designer is not in the communications or marketing depts.)

      1. JGray*

        I feel for you and can understand your frustration. I am not a designer but have to back up the graphic designer in our office and she even created templates for me to use. I think that the templates are helpful but I can still screw them up. Also, in regards to the templates- are you sure that your coworker will use them? I am just thinking based on what you have said that I am not confident that she will use your templates. Also why does she have InDesign? At my office only select people have the software. Limiting the software might help in this situation. I think you should have them ready for when she decides to play designer hopefully the template will help make sure that the flyer or whatever she makes has the standard items. Best of luck since this is a tough situation when your boss won’t help you but hopefully what Allison said will help. I would also suggest proposing a deadline that people have to follow – such as if you need design work than you need to let the designers know at least 4 weeks (or whatever works for your org.) in advance.

      2. Ad Astra*

        Someone really needs to bring her manager into it. This is clearly a pattern that’s causing real problems, and someone needs to clearly explain that this behavior needs to stop — and then hold her to that.

      3. Communications Manager*

        Yeah, the first step is someone needs to take CS/InDesign off her computer! The Communications Director and Marketing Director need to talk to her manager, whatever department she’s in. I’m not a graphic designer and I have huge respect for what graphic designers can do. As a communications person I completely understand about branding. You’re not overreacting. At some level she knows what she’s doing is inappropriate and the time she’s spending on these “little” flyer projects is obviously taking her away from whatever her actual job responsibilities are. Her manager might not know how much time she’s spending doing someone else’s work.

  5. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

    OP, I am in the same boat as you. All I have to say is, I commiserate. It’s incredibly frustrating.

    I would never try to do accounting work for the finance department just because I thought I was good at math.

    Alison’s advice is good and I will pay close attention to solutions that others may have.

  6. T3k*

    Woooow, I could have almost written this. Thankfully a coworker I had wouldn’t go as far as trying to design it herself, but what she would do was push her ideas on me instead of just giving me the job jacket and letting me handle it. And more than once I’ve had customers respond saying they wanted something far different from the coworker’s idea and more like something I was thinking originally. After that I just ignored her ideas and went with the idea in my head.

  7. Gwen*

    It sucks that your manager isn’t willing to take a hard line on this :\ I’m also in marketing, and once we developed new brand standards, my manager was incredibly tenacious about hunting down off-brand materials/weird word documents sales people made at some point and keep sending to clients, up to and including spotting hideous things on the printer and tracking down the person who was printing it. Your company’s brand is how your communicate with the outside world; it’s incredibly important that everything you produce be high quality and in line with what you’re trying to convey to clients/customers/the general public.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yes, that’s the problem. Someone higher up the chain than the OP (probably either the OP’s boss/director or the coworker’s boss/director) needs to care about branding and professional-looking design, and tell the coworker to cut it out.

    2. Shan*

      Agreed! I’m not sure there’s much else OP can do. If the bosses don’t care, then it makes sense that they’d settle for your colleague’s work instead of yours. Especially, like Alison pointed out, if it’s more about speed than good design.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      Yeah, everything passes through my art director or there is hell to pay from me. She can delegate whatever she wants to her staff, she can spend 2 seconds reviewing something or 2 hours redoing something, whatever she wants to do. I have absolutely hunted down and yelled at people when I see any stray anything that isn’t to standard.

      The only way the OP’s issue gets solved is for somebody to be In Charge of standards. At least I don’t know another way. Her boss or her boss’s boss has to care.

    4. Ornery PR*

      Oh my yes! I am totally guilty of hunting down whomever printed some weird thing that I did not design and they intend to use with clients or prospects. Luckily it’s a small office and I can usually find the culprit. And I’m the only one who designs anything, or outsources the design, so I for sure know if someone didn’t get my approval. I know I can get busy, but that’s why I make templates, people!

    5. ella*

      Although, even if the bosses don’t care about design consistency, you would think they would care about the co-worker doing her own job, and not some other person’s.

      1. Oh no not again*

        Yeah, that’s what has me puzzled. If she’s spending time playing designer, is she getting her own work done?

        First time commenter. Love this site!

  8. Cat*

    On the incident involving the flier, could that have just been a garden variety misunderstanding and/or education issue? If someone had told me “would this thing I already created work?” I wouldn’t necessarily have assumed it required anything beyond subbing old content for new content or that the person would prefer to do it themselves rather than have me do it.

  9. Jerzy*

    OP, you have my sympathies, as does our in-house designer who is treated like nothing more than support staff most of the time, rather than a professional in her own right.

    I think Alison’s advice is solid, though with templates, all “finished” products should still go through you for a final look because people with no design training also love to change templates willy-nilly.

    I have a pretty good eye for design because I studied art most of my life, and STILL I think a professional graphic designer is probably going to know better than me, so I let them do their job, and I do mine. I also spent time as a writer (which is something else everyone seems to think it takes nothing more than a keyboard to do well), so I have some personal sympathy for how crappy designers get treated.

    Good luck!

    1. Chinook*

      “I think Alison’s advice is solid, though with templates, all “finished” products should still go through you for a final look because people with no design training also love to change templates willy-nilly.”

      Who would have thought it was so hard to just change the text in a document, eh? With the accounting firm with a solid brand guide and templates/styles pre-loaded into Word (because you can do that! and it is worth the money if you aren’t going to have full-time person doing it!), it got to the point that I had the accountants just make changes on the documents with a pen/pencil and then I would enter the text for them. Otherwise, I spent the entire afternoon fixing columns, wonky font and missing page numbers.

  10. sophiabrooks*

    OP, I am sort of that person, except I have some foundational design experience. I get pushed into doing design work because my boss either doesn’t want to “pay” the other department (we work at a University, so somehow we have a choice in this) or we need to do something quickly. Also, since we do approximately 100 – 200 events per year that need a flyer, I think it would be too much for the real marketing department which only has 2 graphic designers for the whole uni.

    What they did here was create branded templates that someone could use for a one page color flyer and a trifold brochure which worked in word. Once you sort of earn the trust of the marketing department (like I have) they give you the indesign files, and you have a little bit more flexibility.

    Before they created the templates (and in fact sometimes still), there were so many departments that were creating flyers by saving graphic items from the website and then printing them. It was horrible. So the templates were a good stop gap for those of us whose bosses insist we do not have time or money to use the marketing department.

    1. sophiabrooks*

      I just reread, and it sounds like I am suggesting something new- Allison suggested the templates, and I am saying that they (mostly) work.

    2. Mike C.*

      there were so many departments that were creating flyers by saving graphic items from the website and then printing them. It was horrible.

      Holy .jpg artifacts, Batman!

    3. June*

      I have been that person too, but only because the design department has unrealistic timelines for how we work (it’s an on going discussion between departments). So I have sympathy for both the OP and their coworker.

  11. NickelandDime*

    This is very annoying and I wish companies would clamp down on this type of thing. Brand, colors, logos, all of that stuff MATTERS. What’s worse, the type of people that are constantly trying to do this have ZERO artistic ability or design skills. We’ve had wannabe designers, wannabe writers, etc., and it’s annoying to the people whose job it is to do that work. Folks need to stay in their lane.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I would also love to see more companies/marketing departments devise style guides for their copy. I see so much random, inconsistent capitalization, disagreement on what exactly we’re calling this product, way too many exclamation points… eughg.

      1. NickelandDime*

        We developed a style guide! We introduced it, had a training on the content and most people were on board. We had one executive that was really negative about it, like everyone here is stupid and wouldn’t do it. Most do. There are some that grumble, but…they were messing up really bad. The people that think others are overreacting to these problems are the worst offenders. Bad design, inconsistent branding and product names, etc., are real issues, confuse customers and make a company look tacky and disorganized.

      2. Chinook*

        Ad Astra – you forgot to mention commas! It is vital to know where an organization stands on the use of Oxford commas – yeah or neah!

        1. Ad Astra*

          Great point! Despite my work in newspapers and my j-school education, I lean a bit toward using the Oxford comma. I figure, hey, we’re not dealing with the space constraints of the olden days and a serial comma typically eliminates ambiguity in a sentence, so why not? But really, I’m fine with either decision as long as it’s consistent.

