Late June, 1994. Virginia Beach.

I’d been invited to a garden party, the kind where everyone seemed to know that Mozzarella goes with a Chianti Riserva, Gouda goes with a Riesling, and anyone that didn’t know at least had the foresight to memorize which wines matched their favorite cheeses. A friend of the family was about to announce her candidacy for City Council. And even though the scene was very diverse, I felt out of my element. I swallowed my pride and did the smiley mingling thing, complete with empty compliments and forgettable small talk, until I encountered a white-haired old man sitting off by himself under a nearby gazebo. He reminded me of a Dick Van Dyke after one too many shots of Jägermeister. I noticed he was wearing a Polo shirt, khakis, sandals, and studying a small plate of chipolata sausages as if they were from Mars. Somehow, I knew this guy wasn’t a typical wine-n-cheese snob.

During our introductions I never caught his real name. At first I thought he was sloppy drunk because of his slurring until he revealed that he was still recovering from a major stroke. When he learned that I had recently graduated with my design degree, the conversation moved onto common ground. He sounded like he had dreams of becoming the next Paul Gauguin if he hadn’t been pulled into the family business. Although he now owned several large hotels at the oceanfront, he talked about them like most people talk about a relative that just got arrested again for being drunk in public. He did most of the talking. Slurred and tangential at best, he always seemed to make a point and, for whatever reason, that point always had a connection to Art.

“Every now and then you meet folks who truly appreciate beauty in the world,” he said as he stared off at some distant, unspoken memory, “but the truth is, most people love junk. Garbage.” Give them a T-bone steak entree, grilled to perfection, and they will add ketchup without tasting it. Give them a cup of fresh brewed Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee and they will dump cream and sugar in it before taking a sip. Make the Perfect Martini and they will claim it’s weak unless it was made with some harsh rotgut vodka. The list goes on…

Over the years and many clients later, rarely has a week gone by that I haven’t been faced with the truth of that conversation. As a professional Graphic Designer, whether you’re doing print, web, or mixed media, you secretly have to determine which type of person you’re dealing with in order to have a chance at making that client happy. The only limits on creativity are the ones we set upon them — project by project, budget by budget, and within the boundaries of what that client will and won’t understand about beauty and function.

— Max Nomad