Designer Heartbreak: Stories Of Jealousy, Clients Lost, And Unrequited Love

Designers share stories of professional heartache. “I’m still waiting for NASA to give us a call.”

Designer Heartbreak: Stories Of Jealousy, Clients Lost, And Unrequited Love
Kyle Igarashi/Getty Images

Call us jaded. But not every professional relationship in a designer’s life is happily ever after. In any creative industry, heartbreak is the norm, not the exception. So for Valentine’s Day, we asked designers across disciplines to share a story of the darker side of love. Here are their tales of unrequited love, clients that got away, and pure, unadulterated jealousy:


Teddy Blanks, Chips
“Last fall, HBO reached out and asked if we wanted to come up with a few ideas for the Girls season five poster. They wanted to explore the idea that the main characters were drifting apart, with each doing their own thing. Our favorite design featured photos of the four girls cropped into arrow shapes, with each arrow on its own course. We did many versions. It was a real contender. Then one day, I was on the subway and I saw an ad for The Big Short, one of the most talked-about movies of the year. It was the exact same idea—four characters inside four arrows. I was heartbroken. Understandably, HBO went in a different direction.”

Stefan Sagmeister, Sagmeister & Walsh
“I was very jealous of the second issue of Colors magazine that Tibor Kalman had sent to Hong Kong for me, where I was working at the time in a more corporate environment. The newness of ideas, the radical concepts, and the meticulous execution all conspired to make me very sad in Asia: ‘I really should be working on stuff like that.’ Two years later, I did join his company M & Co. in New York.”

Natasha Jen, Pentagram
“I’m still waiting for NASA to give us a call. I love NASA and everything it stands for wholeheartedly, and it hurts to see that their graphic design— especially the mega-complicated sub-brands and websites—is as messy as the universe itself. ‘Hey NASA, let us take you for an awesome Graphic Odyssey!'”

Acne Studios

Min Lew, Base Design
“If design is a means to create innovation and new meanings and to reflect one’s own ethos, I think Acne Studios has done just that. What many people don’t realize is that Acne started as a creative agency (design, film, production, and digital) for hire not dissimilar to Base. Where they get my jealousy vote is that they have transformed their creative energy and know-how to build their own brand and be their own client. Through fashion, Acne Studios today is an active participant in putting forward a point of view and contributing toward the culture at large.”

Stevanspringer/Wiki Commons

Paul Wolfson, Map
“We were born in the same year and grew up in the same seaside neighborhood. Her throbbing air-cooled flat-four, straight lines, boxy body, and ability to carry surfboards and bikes were the things of my childhood dreams. We fell in love in a car park. I called my VW T25 microbus “Pumpkin” (bright orange and born in October) and showered her with love in the form of new curtains, shocks, and upholstery. She reciprocated with journeys to the sea, waves from strangers, and nights under the stars. Then she turned on me. First the fuel pump, then the gearbox, then the fuel tank. I realized she had fallen for another man: my mechanic. As a grownup industrial designer, my VW T25 encapsulated many qualities I admire in great design—they are rational and disciplined, seem to consider everything you ever need for an adventure, and put a smile on your face. I’m not sure I’ll ever better it as a designer, but she was great inspiration for a project coming soon from Map.”

MTA Flickr

Hans Neubert, Frog
“Dearest MTA (of New York),


The minute I read about your recent windfall of $29 billion and your ambitions to transform the public transportation system in New York, I knew we were made for each other. Sure, you weren’t my ideal transit partner just yet, but I thought we could grow into the relationship. I fantasized about a future where 6 million of my fellow New Yorkers and I would no longer slog through our daily commute on your outdated systems. I even hoped that some day we could enjoy a long ride to Brighton Beach together.

Then the phone rang at Frog, the design and strategy firm I work for— you wanted to meet! I felt like a Powerball winner. One thing led to another and our first date was set at your uptown pad, where you quickly impressed me with government grandness. And though you were a bit coy at first, we won you over with Frog’s lore of an optimistic future. The date went well and you invited us to meet the parents. I was on top of the world.

After a few days of nervous waiting, the meeting was set. Your dad was stern and imposing but also curious and kind. We had decided to go big or go home. It paid off, and in your own words, we had been your ‘best designer date ever.’ Our collective future seemed within grasp. Preparations were made. Budgets shared. Excitement was building all around.

Then came the silence. We waited. No phone call. No email. Nothing. I felt like Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau. Had you lost our number? Did we accidentally skip a year? Then one fateful day in January, you stepped in front of the camera to present your new vision—without us.

It wasn’t the first time I had been dumped, and it won’t be last. But this one broke my heart. I would have loved to work on this, with you, with Frog, and for the greater good of New York. But I also believe in second chances, and I am longing for the day we meet again—perhaps on a train.

Hans Neubert, Frog


P.S. Call me.”

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.