There’s a reason why they keep top-dollar design jobs spread so thin. It’s not just because there’s so few of them. And it’s not because designers, as a species, aren’t worth the extra buck. Playing in the design PGL is all about skills. And, as it turns out, mastering these skills comes down to accepting a few simple truths about design. Here they are:
Designers are chumps.
While they may act, dress or—on occasion—even design cool stuff, designers are basically fluff.
That’s not saying that multi-millionaire fashion moguls or superstar designers have gone the wrong way. Properly organized, even kerning pays. These design rock stars are, however, singularities. Regular designers, although easy enough to get along with, are not the kind of people you take home to your parents. They’re not, are they. And here’s why:
In some ways, you already know that, deep down, designers are just prisoners of their own whims. It’s more than that. The reason you don’t bring designers home, is that, simply put, they’re all play and no work. They have no real plans for the future, no reliability to speak of. They haven’t got career plans, they just stumble into stuff. They always get into design contests, go for some spec work or try to ‘impress’ clients—and it always ends up ugly.
Design is NOT an universal language.
Arguably, it comes close. Math, computer programming, music, tic-tac-toe—what have you—, but not design. In fewer words, design is not essential to the survival of the human race. No stock in pretty pictures, as they say.
Good design is not necessarily good business.
Great design often goes unnoticed—a great business idea, never. A single, spectacular idea can sky-rocket your business overnight. But just try that with gradients. Or Verdana and Arial.
What was ‘groundbreaking’ in terms of graphic design only a few years ago, now lies in dust, forgotten. Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on promoting new logos, products, identities—only to be followed by even bigger and bigger budgets. But who’s to say that it’s not 99% advertising and just 1% design? Famous logos including Nike, Apple or Google, initially designed by ‘non-professionals’ bring a strong argument to the table.
Furthermore, design has superb potential in virtually ruining a business (start-ups and huge conglomerates alike) with little effort—although, admittedly, some put a lot of work into it.
So, keeping all these facts in mind, here they are—this is what you’ve paid for, the cornerstone skills every designer should look into:
1. Always, always keep a bag packed and ready.
If this is your first job as a designer, don’t worry if this advice doesn’t make sense. It will.
2. Know your weaknesses (or make sure nobody can spot them).
This means that, once you find a cozy position with a big company—you should hang on to it! That kind of opportunbity only comes around every so often. That’s because, most times, when you go to jobs interviews, you’re forced to listen to these so-called experts dissing your work (or worse). You didn’t go to design school to listen to some outdated layout artist preach about ‘usability’, ‘ideas behind design’ or ‘mixing too many fonts’. That’s why it’s important to always stress on the positive aspects. Or avoid this type of meetings altogether.
3. It’s OK to be snooty.
It’s not just your God given right as a designer, in a world filled with idiots. It’s what makes you you. So be snooty. Big-shot CEOs sure are. Charge extra for your work. Ignore competition. Be the round peg in the round hole.
4. Understand that things like Crowd Spring, Logoworks and MS Word templates will be here long after you’re gone.
Yes, to some clients, your abilities, expertise, years of sheer luck staying in business—are all worth about 20 bucks. Exactly what they would pay for their logo, banner or wordpress template on some ‘community-driven’ creative-meets-prosumer website. So you should be aware that, to make it as a designer, you need to be selling a different skill set than the one your client can find anywhere on the web within three mouse clicks. Be unique.
5. Design for the future
It’s important to know your limitations, but it’s equally important to plan for them.
That means that, whenever you embark on a design project, you should only bite off only as much as you can chew. Web entrepreneurs, design enthusiasts and other misled fanatics may argue that design is all about taking a leap of faith (and staying on brief, mind you). While that may hold true for large companies, remember you’re an army of one. Don’t go promising website comps by the following day, then rush on to the forums and ask ‘should I use Illustrator of Photoshop for this?’. Don’t be setting print deadlines all by yourself: get your client involved as well. Planning to fail is probably the single most useful ‘technical’ design skill a designer can develop. So be sure you keep the sharp and unwavering blade of blunt denial close at hand, for all those requests for proposals gone astray.
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