Thursday, November 1, 2007

Splish Splash - The making of a Sea Siren

The tale of the Mermaid, or in this case "Sirena", Anna Crosby's insouciant sea siren on the packaging for Siren Suds bath products. Anna first approached me about designing her packaging several months ago. Truth be told, it was more like a few years ago. But I was busy, and a bit reluctant at the time. She was making bodylicious bath salts, lotions and soaps and other assorted potions, and was using chilly ol' cello bags and muslin for her packaging. Not sexy.

I cannot tell you how it hurt me to watch her put her beautiful products in boring, sterile packaging that did nothing to stir the imagination or represent how great the product and the person behind it is.

Sometimes when you're a designer you get approached by every neighbor and friend, including those you didn't know you had, to design this site for them, or that logo, label, poster, cousin's bar mitzvah invitations, you name it. Sometimes this can lead to a designer doing all kinds of free work or with little compensation, but lots of headaches, revisions and ultimately resentment. No fun at all, especially since I love my work. Certainly not the girl with the most cake.

Graphic designers have bills to pay like anyone else, you know. So, I've always been very resistant to getting roped into doing that for loved ones even when they offer to pay handsomely. But, it's not easy saying no, and sometimes I literally have to zip my mouth when I see something I know can be designed lovely and I want to do it for a loved one. Sometimes I end up roping myself into a project. But, I'm getting better at saying, "no."

I went to a design conference few years ago in Las Vegas. One of the guest speakers was a fancy, schmancy designer whose client list was deep and impressive. After a few years of heartache and headache mostly on her end, she quit cold turkey doing any design work for friends or family. Zero. Zilch. "It's simply not worth risking the relationship over." she said. And some were her best paying clients.

To the pedestrian non-designer, that may sound dramatic or even harsh, but I assure you, having been there myself, I understand her decision completely. Design is an intensely personal field of work to get into. Certainly to the client, but none more so then to the designer. It can be a lot of work. It's different than art in that you are attempting to capture the viewers attention aesthetically, but complicated because unlike art, you also have to communicate a message as well, and communicate it effectively or the whole project is a loss for your client. I can't afford to miss the mark by expressing myself the way an artist is free to do, I must also tell the story and communicate the message.

Effective design is what makes the world spin, that and of course love and good chocolate. But design is heart, soul, brain, emotions, intellect, and a designer has a lot of responsibility on their shoulders to do this and tell the story well. At least that's how I view design, it's telling a story visually and with the senses. And the average person's attention span is pretty short and the product on the shelf deep, which is one more challenge designers face. Most of us don't get paid enough for how many hours we bill a client, compared to how many hours and sweat and tears we might have really put into the project. And if the client is a pain in the arse, gauranteeing you'll double your billable hours and headaches, most designers, the wise ones, will factor in the "pita" percentage in to their quote. Fair is fair.

Look around you. Everything in your environment, from the steering wheel in your hands to the road sign in front of you, to the label on your coffee cup has been created by a designer. I believe a good designer can change the world for the better.

Now our Anna, is sly. You have to watch those Tauruses (Taureans)? She has watched me over the last few years starting my design gig and so has a good idea of the challenges the designer can face. One day I get a phone call from a person who claims they have a line of bath products and need a logo and branding for packaging the product. After a few qualifying questions, I agree to meet with the person to discuss. We meet, and I agree to take on the project and we go over time lines, specs and budget.

The client is very agreeable and accommodating. I tell the new client about my friend Anna who also happens to make bath products. My client does not know Anna. At this point, my suspicions have not yet been alerted. Until, one day my "client" brings me some product to sample for packaging, and my first red flag is raised, that and the fact that my "client" seems strangely removed from the process and a little bit ignorant about her own product. Now Anna and I have actually formulated some of her products together, and some of the scents were so much like Anna's I began to think the client had bought some of Anna's products and tried to reproduce them. But, I brushed aside my stray thoughts.

