Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar

by | Dec 18, 2014

British_pre-decimal_halfpenny_1967_reverseFirst of all, a bit of history for younger readers: Back in the good old days we had halfpennies, which we pronounced ha’pennies. A halfpenny was worth – believe it or not – half a penny. But as prices increased, a halfpenny wasn’t really worth very much at all, and anyway they were so small that they kept getting lost, and eventually they went the way of the farthing and the groat, to disappear forever from our pockets. A ha’porth is short for a halfpennysworth, which (as we discussed earlier) isn’t really worth very much at all.

Also in the good old days, people used to put tar on their ships on purpose, to stop the water getting in the gaps between the planks of wood. Yuk. Nowadays ships are made of steel, and they get covered in oil all by themselves.

So the saying goes, don’t spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar, which means don’t ruin a wonderful thing by scrimping on the finishing touches.

Let me tell you how this can happen to us web designers; how our clients can torment us, and how we pull out our hair and scream and stamp our tiny feet as our beautiful creative work is ruined (or at the very least blemished) by someone scrimping on that last little bit of tar.

Along comes a client – let’s call him Bill. Bill is a wealthy chap, by way of his yacht charter business, and he wants us to build a shiny, luxurious website to promote his fleet of shiny, luxurious vessels. After reaching an amicable agreement as to requirements versus remuneration, we start work.

Bill tells us he has a logo designed already. Great! Uh-oh, not so fast. When Bill sends us the logo, we see he has done it himself using Word Art – a messy, out of proportion image with a mix of fonts (including of course Comic Sans) that is in no way fit for purpose. To put it on the site simply isn’t an option, as far as we are concerned. So we have the unenviable choice of either gently persuading Bill to invest in the services of a professional graphic designer, whose job it is to produce logos, or to return Bill’s deposit and walk away from the job.

Thankfully Bill sees reason, and for a few euros more we produce a logo for him that everybody is happy with. Phew.

Now the site is coming along well. The design has been tied in with the new logo and everything is looking balanced, coordinated and pleasing to the eye. During the build we’ve used a few sample images as placeholders, and now the time has come to put the real images in – photos of Bill’s yachts, and happy, smiling people aboard them. Although we did discuss the need for professional photos, guess what? Bill’s decided not to spend more money getting some pretentious photographer to take photos of his yachts or to invest in a few shots from a stock library, when he can do just as well himself using his shiny new iPhone 6. Aaargh!

Despite our protestations, Bill presents us with lots of photos of his yachts, and every single one is sullied by bad lighting and bad framing, and of course there is not a single face in sight, let alone a happy, smiling one. As it’s so late in the day we have no alternative other than to use them, and so we spend hours cropping and colourising them to get just a few photos which are barely acceptable, but will just have to do.

So there we are. Bill has just spent hundreds of euros on his new site, which looks really great – except for the shabby photos, which are the first thing you see when you reach his site, an instant turn-off to potential clients. At least we’d managed to get him a decent logo, that’s some consolation.

It’s really such a shame when a client comes to us to build a website, trusting us as professionals, and then spoils things by insisting on trying to do the work of other professionals themselves. I’m not a graphic designer, I’m a web developer – so if I want graphics doing, I get a professional graphic designer to do it. Yes I have a camera, but I’m not a professional photographer – so if I want decent photos I get a professional photographer to take them, or buy them from a stock library.

This has actually been such an issue for us in the past that nowadays we have a clause in our friendly, no-nonsense contract insisting that only professional quality graphics and images are used. That might seem a bit harsh, but we want the very best for our clients – that’s why they’ve employed us – and as the sites have our name on as well, we want to be proud of our work, not embarrassed because of a few amateur photos.