          The average consumer may not be able to recognize inconsistent copy style or bad design, but it contributes to a generally negative feeling about the piece in question. Sort of like how straight men will say “I don’t find makeup attractive and I don’t have an opinions about which cosmetics you use.” They don’t know enough about makeup to recognize which products women are or aren’t using; they just know how they feel about the final result, which is typically positive.

    2. Yet Another Fed*

      And you raise trademark issues as well if your company has trademarked any of their graphics and/or products

  12. MJH*

    Marketing writers have this same struggle. Just because something doesn’t have typos or grammatical errors (maybe) doesn’t mean it’s written in an engaging way, in the brand’s voice, but…everyone thinks they’re a writer. And writing and design often get lumped together, too, which means that writers’ jobs disappear and designers have to write or vice-versa. Sigh. My sympathies.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      Just last week my teeny, tiny department had to explain to our newest manager why it is important that we are gatekeepers for our online content. (Since we deal with a government program, this is especially important.)

      I don’t think she really believed us.

  13. Brooke*

    Even in companies where there IS a branding authority there are rogue “designers”…. I work at such a company. You’ll never get rid of it entirely. However, the existence of branding guidelines do help in pointing out when errors are made by these rogue “designers.”

  14. LQ*

    I get the frustration. People who look at art and go oh I could do that. People who look at a simple graphic and go oh that’s so easy I could do that. I’m glad you got some of your frustration out.

    AAM’s comments are really good. I also wanted to mention, this will likely always happen. (Always at least for the forseeable future, technology changes, maybe direct brain interfaces will make everyone graphic designers and everyone will suddenly have great taste! Who knows.)

    I’m someone who gets pushed into doing graphic design far more than I’d like (I’d prefer never, but I end up with basically all the time, our actual graphics department we aren’t really allowed to talk to).

    In addition to things like templates (which are phenomenal, not just for others to use, but of course for you as well) finding ways to emphasis things. My primary focus is consistency, I don’t care what we do but within The Thing we are doing at least we have to be the same. No elearnings with 4 images, 1 a photo and 3 mediocre clip art. Just pick one thing! There is also an element of pick your battles. Maybe this battle we don’t go, it really will look 298374982735 times better with photos, this battle is everything should be the same. So if you see something. “Hey we really try to make sure we are consistent within a document in our design, it might help visually if you use all mediocre clip art, rather than throwing a photo in which can confuse the user.” Yeah, it feels like you lost the battle on the clip art, but if you win the consistency battle enough you can go, hey you know what? Maybe we should use good quality photos. And yes these are teaching her graphic design, but chances are extremely good she’s not going to stop, so swinging by her desk to say, hey I saw you took a shot at this yourself. I would have time to give you something really fresh and current by the end of the week but if you need it today I’d recommend that you punch up your look with 3 more photos to really be consistent with the rest of our designs. And then smile and let it go.

    1. LQ*

      (I’m saying let it go because the higher ups seem to not care enough to enforce it, the OP struggling against the tide will only frustrate.)

    2. Lurker*

      I get the frustration. People who look at art and go oh I could do that. People who look at a simple graphic and go oh that’s so easy I could do that.

      Or the related: oh, you’re a musician, can you play at our event, or sing a song while being out somewhere completely not work related.

      1. LQ*

        Yes. And if you are an artist of any kind you are supposed to do it for the love of art, ask someone to get paid for that playing at the event and shock ensues.

  15. BookCocoon*

    As someone with no graphic design ability who is constantly asked to design things because we don’t have an in-house designer, I will totally agree that your skills are specialized and not something everyone can do. On the other hand, I know people who are amazing designers who do not have the degree behind their name. As Alison said, I think your best bet is to focus on what’s actually wrong with the rogue designs, not to throw your credentials around like they are the only possible dividing line between people who can and can’t do successful design.

    1. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

      I tend to disagree with this statement. Yes – there exist some people, few and far between, who are excellent natural designers who do not have the degree behind their name. However, this is not most people. Most of the time, an untrained designer’s work is amateur, and the untrained person does not have the ability to be able to see his/her own mistakes – whereas, to a trained eye, it is very easy to see those mistakes.

      That is why I don’t understand how there are so many people in my field with no formal education who feel comfortable calling themselves a graphic designer. In my opinion, at the very least, you need to have studied under someone for some time, or taken a certification course of some kind.

      I cannot call myself a chef without the right training. I cannot call myself a nurse or a doctor without the right training. So while it’s not a matter of life or death, the principle is the same. I would be very, very hesitant to call myself a graphic designer without some kind of training.

      1. Big Electric Cat*

        There are a LOT of graphic designers out in the world who don’t have any kind of relevant degree. A number of them are even good at what they do.

        I suspect that many people feel that if they are getting paid for it, they can consider themselves a professional. I can see more than a bit of justification for this.

      2. nofelix*

        Yeah I agree with this. There will always be some outliers who are great graphic designers without formal graphic design education. But mostly it’s a specialised subject that is very subtle and nuanced.

        I’m an architect – a large part of what we do involves graphic design. I’ve read many books on graphic design, watched tutorials, been to lectures. I’m still an architect and never quite achieve the polish of a professional graphic designer.

        A frustrating issue I have right now is working with an outside graphic designer on some branding, and I can’t tell if I disagree with their design choices because it’s legitimately mediocre or they’re seeing something I’m not. Being able to explain your choices is a very valuable skill.

  16. WorkingMom*

    “I don’t go around grabbing scalpels and offering to repair my coworker’s hernia or giving legal advice to my divorcing neighbor because I just read a divorce law book.”

    I would just like to say this quote sums up my thoughts. (I’m not a designer, I don’t do any design work, I don’t play a designer on TV, so I don’t have much input on the specific issue.) But in general, I agree with this quote so much!! If we could all just stick to doing what we do that would be great. In my husband’s field of work, he always has customers trying to tell him something “isn’t that hard” or “I could do that in a few hours” so it should only cost X. Makes him want to scream. Then start your own business, right?! If nothing else, I feel your pain on that perspective. Good luck!

    1. Ad Astra*

      Teaching, coaching sports, reporting the news, and photography are other examples of jobs people think they could do just as well as the professionals.

      That said, the quote doesn’t hold up in all situations. As a marketing/communications person, I surely wouldn’t try to perform surgery on someone, but I might attempt something like graphic design or event planning. Those things are tangentially related to my typical duties and do not require professional licensure. So I really would advise the OP to focus on solving the problems that this behavior is causing, instead of relying on this idea to make her point with the coworker.

    2. themmases*

      Really? I have seen designers say this before and I was mostly coming down here to say that this statement comes across as a huge overreaction and really detracts from the OP’s credibility. If anything, this type of statement proves itself by demonstrating that people who are good at design shouldn’t just assume they are persuasive writers.

      Doctors and lawyers go through years of additional training and apprenticeship and have to be licensed to practice. Within their scope of practice someone’s health, freedom, or financial well-being is on the line. I appreciate good design as much as the next person, but come on.

      I get the frustration. I’m a researcher who has been given a copy of Photoshop Elements and told to do miracles, and I’ve also had someone who knew even less than me want to sit next to me, direct me, and tell me to do stuff I knew was ugly. I’ve certainly had problems with people going rogue and sending stuff out that I should have vetted and that made us look terrible (like research malpractice level terrible). But it wasn’t surgery.

      1. AW*

        Nothing wrong with a little hyperbole. I think it was pretty clear the OP wasn’t arguing that bad design is going to kill someone or get them put in jail.

        1. themmases*

          I didn’t say that they seemed to be arguing that, I said that this obvious exaggeration damages their credibility and is not persuasive.

          The OP already has a problem where their professional contribution isn’t fully appreciated by their coworker or boss– a common problem for designers as this thread demonstrates. Comparing design to surgery– again, a comparison I’ve seen designers make before– just suggests that the person saying it has an inflated concept of the difficulty and importance of design. It reinforces the perception that would lead someone to DIY in the first place.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            You could argue that poorly designed textbooks for the medical field or poorly designed posters for emergency procedures could cause a life-or-death situation.

            OK – I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but design can be very, very important in terms of explaining concepts.

          2. Big Electric Cat*

            Speaking as someone who has worked with many graphic designers, I agree with themmasses. Graphic design is not surgery. It may be an unpopular opinion, but not all professions are equally difficult, and it’s a lot easier to pick up graphic design than it is to become a doctor. I mean: what qualifications does a person need to have to consider themselves a “real” graphic designer?

            I definitely get the feeling that the OP simply isn’t feeling the respect they feel they deserve. It’s not impossible that the co-worker is actually doing a decent job and OP is feeling threatened. Alison’s #1 point will be a decent gauge – if OP can enumerate specific flaws in the co-worker’s work (“this text is misaligned”, “they’re using 6 different fonts”, etc) then, if nothing else, perhaps she can teach the co-worker how to turn in some decent work.

            I should note that I consider graphic design to be “craft” and not “art”. An art is something that requires a ‘gift’ to excel at (pro basketball, say). A craft is something that can be learned. It’s entirely possible for someone with no formal training to teach themselves a craft to the point where they are turning in professional-quality results. For instance, there are some kick-ass musicians out there who’ve never set foot in a music school.

            1. nofelix*

              Graphic design and surgery don’t really have an upper limit of how challenging they can be, so comparing how difficult they are is really a red herring. The results of bad graphic design are just easier to ignore than the results of bad surgery.

              On the idea that you need a gift to be good at ‘an art’… well I can say I’ve seen many mediocre-seeming people produce great art because they worked hard, and many ‘gifted’ ones getting lazy, doubting themselves and suddenly producing dreck. The issue with both surgery and graphic design is you also need years of experience and learning to put hard work to use; otherwise you’re just making a mess.

      2. HRish Dude*

        I think this is what Alison was talking about the other day with people aggressively playing devil’s advocate. Any reasonable person knows it was hyperbole.

      3. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

        I don’t feel the OP was overreacting, and I don’t feel her statements detract from her credibility. I’ve been there many times myself. Professionals in my field are constantly hammered with people who treat their work as insignificant and their position with disrespect. It grows very discouraging, so much so that I’ve considered leaving the design world because of it. It’s not a small thing. Perhaps you can brush it off, but after ten years of it I have trouble brushing it off the way I used to, and I don’t blame the OP for feeling the way he/she does.

  17. Chinook*

    OP, it isn’t just graphic designers. I am working with a technical writer who is setting up all our procedures and guidelines for our entire company (he is training me to help him). He has templates and guidelines and even worked things out to the meta-data level in Word. The rant you gave is almost the same as the one he gave when someone in another department decided she didn’t like his template and that it needed “refreshing” so she changed it all and then uploaded it for use without telling anyone but her supervisor (who really doesn’t like confrontation).

    The only thing stopping this from happening more often is that we are in the middle of implementing a formal system to publish finalized documents that means her end product would be pulled as “non-compliant” and then her department will be billed for the technical writer’s time to fix it. Unfortunately, that won’t go live for her department until the new year.

    1. Chinook*

      And let me add that bad design does hurt! I had a crash course in graphic design as a production assistant for a small town newspaper and what little I learned on that job has taught me that bad design can create havoc and confusion (as well as head aches and nausea) and good design can reinforce any idea and possibly help solve world peace (as long as the doves are all flowing in the same direction and aren’t using all the primary colours of the rainbow).

      1. Leah*

        Bad design does hurt! Go to a restaurant with a graphic designer and watch how much distress something as a simple as a menu with mediocre to bad design (Perkins will do) can cause them.

        1. LQ*

          I think the trick to this is actually to go in with someone who isn’t a graphic designer and watch them get confused over what means what and what the price is on what and what something means. Graphic design can be ugly but functional, the real problem is when it isn’t functional which is way beyond. That’s lost money (or clients, or angered citizens).

          1. Leah*

            Not just referring to ugly… but yes visual chaos. Friends find it entertaining when I pick up the menu ans start counting fonts and looking to see of the see if the design is aligned, copy readable, etc.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              I like to proofread the menu. Some have a lot of misspellings.

              Another thing to keep in mind is how it affects people with various disabilities. It can be very hard for someone with dyslexia to read some menu fonts, and then there are just the visuals that are a problem (color-coding doesn’t help the color blind, and if there isn’t enough contrast between text and background, it can be hard to read a menu in low light).

          2. Ad Astra*

            I would argue it’s easier to make something not-ugly than it is to make it functional. Lots of people have a sense for what colors are pretty together and how to make something neat and tidy, but very few of us have a strong understanding of how the eyes and brain work together to interpret visual information.

        2. Chinook*

          “Go to a restaurant with a graphic designer and watch how much distress something as a simple as a menu with mediocre to bad design (Perkins will do) can cause them.”

          Through in an English teacher and watch the table combust in flames!

        3. T3k*

          Hehe, one of the first comments I’ll make when I go eat at a new restaurant is about their menu’s design. I was impressed with one a few weeks ago (granted, it was a large chain, so bound to have an actual design department) and others make me cry inside. I’ve had to hold my tongue a few times to offer to re-design some local restaurant menus.

          1. Andy*

            I was convinced to never go back to a certain chain (rhymes with ‘crapplebee’s) because they put a picture of a green drink with olives on a flyer for margaritas. For the love of all that is holy, do not hurt a margarita with olives. They don’t deserve that kind of treatment.

          2. Ad Astra*

            In my hometown, which is also home to a large state university with a sports team you’ve probably heard of, a certain company owns a couple of high-end hotels with restaurants in them. We’re talking $20 Sunday brunch, or $15-30 entrees, with $5-10 drinks — not incredibly fancy, but nicer and more expensive than your average college town restaurant. Both are also popular choices for wedding receptions. The buildings are gorgeous, the food is fine, the service is fine, but the menus are SO BAD. Terrible design, lots of Comic Sans, typos everywhere… I can’t. It looks so unprofessional and I cringe every time I’m in one of those establishments.

    2. Chinook*

      “4. Develop templates for the most common things people need. You might be able to mitigate some of the impact of #3 by providing templates for the most common types of pieces people need, along with do’s and don’ts for using them (like “do not have more than 200 words of text in this box”). That’s not perfect, I realize, but at least if they’re working from your template, the final product is likely to be better than if they start from scratch.”

      I worked for once company that did this for everything, including PowerPoint presentations (a.k.a. the thing that kills good design). It really did make a hug difference – PowerPoint presentations became survivable and documents were easy to fix because we were able to search and fix anything that didn’t meet the template.

      The added bonus of templates is that it is easy to sell them as making other people’s job easier because they can just fill in the blanks and/or know what you, the designer, needs for the end product.

      And yes, I do know I am talking too much. (I blame it on the double doe of cough medicine)

    3. Rena*

      Oh man, I read this to my technical writer fiance just to watch him twitch. “I’d set them on fire. Pretty much immediately.”

  18. Folklorist*

    I cringed, because I almost thought this was written about me. I’m in the editorial department, but have dual degrees in Art/Design and English–I just happened to go down the path of writing/editing, even though I LOVE design.

    When I first started at my current job, my boss told me that one of these projects was “your baby” (meaning I had full run of it) and I hated the design, so I tried to change it. That DID NOT go over well, for all of the reasons the OP lays out above. I apologized and continue to use the design (which I still hate, but the designers won’t help me change it).

    The fact is, though, that even though I have some lessons in design and a penchant for it, I still don’t have the professional experience the in-house designers have–both with the programs, and with what our company wants. And if my company doesn’t want to pay me to do a slow/mediocre design job but stick to writing and editing instead, that’s totally their prerogative.

    Anyway, that is to say to the OP that I feel you for a different reason. Some of us just really want to play with designs, and drawing boundaries–and reminding the person that they were hired for expertise in their own area–can help. But please don’t take offense and get all huffy about how “I’m the artist; this is MY thing!!” Even if you’re right, it won’t go over well (which it seems like you know). I like the ideas of templates/style guides as others have said. In my case, my boss has thrown me a bone by giving me one small creative design project a week that’s under his purview, so I’m getting to develop my skills that way without stepping on the artists’ toes too much.

  19. Leah*

    This! I’m a exhibit and graphic designer (cross-trained) and I just had to reign in a rogue sales who though she could handle our marketing. My responsibilities include all client facing design work and marketing for the company (we have another department which handles client’s graphics.) Luckily my manager was on my side and once I told him so-and-s0 was asking for editable files he put the kibosh on that. All I had to do was explain that I was concerned about the quality of the design, especially as we are a design company and how it represents us, and I wasn’t sure about how she wanted to change content. He kept it under wraps (my concerns) when he went to ask about it and feigned that I had asked him if I was sending her the most recent files. Lo and behold, she was told that all marketing needs to go through me.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      I wondered if sharing a few well-chosen clients from hell stories around the office might give the OP’s colleague a moment of self-awareness.

      1. periwinkle*

        Nope. It’s rare that someone will hear a story that’s about a customer/coworker with an annoying behavior pattern and realize that the story applies to him as well. At least the stories are entertaining in a cringe-y sort of way. Back when I was in tech support I found that reading the stories of others in the same metaphorical boat made me feel a bit less homicidal. Shared misery, you know.

  20. Christian Troy*

    I think if your boss isn’t willing to address this in some kind of meaningful way, you might have to let it go. There isn’t really anything you can do to intervene with this person making stuff other than withhold files, which I’m not sure is a road you want to go.

    Also I wonder if this person is unhappy with their job and thinks they’re expanding their skill set with doing these graphic design projects on the side? Or maybe they don’t have other work to do? Are they getting their work done? I just find it a bit odd they keep doing this and they’ve asked you to do a project, you provide a deadline and then they do it anyway. If they needed it by the following week and you were swamped, it would make sense but a deadline that is four months out is pretty generous.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      I think it might be OK for the OP to bring it up once in a while, even if the boss isn’t receptive. I think it’s a CYA thing, where there could be something that goes out wrong and the OP has to explain what happened. The OP can keep from getting in the line of fire if it’s already known that the CW is continuing to do work that should be done by a different department.

      But I’d also create some templates, too.

    2. Autumn*

      I’m a designer and this happened in my company. The marketing director didn’t know how (or want) to do his job, so he convinced the powers-that-be that he needed a Mac with CS on it. Instead of working on marketing ideas, he would “help me” design ads or whatever sounded like fun and he could pass as work. It was a convenient excuse to not do his job.

      The problem was, I had to come back and clean up the messes he made, which took away from my job. And when the marketing director made something hideous, he could just shuffle his feet and say he was trying to help. (No, you just don’t want to do your job and messing around in Indesign is more fun.) I wonder if accountants run into people screwing around in their software.

  21. LizNYC*

    Oh man. OP, I hear you. I work at a business that does only marketing, and we still have people here who think the graphic design studio is here for looks.

    –Firm brand guidelines for your nonprofit
    –Templates for frequently needed items (brochures, 1-page flyers)
    –An accessible folder shared with coworkers that houses your nonprofit logo lockup (and that can’t be easily changed or the name includes “do not alter”)
    –Coming up with guidelines about how much time each requested item should take: like you need 2 days for a 1-pager, or 2 weeks for an 8-page brochure
    –Coming up with a process — then outlining it in an email / on paper — about how assets should flow through the office

    The lack of buy-in from your not-great manager doesn’t help, but maybe if you could frame it in a “it’ll be more work for everyone in the long run” or “we could get in trouble if we don’t make everything uniform and it’ll affect donations because people won’t realize it’s us.”

  22. Jules*

    I deal with this all the time (I’m a non-designer, but was the brand guardian in my last job and worked very closely with our graphic designers to set up some standards which would let people produce acceptable work and free up our designers for the projects which really needed that professional, customised touch).

    Step one was to set up some very basic, idiot-proof templates: master pages for any layout you would consider acceptable, lots of comments and notes on non-printing layers for guidance on how to use the template, pre-set styles etc, plus some randomly locked bits so that people who really don’t know what they’re doing get stuck.

    Step two is to set up a lunch-and-learn training session where you walk everyone through the (very basic) InDesign skills they need to use your templates. During this process, make it clear that you’re always happy to review stuff, help out, or answer questions (and that their first preference should be to get time on your schedule).

    Step three is to hand out the templates when people ask for them, and ask them to share their results (ideally before they go to print) so that you can check up on the brand standards and have a copy for your library of past company designs (useful because people then see it as a positive to send you a copy of their work). Bonus points if your manager can be persuaded to name your team as brand guardians and assert that everything needs to go through you.

    Back channel solution: make friends with your print process guys and ask them to cc you on stuff that comes from someone other than you.

    1. AMG*

      I’m not in draphic design but I have had to do this frequently. Make friends. If you can’t beat ’em, get ’em to join you. Especially since it doesn’t sound like the coworker is trying to be contentious.

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      “idiot-proof templates”

      Oh if only this were possible… idiots are soooo ingenious. Make something idiot-proof and you run into a better idiot.

  23. Anon Geographer*

    Ironically one of the huge problems I have with my workplace is trained designers deciding they can do my job because “Hey, a map is just a graphic.” After all, since Google thinks Mercator is a perfectly reasonable projection choice, it must be great for every situation….
    (My bigger problem is programmers who think Sql Server and Google Maps is all you need to solve any geography problem, and then wonder why half their points are off by 300 meters and all of their polygon borders are crossing each other.)

    1. AW*

      Hah, this reminds me of a conversation I had a few months ago about how there’s more than one coordinate system.

      1. Chinook*

        “Hah, this reminds me of a conversation I had a few months ago about how there’s more than one coordinate system.”

        My eyes were opened to this a few years ago. Eastings/northings not only hurt my lat./long. raised head but my inner English teacher (who is currently hopped up on cold medicine and not monitoring for typos) because I never thought of east and north as verbs before.

        1. Anon Geographer*

          The EPSG list current has 5,114 projections in common use.
          The Esri list (very common software program for cartography) has another 2,969 projections.

          Just for the US alone, there are 124 different official projections that are used for surveying and other government business. Which one of the 124 you use depends on where you are located. And most of these have been updated over time as the underlying datum (latitude/longitude) has changed from NAD27 to NAD83. When you see someone make a map with features off 100+ meters, it is normally because they are using NAD27 latitude/longitude instead of NAD83 or WGS84. If they are off by a few meters, it is most likely a difference between NAD83 and WGS84 datums (or even between different versions of these datums, since they move slowly over time as the continental plates drift).

          Incidentally, while the proj4 library I mentioned above is probably the most useful, the d3 projection library is my favorite, especially with the examples it provides:
          (Bonne, two different butterfly projections, and a retroazimuthal?!)

  24. F.*

    Just to make you feel a little better, this is not confined to graphic design. The company owner where I work thinks just anyone can handle HR matters, too. I almost had a (private) fit when, unbeknownst to me, he had his admin type up an employment offer to a sales executive without including anything about an expense allowance or our required language about the offer being conditional based on the results of a background check and drug testing. He thought he was doing me a favor and lightening my load, but the work and finesse it took to straighten that out rather increased my stress.

  25. Jules*

    Oh – one more thing I forgot to mention. You might also find you get better results by giving people a fixed slot on your workload – so if she says she needs the flyer in 4 months, you could say ‘ great, I’ll put that onto my schedule for 17th November and have the final draft back to you by 21 November, which gives us a few days in case there are any changes, and six weeks to print and ship. Can you make sure I have the following information by that date?’ instead of just saying ‘I’ll get to it before your deadline’ which can often make people feel nervous that you might forget about them (especially if they’ve had a scatterbrained designer before….)

    1. Eugenie*

      Our in-house designers require 12 weeks notice for everything. From a simple flier to a multi-page booklet. If you submit something 13 weeks early then you’re told it never got on their calendar and that they won’t be doing that for you — except they don’t let you know that until a week before it’s due. That’s the big reason I encourage my team to go rogue on smaller, less visible, stuff — it seems that whenever we submit things to our in-house designers we did it wrong and it ends with them refusing to do the work.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        My company has a similar problem. In-house designers have a huge workload and internal customers really need to plan ahead to get on the schedule. People end up going rogue for last minute, small, and less complex projects.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes, on the same lines – any chance that there is a miscommunication, and although the deadline is 4 months from now, that is the deadline to have the fliers back from the printing service, not the deadline for you to complete the design?

