I met the funny girls of Loverboy Improv in Hyde Park, one of the coziest neighborhoods of Austin. We sat outside a coffeehouse at a small table, laughing easily and exchanging ideas. There was so much energy and excitement, at the time all I could think was “Wow, these people are amazing!” I had previously done work with one of the members, who is an old college friend of mine, on her Hamlet show, so I knew it would be a fun collaboration.
The problem: the troupe needed a simple but striking visual language for their promotional media, something repeatable but flexible. Ideas of “vintage” and “quirky” were thrown around. As we delved deeper into the conversation and memories of past projects with similar numbers of stakeholders floated in my mind, I got anxious about falling into the design by committee trap.
To help with this, I asked all of the stakeholders to create a shared Pinterest board with their individual inspiration, accompanied by specific comments on why the images appealed to them. I hoped that by doing this I could get a cohesive impression of the character of the group all at once and avoid being pulled in contradictory directions. Every girl that pinned something could also see her fellow comedian’s contributions, and thus (hopefully!) we would converge on something that felt right to most people.
The result: it worked pretty well! The color palette and visuals just jumped out to me after they created the board. Look at all that turquoise and pink!
The poster won the Townie award for Favorite Show Poster.
I loved working with Loverboy, and have ended up becoming their defacto designer when they need new posters or media for their social media. Of course, over and over again I put a little bit of myself and my style into the execution: I love painted elements, and mixing organic, painterly designs with clean-rendered elements like the sans-serif text. The lips are now associated with Loverboy in the Austin improv scene. The ladies even created these fun lips temporary tattoos, which I absolutely loved!
A couple of actionable takeaways from this project that can be repeated:
Gather all the visual data so that everyone can see it at once, talk about it, and feed off each other. Pinterest is the perfect tool for this, and I use for every project I take on. The board develops a common visual language on a project. Visual outliers stand out all the more in this process, so it’s easy to address and resolve them early instead of after the first versions are out (yikes!).
Designate a single representative of the group that is the only person allowed to email you about the project. Few things are more dizzying and frustrating than an outsider trying to manage a team’s communication problems. This is the first of my Rules of Engagement and I am pretty strict about it. I try to not even discuss opinions on a project with someone who isn’t the point person, even if they are a close friend! I never want to get in the middle of a situation where I know more personal details about the stakeholders’ thoughts than the project owner. There’s only one word to describe that: circus.
My fear of design by committee is intensified by a bad experience I had when I was just starting out. Back then, I knew very little about how to communicate with clients and create reasonable expectations. Because I felt so inept at design and lacked confidence in my skills, I deferred to others instead of listening to my intuition. I admit, I became cynical about working with groups. This was a very sad time for me, because collaboration is something I loved so dearly as a student of theatre at Shakespeare at Winedale. Luckily, this little blip in my past was smoothed over with experiences with great clients! So let me say this: the best part about designing for a group is that, if they are a passionate and talented group of people like my girls at LoverBoy, it is easy to identify the unifying goals and dreams, which in turn becomes great fodder for inspiration.