When I think about my early years as a designer, I sometimes cringe. For instance, I remember when I was in school and I was asked to design a poster. The poster was a big hit all over campus. When I asked for payment, the client thought I should just be happy I got to do the job. I had no contract or agreement.
Today, the solution to this type of problem is a no-brainer (i.e. always have a contract). That's one lesson I wish I had learned another way. So, to help other designers avoid these types of heartaches (or is it heartburn?), here's five other lessons I learned the hard way.
1. It’s not about me.
You know, the work I produce, the service I give, and my professionalism are really what should matter — when it comes to design work. But even those things are not me.
Also, when someone makes it about me, it isn't about me. Sometimes a client confuses their feelings about a design with my ability to deliver. But, the judgment isn't about me as a person. And their subjective judgment has little to do with me as a professional. Quite frankly, I am not what I do professionally. When someone wants to make it about me, I've learned over the years that it says more about their character than mine. Now, I just let insults go, and stick to solving the problem.
2. People don’t care about what I can do. But what I can do for them.
Although I get hired for my experience and ability, people really want to know how I can help them with their problem. It's more attractive to clients when they feel I have their best interest at heart, rather than boasting about myself.
3. Always prepare a creative brief, whether your client has one or not.
This goes along with always having a contract, even if it's a friend of family-member. I remember working with a friend of mine on a simple brochure. He was working with other partners to pull this together, and was in the process of developing text copy. We discussed creating a tri-fold brochure they can use to help their customers understand who they are and what they do.
Sounded simple enough.
When he finally showed me the copy, it was predesigned in MS Word as a 12-page booklet. He said all I needed to do was to “pretty it up a bit,” and get it printed. Well, I had to decline the work. It wasn't worth my time and the money for either of us.
We were having a miscommunication about scope, responsibilities, and process. A creative brief would’ve clarified what each party assumed. My bad.
4. Being fast is important. But so is being good.
Everyone wants their project done fast. There is a popular saying in the business world: "It's better to get the product to market, than get the product perfect." This saying gets applied to marketing and design when clients fear that messaging and design will get in the way of promotion efforts. However, I find that most client’s rather I slow down enough to do quality work too.
That's why I try to sketch before climbing on the computer to design and search for inspiration. It's a quick way to creatively approach a design project. And come up with effective and beautiful design.
5. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships.
People work with people. Client’s are not just sources of income. They are people with hopes, dreams, expectations, and problems. They don’t work with me simply because I’m good at what I do. They like me because I care and value them as real people.
6. Whenever I can, feed my creativity.
No one else cares about how I am doing creatively — except, maybe, other designers. Even my mom, when she was alive, didn't care a whole lot about that either. (Though she wanted me to be happy.) Most people just don’t get it. They think maintaining creative levels is pretty easy. "Just play around a bit."
Look, I’m responsible for myself. I need rest. It's up to me to maintain other interests and hobbies. I have to read widely to maintain a level of understanding and breath of knowledge resources to draw upon. I have to seek visual stimulation in unexpected sources such as:
- TV shows, commercials, intros, credits, titling sequences
- greeting cards
- people watching
- drawing often
7. Always have a contract.
This almost should go without saying, but always use a contract. Unfortunately, when I was just starting out, I learned this the hard way.
Here's something to remember: People who don't care about design want it for free. However, people who respect design want it professionally done. It just took one experience for me to get this. Now, I don't design without one, even for family members, friends, and for worthy causes. It just makes everything clearer. And it helps me to avoid confusion about my professional worth and business relationship. Painful problems come from lack of clarity. Don't let that happen to you.