At varying points in a career, the question of success rises to the top of a list of concerns. If a designer is not finding it, they might diversify an existing skill set to better qualify for different types of assignments, or possible begin work in an unfamiliar style in order to develop a relevance in a contemporary design market. Sometimes, though, it’s worth considering that there’s something other than a portfolio holding us back, something that keeps us from competing with other designers besides the work itself.
At AIGA Baltimore’s most recent Converse, our open talk on a specified design-related topic, we asked our group this question: Is the success of a designer dependent solely on the finished product? Are we all missing that ‘something’ and are we even aware of it? The suggestions we heard were interesting, and the conversations, inspiring.
Being prepared is necessary. Unfortunately, parents, teachers, and co-workers have been telling us to ‘be prepared’ so much, that it comes off as just a cliché. A filler. Words said to bridge the gap between receiving the assignment and agreeing to the deadline. To dismiss research, development, and practice by intending to go into a project with an overconfident, self-perceived cleverness to win over a client is not only going to fail, it’s going to give the appearance that any design experience comes solely from watching all five seasons of Mad Men.
We heard from well-prepared individuals who suggested including quantifiable data to back up logic in a presentation. By doing market research and reading case studies, a designer can show returns on investment, giving little room for logical disagreement. By using online analytics to measure the impact of interactive products and by using social media to configure metrics regarding the successful exposure of printed materials, there is a clear emphasis made that we understand how to make this thing work. Being clear means being prepared.
While we were on the topic of being clear, we identified at Converse that designers aren’t particularly strong when it comes to communicating verbally, and it’s a common misconception that it’s not a necessary skill, that the work should speak for itself. In truth, all the aforementioned research and development that was done to assure a project’s success needs a knowledgeable speaker to explain it in terms of goals, direction, and purpose. A creative brief of this sort can become a preemptive explanation to the client, an education in design process, that can prevent confusion and unrealistic expectations, especially in later stages where their seemingly minor change means a complete conceptual reworking for the designer. One Converse attendee so believes in the power of a verbally-skilled designer, that she took an acting class not only to present herself and her work, but also how to react to clients’ comments. That decision scores points for being prepared as well.
Being prepared and well-spoken are absolutely paramount in creating a trustworthy image of a designer. The Converse group found that there were many clients who had never met their designer or even talked to them. In a society that believes that it’s called ‘Dreamweaver’ because you dream up a website, click a button, and it weaves one up for you, it’s important to become separate from our software.
As designers, our clients should understand that we chose our career because there’s a collaborative effort, a critical process that we require to do our best work. If we didn’t want input, criticism, or revisions, we’d have gone into Fine Art and insisted upon our sole vision. We are people who have a unique talent to visualize the solution even better after we’ve broken the last one, whether by accident or knowledgeable rejection. For this sort of partnership to work, we have to trust each other and, because the client is the financier, it’s up to us to gain that trust first. By explaining early and often why they should believe we’ll succeed and how they can help keep it that way throughout the process, the client feels assured that we are able to control the project without micro-input. Being mindful that both parties specialize in different areas and shouldn’t be expected to guess how the other does their job is a welcome transparency and should also prevent some unwelcome surprises.
Our Converse attendees gave us lots of valuable insight on success with clients but they also suggested some tips to help productivity while working to increase the value of time spent designing. Planning ahead for what will be the most productive time of the day allows an opportunity to clear out distractions. Check email a limited number of times a day, for a limited length of time. Most agreed three times a day for thirty minutes each was the maximum.
Some of the most difficult distractions are often mental, the pressure of conjuring an idea that’s worth exploring or that spurs a creative work session. Non-computer related activities such as sketching or flipping through a coffee table book are two ways of refreshing inspiration, the added benefit being less time spent troubleshooting a software tool or becoming distracted while connected to email or other types of e-communication. The stress of administrative tasks is as detrimental to creativity as regular writer’s block, so it’s important to remove the availability of tasking reminders during the previously scheduled productive times. Otherwise, the guilty, inner voice insists on responding to everything before allowing a relaxed mind. Creativity works well under pressure because there’s not any time to worry about anything else.
Interested in some more about creativity and where it comes from? Be sure to join us for our next Converse on April 18 at The Windup Space and tell us how you come up with those ideas. Or tell us that you’re not: maybe we can help. It’ll be like designer group therapy.
Here’s some links suggested during the Converse:
Viewing: Designing a Stop Sign
Reading: Be Excellent at Anything
Greg Jericho spends an awfully lot of time designing for clients that do not exist at his equally fake company, Myopic! Studio. Kate Lawless strategizes content for the web, develops e-learning, and designs digital signage by day. By night, she’s a freelance designer and socializer-extraordinaire.