      Or is it the case like the university mentioned above, where her department will be charged for the design services, and that is why she is trying to do it herself?

      Has all of this communication happened over email? Would it be better if you went to visit her in person and told her firmly but politely that you will handle all the design work. Could you let her give some input by providing fliers that you’ve designed for similar past events (in pdf or another unchangeable format) and asking her which one of those she thinks would be the best for this event, and to hand write the details that she needs onto one of these pre-existing fliers?

  26. Lizabeth*

    Oh, the woes that computers has caused for professionally trained graphic designers. I feel for you 1,000% on this.
    Alison’s points are dead on and your boss doesn’t sound like a graphic designer or they’d have “gotten” it when you brought it up. It sounds like the coworkee doesn’t have enough of her own work to do. How did CS get put on her computer to begin with? Most places that have an IT department won’t willy nilly put the Creative Suite on any computer when asked.

    Do a show and tell with your boss – one brochure of your coworkers and one of yours when discussing the branding guidelines. Make part of the branding guidelines that everything needs to be looked (and more importantly PROOFED again) and approved by your department before going out to be printed, etc. You can never proof something to much – I’ve had 3-4 pairs of eyes on projects and mistakes still happen.

    Templates are your BFF for the quickies that you can’t do because of other deadlines, yet you retain some design control over them.

    No one will judge you on the receiving end of the bad designed literature, don’t worry about that. Have you seen some of the direct mail that’s being sent out these days????? Ghhhhaaaaa!

    And if things don’t change and it’s still irritating you – polish up the portfolio start looking around for another job where you’ll be better appreciated. The job listings have picked up since Labor Day around NYC and I imagine elsewhere.

    Show me a person that claims to be an “expert” in Photoshop and I will show you someone that isn’t. Photoshop has gotten way too big to know inside, outside and backwards without spending most of your waking hours working on it.

    1. Zillah*

      Show me a person that claims to be an “expert” in Photoshop and I will show you someone that isn’t. Photoshop has gotten way too big to know inside, outside and backwards without spending most of your waking hours working on it.


  27. Lizabeth*

    That said, keep an open mind when someone suggests a “design idea” that isn’t a graphic designer. I’ve gotten some good ideas and starting off points from non-designers.

  28. Anonymosity*

    I redesigned a report document for our department when I started. This is NOT my strong point. But I think it turned out pretty good; I basically used our corporate template and tweaked it a little. As long as all the reports we sent out looked the same, that’s all anyone was concerned with. But now we have a new big boss, and I’m scared she will look at it and nitpick and say “Why does it not look like the corporate thing?” (It totally does; I just changed the ugly picture and got rid of the overdone emphasis.) I don’t have any idea if I could ever use it in a portfolio of any kind. I guess not, since it was based on a corporate design. I’m sure my boss would stick up for it–she approved it–but I don’t want to have to start over with all the documents I’ve already formatted for our department.

    I would never ever ever try to design a product flyer or anything like that. At my old job, I made internal flyers, but they were usually just a funny picture with a caption. Like one time I made a flu shot one with a silly graphic of a germ saying “Rawr!” and my Daylight Saving Time flyers were pretty funny. :) Those were fine to hang in the break room, but I wouldn’t dare presume I could do that kind of work better than an actual designer!

  29. periwinkle*

    If it makes you feel better, it’s not just happening to graphics designers. I develop learning solutions and our department is well-grounded in both best practices for learning development and the theoretical knowledge behind it (aka adult educational psychology). Many of us have graduate degrees in this very subject.

    “Here, I need this course developed. I made these massively complex and unreadable PowerPoint slides jammed with unlicensed images I grabbed off Google image search, and I’m going to just read these slides aloud for four hours. Just use my slides, I need this tomorrow. I don’t even know why we have a training department, this was so easy to do.”

    I feel your pain, OP.

    1. Chinook*

      ““Here, I need this course developed. I made these massively complex and unreadable PowerPoint slides jammed with unlicensed images I grabbed off Google image search, and I’m going to just read these slides aloud for four hours. Just use my slides, I need this tomorrow. I don’t even know why we have a training department, this was so easy to do.””

      This is the reason I offered to create all the learning modules for my department as long as the subject matter experts tell me the content. I have suffered through enough of poorly taught and formatted content that goes against everything I ever learned earning my B. Ed. that I volunteered to do what I know is going to a s*&t load of work on a tight timeline because not on my watch.

        1. periwinkle*

          Training is *tough*! I can analyze a training need, design an effective learning solution geared toward building both knowledge and confidence, and create the materials if I can’t talk someone else into doing it (I have the skill but not the interest). But dear sweet FSM, I cannot teach that knowledge. Our department includes several marvelously skilled, knowledgeable, engaging professional trainers but some of our content owners insist that only their subject matter experts can possibly teach the class. Sigh.

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      “I made these massively complex and unreadable PowerPoint slides jammed with unlicensed images I grabbed off Google image search, and I’m going to just read these slides aloud for four hours. Just use my slides, I need this tomorrow. I don’t even know why we have a training department, this was so easy to do.”

      I wish I had read this last night… I was too tired to get through all the comments. And now it’s too early to drink. Rocking and moaning in a corner is still achievable, though.

  30. Leah*

    Just realized, as for the writing style of the O.P., the post is written in a format similar to a creative brief.

  31. AW*

    I’ll never understand why folks can’t just let people do the job they’re being paid to do.

    There must be a word for, “thinks any job they know nothing about must be super easy”, because it happens all the time.

    1. Mike C.*

      This seems to go along with the belief that you can learn anything on the internet and become equal to or better than an expert who has spent their life doing said work.

  32. Zillah*

    Ugh. OP, I’m so sorry.

    I didn’t go to school for graphic design, but my family has always been very art-oriented, and it’s been a hobby of mine for four years. It’s taken me literally thousands of hours, a huge amount of self-directed education, and a super supportive online community to get halfway decent. The idea that it’s easy is ridiculous, and I think that people often don’t understand why it’s so offensive. I’m actually particularly bothered by the fact that people might think that you made it – that’s a very realistic concern, and if I were in your position, it’s one that would really be on my mind. Even if people don’t think it’s your work, if they associate your non-profit with shoddy design because of these things, they might think less of you by association.

    So. What you can do:

    It would be wonderful if this coworker would just stop going rogue, but realistically, it doesn’t seem likely that she’ll do so. I think Alison’s advice is right on point, though, particularly finding a way to articulate it so that your boss and your coworker might understand why there’s a problem with this. Lots of sympathy, though. :(

  33. Befuddled*

    This reminds me of when Access databases became readily available – all of sudden everyone thought they were a DBA and there were badly designed, hard to maintain, mission critical databases buried all over the company. A pc would fail (or someone would leave the company) and all that data would disappear. To say nothing about how none of the data would match up across databases. My head’s starting to hurt…

    1. Anon for this*

      I’m currently in the process of trying to kill a mission critical database created by one of my predecessors in favor of company systems. I have almost zero Access know-how, and I acknowledge that back when there weren’t other options it was pretty amazing, but it’s now an unwieldy mess that no one but him ever knew how to operate under the hood. About a month after he left it crashed. Mass panic. Apparently it’s not the first time. It’s kind of working again…except for the one thing that I can’t find another way to replicate within shared company systems. Luckily I use that thing more than anyone else, and I have a workaround I can use until the permanent workaround is finished, but right now I wish Access had never been invented. Before this I had used it for mail merges a few times, and now I’ve inherited Frankenstein’s monster. I found out that there are no fewer than 4 shadow systems in various departments, though, so at least I’m not alone.

  34. Artemesia*

    A few from a design incompetent myself. I was in charge of developing new projects and programs after a merger and the timeline was exceedingly short to produce flyers, catalogues etc — this was in the days before web pages — We had a highly centralized system that was extremely unresponsive to our timelines. It would have taken months to get product out through the system. I went outside the organization, designed and had the materials we needed in two weeks. We NEEDED them; it was mission critical. They were not anywhere near as good as professionally designed materials, but they were not outrageously terrible and we NEEDED THEM THEN not in a few weeks or months. We had a recruitment cycle for programs that were critical to our success as a division. We could not get what we NEEDED from the encrusted slow as molasses internal process.

