I can't actually believe this but from this January I have been working as a graphic designer for 7 years! I guess my experience extends a bit longer too as I was doing freelance work before that when I was at university. Anyway, that is a pretty long time and so I thought it might be fun to share some of the lessons that I have learnt in that time. So here goes...
1. Only present ideas you are happy with. Otherwise you can guarantee the client will choose the one you don't like - so it's best to not even let that be an option. Yes you probably won't like all of your ideas equally - but at least if they are all strong then you won't resent having to work on and develop them further.
2. Come up with a good way of filing your work. Now this is something that I have not always been great at and am still working on improving, but we don't only have to deal with organising our physical possessions anymore, we now have to keep our digital possessions organised too, and there is often a lot! With your work you want to be able to find old and current work as quickly as possible. Name your files sensibly and also come up with a folder system to keep it all organised. Do this from the start and you will thank yourself down the line when you need to find old files from a client who wants an update.
3. Keep old rejected ideas. They might be useful for other projects in the future. This has worked in my favour a few times and has saved time and has meant that I have been able to re-use and re-purpose designs that I really liked and are appropriate for another project again. The ideas are yours and so you are totally entitled to use them again - but you probably need to be a bit sensitive about it depending on who the clients are.
4. Communication is key. A lot can get lost over email - phone calls and meeting face to face are often better if possible. I have definitely learnt this recently. Often people don't love talking on the phone and it's a lot more effort to meet the client in person - but honestly nothing beats being able to present your ideas face to face and for the client to see your enthusiasm and be able to ask questions there and then. You can also get a much clearer idea about what they feel about them.
5. Don't charge an hourly rate but a total amount for the project. So this was something that I only really started to consider recently after reading quite a few different articles about it. The main idea that really struck me was that as you improve and gain more experience as a designer you will work faster. This means that unless you are increasing your hourly rate regularly you will actually be earning less the more experienced you get when people should be paying more for that experience. For me, with some clients it is just not appropriate to charge a fee for the whole project (and if they are the sort of clients that make lots of amends it can be helpful to charge hourly) - but I am going to try and do this as often as I can in the future.
6. Knowing when to fight for your ideas and when not to. Often working with a really good client makes the end result even better. They bring ideas and feedback that are really helpful and constructive. Sometimes the client doesn't always know what's best though and in those instances you need to decide when to fight for your ideas. Part of it is about educating the client about the process but also you have to remember that you are the professional designer and that you have insight and experience that they might not have and there might be things they have not considered or thought about. It's always important to be polite and respectful and most often than not they will really appreciate your feedback and ideas and will really take them on board. I think that is when a client/designer works really well - when there is mutual respect and trust so that can share your different ideas and work well together.
Are you designer? Do you have any other lessons to add that have helped you? I would love to hear them if you do. If you are not a designer I hope you found this an interesting insight into working as a designer. A lot of these lessons I think would be pretty relevant to other jobs too.
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