Tag Archives: students

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.

You must have confidence.

13 Oct

It always seems easier to believe in someone or something else: but, if you want to be a successful designer, you MUST believe in yourself. And you MUST believe in your work. Nothing can kill a great design quicker than lack of confidence. And great designs don’t deserve to die!

You must have confidence in yourself. Part of designing is selling you, your person, your skills and knowledge. If you cannot come across as someone who knows what they’re talking about, employers, coworkers and clients will never feel at ease with you. Design can be tricky intangible stuff. It’s often hard to describe, and even harder to explain. If you don’t have confidence in your ability and expertise, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone else who does. Which means it will be harder to find someone to pay you for your work. And that’s the whole point!

You must have confidence in your work. Not everything you design will be masterful or amazing. Not everything you make will be a true expression of your soul. Not everything you create will be worthy for submission in contests. And that’s okay. The core evaluation of your work should be about how it solved the design problem, how it met your client’s needs, and how it conveyed a message to someone. I would bet that no designer is 100% happy with 100% of their work. Not even Sagmeister. Not even Chip Kidd. Not even all the successful and incredible people at Pentagram. That’s to be expected. Greatness comes from a continued striving to be better and better, and from delivering solid, thoughtful work that makes the client happy. Once you see the distinction between the two, it becomes much easier to be confident in what YOU’RE producing.

Many young designers get caught up in the notion of becoming a rock star, or producing perfectly perfect work effortlessly, every single time. This is not very likely to be your reality. Instead, you should approach your work with determination and confidence, with an open mind to learning from every project, every mistake, and every client. And if you don’t feel very confident right now, FAKE IT! When you meet with someone to present your work, and you explain that it’s not very good, that the color is all wrong, that you wish you had more time, that someone else could have done a better job—you’re basically TELLING that person not to like your work either. Even if the work is good and does the job properly. This business is all about presentation, and you must present your work in the most positive light possible. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, PRACTICE it, until you do.

If you believe that something is impossible, it will be. The converse is also true. If you believe yourself capable of great work—and you’re willing to keep learning, evolving and improving—you will produce great work. Having the confidence to do so is the key.

Hello Graphic Designers…

30 Aug

Welcome to my brand spankin’ new blog! I have been a graphic designer for over 8 years, and want to share what I’ve learned during that time with students, young designers just starting out, people thinking about going into design, and anyone else who wants to take a look.

So, please, look around, and feel free to ask questions!