    It sounds like the OP is responsive, but often people take design into their own hands because support services are not responsive.

    1. Anna*

      I would not recommend that. I get the feeling this coworker is getting direction from elsewhere and not just taking it upon herself to do these things. The OP doesn’t want to come across as unhelpful and if the coworker starts getting pressure to get X done and why isn’t X done, the coworker will have to be honest about not getting source files or help from OP. There’s nothing wrong with asking for more information about what is happening with the source files, but I wouldn’t suggest just flat out refusing.

        1. Anna*

          Yeah, but that still won’t make the OP look good because it doesn’t seem like the OP’s supervisor or the coworker’s supervisor feel the need to explain to the OP what is happening and why. I don’t know. I just think flat out refusing is a bad move, although asking for more details or getting permission from a supervisor is a good way to start that conversation without coming off as difficult. And by permission, I mean more along the lines of asking her supervisor something like, “Coworker is asking for the source files for X so she can make a flier. Is it okay if I forward her those?” That at least opens the door.

  35. Chriama*

    I’m honestly wondering how much of this is even OP’s problem. If you’re sincerely concerned about the image of the organization and think your coworker will follow the guidelines you set out for her, I think Alison’s suggestion is fine. But given your description of your coworker’s attitude as well as your supervisors, I suspect you’ll pour hours into creating style guides and templates that get totally ignored. Or worse, they’ll take your template, ignore all the guidelines, produce total crap, and still be able to say “I used the template OP gave me” and make you look bad.

    If that’s a likely outcome, I would recommend the OP focus more on distancing herself from the rogue coworker’s work. Don’t send her your live files. Don’t worry about projects you’re never made aware of. Come up with a process for sending you project requests and distribute it to the company, so that people don’t feel like they need to go to her because you’re busy — or, if there is more work than you can realistically handle, make peace with the fact that some of it is going to be done by your rogue coworker. Just take solace in the fact that it won’t have your name associated with it.

  36. TootsNYC*

    One thing about the creation of that branding / style checklist and guide:
    That’s a tremendous thing to put your your resume, and to bring up at review time.
    That’s an achievement.

    (but recognize that even if you create brochure templates , and you lock boxes, etc., to minimize dinking around, she is going to change them.)

  37. Pep*

    Looking at the other side of things….I know there are times when our graphic designers are buried — that’s most of the time. They require a 2-week lead time. Most of the time I just don’t have 2 weeks…I’m lucky if I have 2 days. So unless the company wants to hire more designers (which they don’t), I have to either miss deadlines or do it myself.

    I know our designers have scolded me once or twice (or more) in the past but the printer or the TV station or the calendar doesn’t care about their workload or their 2 week lead time.

  38. WLE*

    Have you had a direct conversation with her? Maybe she sees that you’re busy and/or overworked and wants to take the initiative. She sees this as helping you. Depending on her personality, I think having a direct conversation with her could help a lot. For example, “Hey Jane, I know that you want to help us by creating your own pieces from time to time when you see that we are busy. However, to keep things consistent, we would prefer to design all pieces for Teapots Inc. This is the best way to maintain a consistent look and feel. Right now it’s a little like having multiple writers writing chapters for the same book. Each writer has their own style, and it’s inconsistent. We want to make sure that we’re meeting your deadlines, so if you have any concerns, please let me know.”

  39. Anouk*

    I deeply sympathize with the OP — I too know the frustration of working with people who think they can do my job. I work as a proofreader. The number of times account managers have barged into my office and told me they’ll check copy themselves to meet a deadline…

    Some days it takes every ounce of willpower I have not to chuck my Chicago Manual of Style at their heads…

    Maybe I should just start ringing up their clients and arranging meetings, since everyone can talk on the phone, right? Even then, I don’t think they’d get it.

  40. Rae*

    I think a restrictive template is a good idea. If you can make it well know that certain things can be done…eg…then it’s more likely to happen

    All branded flyer “easy” templates are the same. They are in brand colors, with brand fonts
    -pop main photo in approved photo from database. Try to have at least 200 photos in this
    -Event title with character limit
    – allow for minimal words (date, time, location)
    – have address, URL and other information perminatly encoded as well as brand logo.

    Brochures and hand outs can have much the same thing

    Then even creator must leave in a 48 hr drop box for the marketing/graphic design approval. That’s how they now do it in my company.

    All of our email signatures are branded, however except for a few no-no’s emails and many other communications are allowed a lot of autonomy. Anyone who’s ever been a victim of “marketing/graphic design” go bad feels like anything but basic rules is complete lack of autonomy. So don’t be too hard, brand or not people are communicating with other people via email and it’s overbearing to expect every single communication to be completely perfectly branded.

  41. Dasha*

    I can relate… I once worked with someone who would come up with some pretty crazy designs in PowerPoint.. no not a presentation but they created a flyer in PowerPoint as a slide with clipart and wordart and then they would print it out….

    At first I was like what the heck but no one else cared and the guy threw a fit when I re-created it in CS because of all the time he had spent in uh, PowerPoint. I realized I had really hurt his feelings because it probably took him hours to put it all together. My boss didn’t care and yes, I agree with OP it shouldn’t be like that, there should be clear guidelines, design standards, etc but it was a small company and I just gave up the battle and focused my energy else where.

    1. Anonymous for this*

      Apparently in Medical research all poster presentations are created in Power Point. My boss teaches a class on it. I was so confused when I got this job, because my previous job was assisting an in-house graphic designer.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Science research too, usually.
        It’s not great, but its usually good enough, and almost all computers in a corporate environment have it installed. It may not be the best, but its at least better and easier to manipulate than Word.

    2. Persehone Mulberry*

      My immediate boss is talking about redoing our big boss’s handouts for his presentations – for which he does not use Powerpoint – in…Powerpoint. I mean, the big boss doesn’t care as long as his paper copy looks the same as it did before, but why would you go to all that work when everything’s already set up in Word? Fortunately it’s not me that would be doing it, so more power to her, I guess.

  42. Lucy*

    Deep sympathies to OP. I’m a CD (mix of agency, media, nonprofits background) and got PTSD from reading this post. Ignore the wannabe. Just make your work the best it can be, because that is what will get you your next job. If you are feeling generous, you could supply her with resources/templates/books/guidance because it is a professional interest of hers. And then you can add “mentoring” to your resume too. We all sucked in the beginning.

  43. hayling*

    OP, I feel you.

    I used to work at a nonprofit in what is essentially the marketing/comm department. The lack of brand authority that my department had was astounding. All sorts of versions of our logo (wrong colors, squished aspect ratio, 20-year-old version, just-plain-wrong-everything) were everywhere. I just saw a pic of their new hq building and the logo is totally wrong!

  44. Ultraviolet*

    This would drive me right up the wall! My sympathies. I wonder if you could work more on getting your boss to appreciate the problem and step in. How explicit have you been when discussing the impact of the badly-designed materials with him? Maybe some really specific arguments would sway him. Things like “The low quality of this flyer makes us look less professional than we really are–donors will be put off seeing their money go to this kind of thing.” “The art and design principles of this brochure are really out of date, which undermines our ability to advocate for Cutting Edge Issue X.” “This poster is meant to introduce us to people who’ve never heard of us before, but it’s giving the wrong impression. Unfortunately it looks like the product of a 1-2 person organization without professional designers or much interest in their presentation to the public. It’s damaging.” “We’re asking clients to entrust us with very grave issues in this program, and this flyer advertising it makes us look unserious.”

    Does anyone think it’s possible for OP to approach the rogue designer’s supervisor about this without appearing to undermine her own boss or throw the coworker under the bus?

  45. Kat M.*

    I hate this!

    I’m NOT a designer, but we don’t have one at our location, and the corporate office has been very good about providing everything we could possibly need to keep things looking decent: clear branding guidelines, art, color schemes, writing style guides, etc. The only problem: I’m one of the only people who knows how to use them.

