There’s a little old lady on campus.

She’s small, very grandmotherly. She’s in the faculty of education and has kind eyes.

And she scares the shit out of me.

She’s the client that I worked with for what would become the worst job I can remember doing. The details don’t matter, it was a mixture of politics, misunderstanding, and worst of all, the client’s opinion that there’s no expertise in our field and that we’re, at best, button pushers. And the local mom and pop pizza place has a perfect website we should copy. (They didn’t).

But when I see her walking around campus I feel the anxiety bubble in the back of my stomach. When the department name comes up on job sheet I breathe a little different. Every time we talk about the web projects we’re doing around the university, which is almost daily now, there’s a small part of me that remembers this one, nasty experience and wants to run.

That job that kills you to think about will own you.

It’ll own you, like a psychic radiation dump, it’ll own you. It’ll be a piece of mental and creative land that you can no longer step foot on.

Any job that might venture near it will cause a clicking in your head that will only grow in intensity as it gets closer, and before you know it you’ll have a completely forbidden city. It’ll be ground that brings death should you step through it.

But while it’s easy, even if inconvenient, to avoid plots of land in physicality, it’s near impossible to do so mentally. Our brains trigger thoughts before we’ve had them and networks of mental fibre will light up, showing the joins. As long as you’re a designer the worst job will be lit up from time to time.

So this is land we need to claim back, tearing up the soil and the trees and sad playgrounds and empty buildings and make it our own again.

When the time is right, you need to visit this place again. Perhaps don a suit of wine or beer or have a little smoke or whatever it is that helps you step out of your own way a little, whatever it is that helps quieten the ego, the one that’s shrieking bloody murder and clicking maniacally when you step towards the radiated ground. Or meditate. Or read. Or just tell your ego to go to hell.

When you’re ready, write down what it is that’s killing you. Describe the area that you are so carefully walking through. Figure out where things went wrong.

It’s easy to say the client was stupid, but when we say such things all we’re really wanting the world to know is that we think we’re smarter than the person we’re aiming at. It’s useless. They’re probably not stupid, and even if they are, that shouldn’t be the reason your job went wrong.

Was it miscommunication? Did you not understand where they were coming from, what they wanted, what they were hoping to achieve? Or maybe they didn’t understand you. Either way, you’re the designer and if you want to be a professional you need to take responsibility and control of those conversations.

Perhaps the copy was awful? How would you solve that? Would you get it rewritten by a professional? Or maybe downplay it and increase the dominance of photos and one of pieces of typography. Or maybe colour, maybe you could have used colour as a distraction from copy that haunts you.

Or was it it the photos? Were they unprofessional and ugly. Photoshop can do wonderful things to hide such problems in a veil of blurry, grainy, desaturated hipster goodness.

More often than not, whatever the feature is that goes wrong can be fixed by either hiding it behind other elements (talking gestalt here, not literally putting it behind other elements, although who knows, that could work, too), or celebrating it’s shortcomings.

Write down all the sore points and write down how you can better react to them next time. I’m willing to bet it’s going to have little to do with the ugliness of the work, but with the relationship had with the client.

So much of our work is based on relationships and communication. We need to understand our client and their desires and goals for a project before we read a single line of text for research, and well before we make any marks. But let’s not go down that path too deeply because we’ll spend another two thousand words.

Creatively, it’s so wonderful that we get deeply involved with our work on an intimate level. That we care when things don’t turn out the way we wish them to.

But let’s be honest, we’re not on a battlefield, we’re not tasting blood without knowing from whose veins it has fallen, we’re not in a hospital waiting room waiting for news that we already know can only be bad, we’re not wasting a billion dollars of cancer research money on a wrong bit of data.

We’re pushing pixels and pigments, and if we’re doing our job, we’re doing it with reason and research. Going over the jobs that have left us with mental scars is an insurance policy of sorts. It gives us more reasoning power the next time we start to feel a job go wrong, it gives us experience.

To ignore that little odd-shaped gift would be a shame.