© 2022 Robert Sickles
My 25-year career as a graphic designer began in ’93 at a small Seattle printing and advertising company. There was nothing swanky or uptown about the business or its location. The building was formerly a tire dealership in the industrial south end, on a main street near a trucking company and a forklift shop. My office was downstairs in a little room adjacent to the warehouse and print shop. I had no clients besides the very casual staff upstairs, so I assumed it was OK to let my office get cluttered like the rest of the place—I spread out my projects, art supplies, and computer gear.
I had been working there about a year when my boss buzzed me and said he had a potential new client he’d like to show around, and would I mind if they came down in a couple of minutes to meet the art department?
I panicked, “Art department? That’s only me! Meet and impress a new client in this stuffy little room?” I hurriedly straightened some heaps, hid my bag of corn chips, hung my jacket behind the door and patted down my mussed hair.
“Jeff, this is Robert, Robert, say hello to Jeff!” I took the hand of a young, slender man, tieless in a white shirt and suit; we both nodded and smiled. I was hoping he wouldn’t notice the ragged carpet, dust bunnies and scary tangle of network cables.
I was told that Jeff had an exciting new internet business plan: they were going to sell new and used books online! I didn't get it. Why would anyone need to buy books online when there were store like Waldenbooks, Borders and Crown all over the place? Beyond introductions, I don’t think there was much conversation—the boss and his visitor moved on to tour the rest of the facility, such as it was.
As requested, I set to work right away on designs for business cards using the logo and information Jeff provided. It was sort of an initial job order to see how we'd do. Besides commercial printing, we’d been designing a lot of booth displays and brochures for trade shows and expos, plus corporate logo garments and fancy gifts for employees and customers… the spendy sort of stuff the tech guys were eating up to promote their enterprises. If we got the card order done right, it could lead to some big jobs.
This was at the beginning of the “.com bubble,” a manic period for investors, entrepreneurs, and web developers. All were clamoring to get in on any new internet-based business they could think of, regardless of its usefulness or viability. As long as it had ”.com” it was hot! Many of those companies were, as Texans say, “all hat and no cattle” and would be in the scrap-heap before the end of the millennium. I thought Jeff’s business was a dumb idea, but he apparently had backers and money, so we were willing to work for some of it.
The first thing we noticed was that Jeff’s logo looked somewhat like another company’s, a long-time customer of ours. We conveyed to Jeff our concern that logo copyright infringement could be an issue for him and us. Maybe my boss played the copyright card as an excuse, hoping to save one good account vs courting a new guy with a half-baked business idea!
Immediately my card designs were scrapped, and Jeff was steamed. I thought he’d get back to us with a better logo, but he obviously moved to a sharper outfit for his print needs, and that was both the beginning and end of our business relationship.
That newfangled idea of his, by the way, selling books and stuff on the internet, was named amazon.com. Ever heard of Jeff Bezos?