Be a Better Designer

As internet surfing and aimless link following will do, I ended up somewhere unexpected: Behavior Design. I was browsing through their job listings and a few things caught my eye and reminded me of one of the most invaluable design lessons I have ever learned.

What I noticed were the job requirements for their Design Lead and Visual Designer openings.

Candidates must have the following qualities:
  • Attention to detail and good people-skills
  • Self-motivation, discipline, quick-learner, organized
  • Excellent verbal, oral and written communication skills

The story goes like this…

When I stepped out of pro-bono work a few years ago my first design job was a book cover.

I was nervous, and I did some research of how to work with and bill clients as a freelance designer. But the forums I read only filled my mind with horror stories of dead-beat clients that over demanded and under paid. I started out with some horrible expectations of how the project was going to work itself out in addition to over confidence in my design ability – which led to many surprises on my end.

For instance: I was shocked when my initial design concept wasn’t approved and they wanted another. Then I was shocked when they wanted to do a custom photo shoot using people they knew instead of the stock photos I had put in.

Since I low-balled my design fee I had to ask for more money at each ‘extra step.’ By the end of the project the invoice was nearly double the original quote. And because of all the (bad) advice I had read online I was extremely pushy about their deposit and the terms of payment.

In fact, I never even had a decent conversation with the client (who – as a matter of fact – was also a friend) about his and my expectations for the work-flow, communication, payment, etc…

Once the book was printed I met up with my friend the project manager to get some swag. He asked if he could talk to me for a few minutes and give some advice. He proceeded to tell me about my obvious lack of people skills. He called out each area of ‘advice’ I had learned from those forums as something that had put a negative pressure on the project and made him feel uncomfortable, and gave me ideas of how to do things better.

That five minute conversation revolutionized the way I have done design work ever since.

If I had just been open and honest at the beginning, laid out my expectations, and allowed some room for “fudge” in my design fee then the whole project would have gone smoother and been more fun for all of us.

That was the first and last time I ever acted like a high-and-mighty graphic designer who treats his clients as if they were perpetually inconveniencing him. Now when I receive a job-request the first sentence in my email reply starts with “thank you.”

Thanks for asking me to do this job. I would love to. If I can get more details about the project and a time-frame then I’ll be able to let you know if I can do it and how much I think it will cost. Then we can move forward with the logistics if you would like to.

I want my clients to know I am honored to work for them, and I am proud to take on their job. Even if we are professionals, aren’t we still just folks?

[This article is part of the Freelancing 101 Series]

Be a Better Designer