That night while drifting off, (which is when I get my best ideas, and so I keep a pad of paper by my nightstand for this purpose), the sea siren name and mermaid popped into my head. My new client had mentioned that the sea was her inspiration, with as little additives or preservatives as possible. I pop on the light and furiously make a rough sketch, and jot a few notes. I turn off the light, always amazed at the way the creative process works for me, I can picture a product fully designed or at least concepted before dozing off. Some claim to get their best ideas in the shower, but mine are in bed.

That night, I had a dream about Anna, who in my dream was a beautiful mermaid decked out in sea swank and pearly metallics. She was trying to avoid me for some reason, and acted a little guilty which is not like Anna at all. Before I woke up she swam up to me and thanked me, very happy and peaceful. Anna is always thankful for her good friends and the many blessings in her life, and she is generally very peaceful, but the dream and her behavior struck me as odd. When I woke up, it hit me, and I suddenly knew my "client" and Anna were one in the same.

The next day, I decided to toy with my client a bit, who had just paid me all but the final third of our agreed upon fee. I questioned her about the ingredients, and the process behind her bath creations which seemed to make her very nervous. I called Anna that evening and told her about my idea for the branding and doing an illustration of a mermaid for my bath product client. She loved it!

"I knew you would, I told her, which is a good thing since you're paying for it!" Long silence on the other end of the line.

"She told you?"

"No, I figured it out." I told Anna about the dream I'd had. She confessed she'd hired her neighbor's daughter's friend, who was studying acting to be the "client", because she felt bad about asking me to be her designer, yet she couldn't see anybody else doing the design for her bath products.

I was touched she went to all that trouble.We both laugh about it now.

So, that's the story of how "Siren Suds" was born. Truth be told, had I known it was Anna, I would have gone for something a little more organic and elegant, knowing this is a look that Anna usually goes for. And eventually we may go with another product line that is a bit different than Siren Suds. Anna is formulating a scrub, called "Siren Scrub." We have all been Anna's guinea pigs for product testing. Anna does not use guinea pigs or any animals for product testing! Just friends and family. I liked her last version of Siren Scrub, which had a cinnamon, gingery, mandarin and almond cookie scent. Dee liked it okay, and Anna's other testers seemed to dig it. Steve, aka, "Himself", detested it. Really the first time he's had a negative reaction to any of Anna's products.

Sometimes this happens in the perfume, bath product world. One tester likes, even loves a product, the other has a strong negative reaction. You try to qualify why, and then decide do you take it back to drawing board or go with it? Anna decided to change a few things because while we all liked the new scrub scent, none of us loved it. And Anna, like me is always looking for the "love" factor. Otherwise it's just not worth producing.

The Siren Scrub is a departure from her salts, lotions and soaps, but I think we'll keep the same label to keep costs low, and color code it in a vampier red.

I'm a big fan of mists. I love spritzing them on my face throughout the winter and summer. I'm trying to talk Anna into formulating some fruit or herbal mists for the face. "Siren's Spray" ... kind of has a nice ring to it. Stay tuned!

P.S. Happy Birthday Scorpios .. some of my favorite people! And Happy Birthday to "Himself," my sweet man and Petaluma Craft Mafia's official long suffering product tester.


Siren Suds said...

Don't you dare change my labels or you are in hot water girl!;0

Those cello bags were pretty harsh I must admit. Thanks for making everything so pretty! Can't wait to get back and have a martini with you girls! -
anna-Holding down the fort quite well aren't you? ;)

Petaluma Craft Mafia said...

Yo Anna banana, I'll have the martinis, if you make me a pomegranate and white tea face mist ...up for the challenge?

I'm so proud of you for getting your blog on!

xo, C.

Saints and Sinners said...

ahhah, she got you!!!

the packaging is gorgeous, and so much better thanjust a bag!

Amy said...

I just found your blog! I'm a Petaluma non-vendor crafter.