    I’ve even tried making templates for people, but it’s no use if they don’t understand why they exist. So we end up with things going out with stretched photos, five different fonts, random clip art from the internet, and then some unnecessary exclamation points just to make it look more cool!!!!

    I just keep my head down when walking down the hall. Looking up gives me hives. :(

  46. Gabriela*

    Oh I am so guilty of this. We have an amazing graphic designer who focuses mainly on big projects and has occasionally in the past helped me with some of my smaller projects (most of my creative work–flyers–are for internal use and don’t need to pass brand standards). Once I asked her boss the name of the program she used and when she told me I asked, “Oh cool, how do I get that?” Graphic Designer’s boss looked at me like I was crazy and said, “be a graphic designer”.

  47. Hollie*

    I’m going to slightly disagree with the sentiment here, although I do think AAM advice is good. Yes, graphic design is a profession. Yes, a graphic designer will do a better job than a layperson. That said, especially with a small, non-profit company, not every single thing has to be done by the pros. I’m actually in one of those ultra-professional jobs the OP mentioned (doctor, lawyer), and even I would say that you don’t need to have a lawyer for every single $500 spat, nor do you need a doctor for every cut and bruise. A graphic designer is more comparable to a seamstress. Yes, a seamstress is a must if you need a complicated outfit, or want a suit tailored. And, yes, a seamstress will do a better job than your average Joe at the small things like putting on a button or hemming a pant leg – but sometimes you don’t need that polished-look, and stitching the durn thing up yourself is so much quicker and the quality is good-enough.

    1. Zillah*

      But the examples you’re giving aren’t analogous – your examples are based entirely in the personal sphere rather than the professional one. The OP isn’t saying that no one other than a graphic designer should ever dare to so much as make a holiday card; she’s saying that she doesn’t like her coworker making materials representing their employer to disseminate to the public. A better analogy would be making sure that the in-house lawyer handled any potential legal issues for their company – and IME, lawyers often get quite annoyed when potentially relevant things aren’t run by them first.

      1. Hollie*

        That’s true. But even lawyers often realize that sometimes people need to act before they can talk to the lawyers. So things like guides and stamps and qualifying language are automatically added. Which would be the purpose of the style guide AAM mentions.

  48. LAI*

    OP, I get where you are coming from but I can also see the perspective of your coworker. If she knows that you are really busy and have a lot of work, she may honestly think that she is helping you. Have you ever explicitly told her: “This is actually my job, and what I get paid to do. I’m happy to do this in the timeframe that you’ve asked for, so you don’t need to do it”. Or, not having the same big-picture mindset that you do, she may be thinking that it’s better for her to just produce something half as good in half the time, rather than waiting until you’re free. To me, 4 months would sound like an insanely long time to wait for a single-page flyer — and I know that’s the timeframe she gave you, but if your office is known for taking a long time for things, that might be part of the reason why she sometimes goes rogue. Until/unless someone straight up tells her that this is not preferred approach for your company, I don’t think you can blame her for trying to be helpful.

  49. KS*

    My significant other is a professional photographer and he runs into this all the time; people decide that their brother’s uncle’s dog has a camera and therefore can do just as good a job (I also love the comment “boy, you must have a really good camera!” Yup, that’s all it takes, a really good camera). I also want to add that I don’t think this is limited to creative professions. I am in finance and people often act as though what I do is just glorified pencil-pushing. And I think it’s really bad for teachers. I’m sure many people have heard the derogatory “those who can, do, those who can’t, teach?” Ugh.

  50. JAL*

    Oh god. This just peeves me to no end. I entered college as a graphic design major and it was grueling and I couldn’t do it despite how much of a passion it was of mine. It bothers the hell out of me when people claim they are graphic designers because they have EXPERIENCE with Photoshop (which is all I will ever claim to have unless I decide to go back to school).

  51. yahoo*

    I have to post as someone whose department who goes rogue for certain projects and to tell you why and ask if we are or not justified in doing it. I work for a university department and a large part of our mission is to get students registered to vote and organize the university patriotic holiday celebrations (Constitution Day, Election Tuesday, Memorial Day, etc.). And each time we do something for these days, we are told use approved fonts (no problem), approved vendors (no problem), and only approved colors (problem). We are only allowed to use university colors of green, teal, and aqua for the colors. Jmo, it doesn’t seem right to take the American flag and redo the colors on it. It looks junior high to me to have those colors and not use red, white, and blue. So how can our mission and our marketing department be happy working together? Which one of us needs to do more listening than speaking for this issue? We use their guidelines on everything else but when we try to invoke patriotic spirit in our students, we feel hamstrung when we are told we can not use red, white and blue.

    1. yahoo*

      p.s. We do try to use the guidelines as much as possible but it is just the stuff where we are expected to wave the American flag is where we clash.

    2. Ad Astra*

      Have you addressed the color situation specifically? I can understand how the university would want most materials to include the school’s color scheme instead of whatever color palette each department is feeling that season. But these restrictions don’t meet your needs, and your request to use red, white and blue for patriotic celebrations is pretty reasonable. It makes more sense to turn the university’s logo into an American flag-type motif than it does to make the American flag green, teal, and aqua.

  52. OP*

    I have really loved all the comments, suggestions, etc. I think I am going to try my hand at gently mentoring her…it will probably throw her off guard, since she is a know-it-all and yet self-aware that she riles people. (Yes, it’s not just me who takes issue with her antics…she tries to do other people’s jobs, too.) She once accidentally erased my boss’s updates he made to a page. But for some reason there is little accountability. Maybe there is and I am just not privy to it. It does seem as though she does not have enough to do…

    With my boss’s blessing, I was able to get my files locked down.

    I don’t believe this is a timing issue, because I have more than once dropped everything and turned something around in as little as an hour when it needed to be done. For this to happen, though, my boss has to okay it, and she is not okay with asking him because she knows the majority of her stuff is an emergency due to her lack of planning. She also always emails me with a project usually around 15 minutes before the day’s end. I don’t know if this is on purpose, so I’ll say, “go ahead and do it,” or if she really does just need to manage and plan her time better.

    The rogue designer uses the approved fonts and colors, but we don’t have a formal or well-enforced style guide. If it was just small, internal stuff, I could let it go, but it’s not. Establishing a style guide was supposed to be one of my first projects as a new hire…I put together a questionnaire for my fellow coworkers so they could have a voice in how they viewed our brand. I wanted people to buy in to the style guide instead of it being sent down to them from on high like the Ten Commandments of Graphic Design. I did manage to rein in fonts and colors, but little else. I’ve been told to put the style guide on the back burner for now because we have a lot of huge projects in the coming years and well, no one is thinking long-term. The marketing director is too afraid of stepping on toes, even though I think they want a style guide in place even more than I.

    We do have some templates for things, but the company likes to have something new and different for each conference we hold…I know–branding nightmare. This is just one of the issues the style guide would address if it would ever be allowed to get off the ground.

    I love my job…this is my one complaint…which is why I came here to AMM. I hate that this one thing bothers me so much…need to count my blessings more, etc. etc. 99% of the people I work with are very professional and respectful…which is why I don’t think anyone knows quite how to handle this one coworker. We have brainstorming sessions on designs a lot–and I do enjoy the different takes of non-designers. As a designer, I know I do get caught up in the details sometimes and forget to step back and see how the actual audience is seeing the design. I enjoy working collaboratively and as a team…and I see my writer coworkers getting fed up with writer wannabes as well.

    And for the record, although I myself do have a degree in design, I have seen many breathtaking portfolios of designers who did not go to school for design and I have seen really appallingly crappy portfolios from people with degrees in design. A degree does not mean anything, but I made mention of it to speak to those who do think that credentials equal credibility…art is subjective, so I felt the need to add the degree part in there, since I’m no Milton Glaser. Personally I learned more from my internships and early design jobs than I did in school. But school was what got me those internships and early design jobs.

    I would be curious for this answer:
    “Does anyone think it’s possible for OP to approach the rogue designer’s supervisor about this without appearing to undermine her own boss or throw the coworker under the bus?”

    1. Lizabeth*

      I don’t have an answer to your question but I do have a poster for you to hang up in your cube/ office:

      “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

      I have had that posted in past jobs to great effect.

