The cards look terrible, we can’t use them.

When Community First Credit Union hired HDco to design five new credit cards, I was eager to produce a signature piece from start to finish. I had experience designing credit cards for Capital One, but taking one through production was a new experience.

After bringing on Florence Haridan, who as a former SVP for Citi Cards had extensive knowledge of credit card users’ habits, we developed a comprehensive brand strategy for the redesign of the three consumer and two business cards.

Part of the brand strategy was to create a more sophisticated look for the Community First brand. The senior team at Community First along with its Director of Marketing Roger Rassman embraced the 28-page document and gave us the green light to move forward with the design phase.

Having been a creative director for many years, I knew what to expect from most of the graphic designers I would have hired for this project. I wanted to do something differentsomething distinctivesomething that would really stand out in the grocery check out line.

After all, a credit/debit card is most important piece of communication a bank issues. You not only use every day, but the design of the card says as much about you as it does about who you bank with.

HDco set out to create a series of cards that would elevate the credit union’s brand and have a certain cache, so I called on my friend and client Marsha Faulkner, a prominent Interior Designer, to tell us what materials, finishes and colors were trending.

After numerous rounds of what seemed like alchemy, we came up with around 50 designs to present to the Community First senior team, which then narrowed the field to three for focus group testing. The results were pretty clear (picture of rainbow card here).

This was the favorite by far and the first card that would be produced.

Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you’re ready for the part in the story that authors and filmmakers refer to as the rising action that leads to the climax.

The card was approved, yes, but we still had to print it. As it turns out, printing on plastic is a lot different than printing on paper. We released the mechanical to the printer. (with 11 spot colors over foil, it was a complicated piece)

And then we waited. Unfortunately, the proof we got back didn’t look like what we had envisioned at all.

My vision was a white card. The proof was silver.  So…

Me:                 “That doesn’t look right, let’s get another proof.”

Client:             “Everyone loves it and we’re running out of cards.”

Me:                 “Are you sure?”

Client:             “Yes!”

Me:                 “Gulp, okay…”

Me:                 “Can we do a press check with the printer?”

Client:             “No time. Need these asap.”

Several weeks later.

Client:             “The finished cards look terrible, we can’t use them.”

Me (thinking)  “Oh shit, he’s going to fire us. And maybe sue us.”

Me:                 “Hey, I’ll come right over.” (tires squalling to headquarters)

Me:                 “The finished cards look terrible, we can’t use them.”

Client:             “What do we do?

Me:                 “Uh, I’ll think of something.”

After some negotiation, Roger and I were on a plane to Chicago for a do over press check.

Roger, the print rep, two press men and me squeezed into this little room as we got ready to look at the first sheet. There was a fair amount of tension in the room. The printer had just “absorbed” the cost of the last print run and was not too happy with me.

The press sheet looked good, but it wasn’t there yet and I was not going home empty handed. I calmly asked the printer, “How can we fix it?’ He replied, “We can’t. We would have to pull the job off the press and replate it, which is very time consuming.”

I summoned up all my courage, looked at the pressman straight in the eye and said nicely, “You should do that. Take all the time you need.” The printing team quickly left the room. I looked at Roger, “We had to do it. We came all the way up to Chicago. It has to be perfect this time.” He agreed.

Much to our surprise the two pressmen and print rep came back with new sheets within the hour. They threw out some jargon about adjusting screen angles and yada, yada. Turns out they didn’t have to replate after all. Honestly, the sheet looked great. Roger was happy, snapping pics to send to the CEO. That’s all I cared about. A few hours later we were done and headed back to Florida.

I have to be honest. Initially, I was uncertain if my vision for the design was achievable. But the these pressmen were artisan craftsmen who cared as much about the finished product as me. Their knowledge and attention to every detail.

A few months later we finalized the design for the other four cards and headed back up to Chicago for another press check. Everything went flawlessly. We couldn’t have hoped for a better experience.

All five cards are now in circulation. You might just see one them in the grocery store or office supply check out aisle.

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