I generally have good boundaries as a graphic designer, but not all the time. I don’t always clearly express what I want, what I want my process to be, or how I want my time respected. I’m a bit of an introvert in this area. That doesn’t mean I am afraid to be assertive. It means that I tend to be less clear in my communication when I’m not consciously putting in the effort to be clear.
I think there are quite a few graphic designers who are introverted. We just don’t get jazzed by being around people all the time. We like our space to be able to think and reflect. This helps us be more creative. At least for me.
Let’s face it. Communicating with people is not always easy, even with friends. We have to anticipate what other people know and don’t know, and adjust our messages accordingly. We have to be aware of our own needs, and be willing to express them in a way that other people can understand. And we have to be willing to accept disagreement and negotiate for mutual benefits.
So, how do we make sure to practice clear communication?
We designers must remain aware of at least three limit or boundary areas.
When I’m designing something I am aware that white space helps increase comprehension, and creates space for viewers to breath. In the same way, we need to set apart time to comprehend project goals, consider creative approaches, and allow for creative play. Consciously setting apart downtime for thought, reflection, and ideation leads to better project outcomes, personal enrichment, and personal development.
One way to handle the time issue is to manage client requests better. Set time in your day for daily thought and reflection, and be firm about it. You don’t have to tell clients what you’re doing, unless they can easily understand. Just block that time out as precious. And don’t allow requests for small favors, needy clients, or quick turnarounds to get in the way — unless it really is an emergency.
Also it’s important to honestly adjust your own expectations. You may want to make everyone happy, but you won’t. You may have a better creative vision for a project than your client, but it’s not up to you. You may want every client and coworker to be your friend, but not everyone is going to like you. That’s just the way it is. Save yourself some time by letting some of that go.
In communicating with clients, it's helpful to go beyond a utilitarian conversation. It's more than just a bunch of business exchanges. Connecting socially with clients increases awareness of the client's needs behind the wants. You will gain more empathy for the client and their audience — which makes you a better designer for the client. It also influences clients to trust you more.
But that doesn't mean you have to be close to everyone. And it doesn't mean you have to be available 24/7. It's okay to set limits on what you share based on the relationship you have, and put limits on your availability. Just be clear. You and your clients will be happier in the long run when there's appropriate honesty and appropriate humility.
Everyone wants your services for free (or for as little cost as possible). So, it’s up to you to determine your value. Do this by going beyond trading your time for money. Think about it. The more skilled and educated you are, the faster and better your design work will be. If you value your work according to time spent on a project, your work will be worth less when you gain skill and efficiency. Conversely, the less skilled, slower, and less efficient you are, the more hours you need to charge. Doesn’t make much sense when you think about it.
Clients generally hire you to solve a particular problem. They want to reward you for skill and efficiency — not for bartering your time. When you’re compensated for the service you provide your clients will value your service — not your labor. And you will be able to charge a more sustainable rate.
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash