Archive | June, 2010

You must have humility.

10 Jun

Graphic design giants like Bantjes, Carson, Kidd, Sagmeister, Scher and Vignelli are not universally loved. You won’t be either. There will always be people who disagree with your choices (even the “good” ones) and not always without “good” reason. To be a great designer, you have to be able to take these detractors in stride—and recognize when complaints are not only valid, but when outside suggestions will make the work stronger or clearer or more on the mark.

Graphic design done in the service of a client is indeed a service—and remaining humble and adaptable can mean the difference between repeat business and an empty appointment book. Some designers treat clients as a nuisance, an obstacle to creativity that must be worked around. I have witnessed designers becoming impatient, snippy, haughty, and outwardly irritated with the very people paying for the work. This is not a sound business strategy, nor does it usually lead to truly creative and collaborative solutions to be proud of. Working WITH your client will be much more fulfilling and inspiring than simply working FOR or AROUND him.

A designer with an uncontrolled ego is not fun to work with, and doesn’t always know better. Often, the person who knows the client’s business the best is the client. Listen to her, and take her suggestions seriously. If you disagree strongly, explain your reservations clearly and calmly. Often clients assume that many (or even all) design choices are merely subjective. Of course, sometimes they are. But a great designer will have reasons for their choices based on training and expertise, as well as aesthetic sensibilities. Explaining this rationale can go a long way toward making a case for your preferred design.

What you must guard against—at all costs—is becoming defensive or emotional. This will only make you seem like a bratty child or a ranting lunatic. Logic and reason work much more effectively toward convincing a client you know what you’re talking about. A good design education will include learning how to talk about your work—how to describe the different elements and explain what is working and why. However, the most important lesson a great designer learns (whether in school or through experience) is to not take critique personally. This can be a difficult thing to remember, even for seasoned designers. But it is critical to keeping your cool and objectively absorbing critique and suggestions—and will allow you to later turn those suggestions into better work.

As a student, humility is extremely important. School, especially art school, is a stressful and confusing experience. It can bring out the best—and worst—in seemingly sane and level-headed people. In almost every case you do NOT know better than your professor. (Please re-read the last sentence to make sure it sinks in properly.) You don’t always have to agree with him, but you should carefully listen to and consider any critique you receive. Even if you later decide to disregard his advice you should always critically analyze and consider it. Reacting emotionally or defensively will only make you seem like a whining child.

Remember, your professors have had many experiences you have not. They have reviewed the work of countless students and other professionals. Professors are also (presumably) approaching your work in an objective and detached way. You never have to take advice from someone verbatim (nor should you, part of critical thinking is knowing what advice to take and when), but you should always give feedback due consideration. Graphic design is about communication, and if someone doesn’t fully understand what you’re communicating, then it’s not working yet.

Humility needs to be balanced with confidence. While no one wants to work with an arrogant egotistical designer, neither do they want to hire a doormat. As a wise man once said, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em….” Learning when and how to act with clients and other professionals is just as much a part of your education as learning how to use grids or typography. And I promise, it all becomes easier with experience.

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