    2. Jules*

      Absolutely I would approach the rogue designer’s supervisor about it – though, of course, you need to consider the office culture before doing that. I would take the mentoring approach, though, rather than criticising. Perhaps an email to the supervisor, ccing your supervisor, saying something like ‘I’ve noticed that so-and-so often needs small design projects such as one-off flyers or handouts at short notice and is very eager to do it herself. While my colleagues and I are obviously here to do these sorts of things, I know that sometimes we can get a bit busy and I would be happy to work with so-and-so to come up with some templates and style guidelines that would let her do the preliminary work and build her skill set while still staying within the overall graphic language that we’ve been working on over the last six months. Is this something that you would be happy for me to mentor her with?’

      This sort of phrasing should flag to her supervisor that she’s doing this, but also gives her supervisor the option to knock it flat and discipline her if this isn’t something she should be doing….

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        This is what I was getting at in the “forgiveness vs. permission” stuff above. While this is an excellent script for reasonable people, you would be asking for permission and it’s way easier to say “no” than “yes”. I would suggest that the OP uses this, on The Rogue Designer (which, BTW, is an excellent user name, I wish I had thought of it).

        I know you’re busy OP and you seem to be reasonable and as accommodating as you can be. So the next time TRD is sending you something at 15 minutes before 5pm and they need it tomorrow for 8am… mark it down. Look at your projects, schedule and carve out one hour or a half hour and set up a meeting with her. Offer that you will help her get better at her skills however you see fit. You said she’s a know-it-all, which is just a cover for being deeply insecure. Maybe she does manage her time poorly. Maybe she is doing this on purpose because she knows that you’ll be too busy/on the way out the door for her timeline so Wheee! she gets to do it! *excitement!*

        The other way to approach this is to have a meeting with all the people concerned, your colleague the designer, your manager, TRD, her manager and propose your own solution (which also has the potential to fall in to the Permission Trap). If your boss likes you to figure things out and not bother them, then this is a perfect time to show some initiative. “I have noticed that there are requests that come in at the last minute or when we are especially busy and are unable to accommodate them. ‘Jane’ frequently needs something at the last minute and winds up doing them herself. Since we are unable to hire a junior designer to pick up these kind of projects, I suggest that with some training ‘Jane’ could be in charge of producing internal flyers/signs for the bathroom/whatever. So what I propose is that Colleague and I are told what needs to be done and then we review and assign those projects. We will monitor ‘Jane’s’ work to ensure it maintains a high standard of quality and help her develop the skills to be better able to assist us.” There doesn’t appear to be a process in place to handle all requests through a central person, so TRD is able to slip in her *fun!* through the cracks.

        Also, this is something that you should be saving for your annual review. I would suggest that for your next review, you request a way to build in one afternoon a week or however much time you feel is appropriate to work on the branding as a goal for the year. Aside from a good portfolio piece for future, it sounds like it desperately needs doing but if there isn’t a formal commitment to it, it’s never going to get done (something I know a little too much about, helloooo housework!) It will be easier for you to gain this time if TRD is trained up a bit and can formally take on some of the more boring/laborious tasks like batch name badge printing.

    3. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

      I imagine that Alison would advise against going to the rogue designer’s supervisor about it. That would be the place of your boss to have a conversation about with the other supervisor, if your boss thinks it’s enough of an issue to say something.

      If your boss doesn’t care, and if nobody at the organization cares, but it continues to bother you very much, it may be time to leave that place and try to get in with an agency where everyone is actually a designer. Otherwise, there will pretty much always be a “rogue” designer to infuriate you no matter where you go. I’ve accepted this as a fact of life.

    4. Rose*

      Have you thought about giving her absolute free reign? Just let her hang herself, maybe a huge typo on a banner or text running off the sides of brochures or a booklet with all the pages out of order. Then shrug and point out that you locked down files and spoke to your supervisor.
      Plus, if she’s got an adversarial/annoying personality, she’ll lose her motivation she perceives you benefiting off her doing your work.

  53. Big Electric Cat*

    I don’t think I can answer you without knowing more about your company’s culture, but if it were me, I might try to find examples of Rogue’s work that have obvious flaws, and counter examples of similar work done correctly, and present them as evidence of the issues you are seeing. The idea being to help them literally see what the problem is.

    If you can manage that, you could perhaps advocate that she gets some training. Perhaps you could be her official mentor?

    Again: I’m not at all sure this is a good answer to your question.

  54. Big Electric Cat*

    Oh my, I just noticed – you’re not using any kind of version control system to manage your files? You might want to look into something like git or subversion? Adobe used to have a thing called VersionCue (I think) but I believe they retired it.

  55. Anonicorn*

    I’m late to this party but I completely empathize. I build e-learning which is part writing, part coding, and part design. I know two of those things very well, and I bet you can guess which one I don’t. An actual designer on staff would make everything so much easier and better.

    But as much as I don’t know about design, the truly sad thing is I know a lot more than the people in my own department who try to do my job without even baseline knowledge of all three parts. Because apparently anyone can throw information into PowerPoint with free clipart, save it as a PDF, and call it training. I mean, people don’t go to school for years to become educators or writers or any of that….

    Rant. Over. Carry on.

    1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

      OMG. At a previous job, I worked with a guy that was building out some e-learning stuff for clients. He knew loads about the topic, but couldn’t write copy or do design for the life of him. I must have spent HOURS trying to convince him of the value of white space on a slide, and he never did let me edit a single word of his extremely horrible copy. I just wish that the PTB had recognized that he had a tremendous amount of product knowledge but that it needed to be captured by someone (perhaps more than one someone!) else that could take that info and make turn it into something a client could learn from. What a frustrating project for all involved.

  56. Training Guru*

    Welcome to the life of a trainer (not-athletic). EVERYONE thinks they can do my job because they “taught someone how to do something” one time.

  57. Tech Writer*

    *sigh* My frustration is the opposite: Why do graphic designers (and instructional designers and developers and …) think that just because my job is as a Technical Writer, I DON’T have experience and degrees in Graphic Design, Instructional Design, and Computer Programming?

    Quite assuming you know everything about your co-workers, people!

  58. Sunny*

    I am a Publicity Librarian and this post really hit home for me. Especially the “Worse, someone might think I did it!”

    One thing to consider, this may just be something this person enjoys doing and is a fun aspect of her job. That doesn’t make it right, but may tell you where the coworker is coming from.

  59. Chris Hogg*

    Alison said: “6. Accept that you’re not going to be able to control everything. You’re just not going to be able to. Unless someone higher up in your organization is willing to give you the authority to control all the visuals the organization puts out, there are going to be rogue pieces out there. You can only do so much here, until/unless someone with authority is willing to step in and make a different call.”

    There is a truism / maxim / law in the general publishing field that probably has some application here, that being: Quality, Speed, Price – pick any two.

  60. Mina*

    Wow … I felt like I was reading my own story here. I lived this as well and the problem comes from the top. Management was unsupportive when it came to these kinds of issues even though they asked me to set up style and branding guides, even though they said it was my job to design all publications, even though they said I was the creative director. When others would just go and “design” stuff with skewed, low resolution logos and colors not in the style guide, management would not support me when I told staff uh, no, we’re not supposed to do that. And there were times when I was too busy and I let go of what I couldn’t control and just let it slide, because I had to. Ultimately what it came down to was management, my boss and the directors at this non-profit, did not value or respect me as a designer or as an employee and they didn’t care how they presented themselves to the public. Needless to say I’m no longer there.

  61. Evan*

    I’m a technical writer and often have the same experience. People will often ask for us to convert our files to Word so they can go in and “tweak” them or give us their own files to use. Happens on every team at every company I’ve worked with. It’s annoying. Good luck!

  62. Jen*

    I find the fact that you compare yourself, as a designer, to a doctor or a lawyer absurd. It seems to be typical of many designers to think their 4-year degree is as accomplished as that of a M.D. or J.D. . As someone with a BFA in Graphic Design and an MBA (Marketing) I think you should get over yourself. Yes, there are a lot of wannabe designers out there who are truely awful, but there are also plenty of people who have natural talent and, with a little guideance, can do almost as good of job as some of the professionals I’ve seen.

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