My First Golden Combover

A Special Hell for Designers Like Me, Part 11


Logos are strictly a vanity industry, and all who enter the field should be merciless cynics if they wish to guarantee satisfaction.” — Tom Wolfe


I can still feel how thrilled I was to get that interview. I was fresh out of school and had spent the summer scouring the want ads in the newspaper. Finally, somebody called me back. It was a hip-seeming design agency run out of an old house on the edge of Denver. It felt like my big chance to break into the design world.

The interview flopped. Not because Debbie didn’t like my work or because of personality conflicts. She couldn’t get over my suit. They did not wear suits at this agency. In fact, suits represented everything Debbie hated about the corporate world. It was why she ran her agency out of a house rather than a cubicle farm. At least she didn’t leave me in suspense. She made it clear she was not interested in hiring me.

Debbie underestimated how badly I wanted the job.

When I got home I lit a match and set my suit on fire. Technically I set my tie on fire (I figured I might need the suit for funerals and such). I put the ashes and the remaining stub of my tie in a box along with a note that explained that I would do anything to get that job and asked her to please reconsider.

Shortly after the charred remains arrived in Debbie’s mailbox I received a phone call. She said she wasn’t ready to hire me but my stunt had earned me a chance to prove myself with a freelance project.

My dream of becoming a designer was becoming a reality.

The project was to update her logo. The logo was a giant letter “O.” My job was to spice it up. She asked me to add gloss, shadows, reflections, and whatever shiny treatments I could imagine to add flair to her circle.

Uh oh.

My design education had indoctrinated me with belief in the purity of flat design. I was a true believer. I was faced with a moral dilemma on my very first assignment. What did I do? I polished the hell out of that logo, of course. I couldn’t afford idealism yet.

The origin of the term golden combover

The term “golden combover” was invented in 2003 during the outrage within the design community over the redesign of the UPS logo when Paul Rand’s sacred cow was sacrificed on the alter of swooshy gradients. I love the term because those two words convict the problem that threatens to rot the reputation of professional designers.

We don’t reveal depth, we apply gloss to the surface.

We don’t add meaning to our work, we add glitter.

We don’t clarify, instead we add frosting.

We don’t reinforce substance, we apply style.

We don’t solve problems, we invent combovers.

You and I may have earned the luxury of being able to say no to golden combover requests, but there are plenty of desperate designers willing to burn their suits for a chance to join our ranks. That’s reason number eleven why there’s a special hell for designers like me.


Thanks for reading. If you sport a combover you should follow me. I write makeover tips like this every week. Stay creative.


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