March 8, 2006

Designed for Business

Designed for Business

Many young designers tend to start off on their own as a freelancer or small business owner in order to establish their footing in the industry. I think that this is a great way to establish an identity and to learn the ins and outs of the entire project development process. Going out and getting clients, billing properly and delivering on time can be a full time job on its own. Making sure specs are adhered to, programmers are hired out, money is in the bank and resources are being used properly are all important aspects of any project and should be seen as important if not more important than the actual design itself. When dealing with smaller companies you will find that assets don't exist or are delivered via fax or snail mail on paper! Images are often stolen from the web or misused, fonts and logos are not properly saved out and overall a general state of chaos is usually there to meet you as soon as the contract is signed, the euphoria of signing your first client quickly diminishes and now your left with the mess.

Most designers haven't thought of the fact that producing a project requires many other skills other than using a Wacom Pad. You can't organize a project schedule using Adobe Illustrator and invoices cannot be issued after you so beautifully designed them in Photoshop. Being a designer on your own is an advantageous and often times impossible task for most designers. I always found it to be refreshing when I met a young designer who is willing to take on any project just to get some professional work under their belts, I am sure every designer has that one website or print project that was their first project, applying the most complex and advanced techniques, using well thought out color schemes and carefully analyzing and designing a branded logo that would look great in Times Square, all this for Joe's Bait and Tackle Store. First of all Joe doesn't even know what the internet is, you have somehow convinced him he needs a website, he agrees and as the designer you felt you could change everything by applying your touch to Joe's 50 year old business. Wrong! But great place to try. Using small companies as guinea pigs is fun because they have no image to start off with and will generally let you do whatever you want.

I have come across some amazing sites on the web that get absolutely no views, no one even knows they exist. They belong to small businesses that couldn't care less if they had a website or not. I have even seen ads in small community papers that were beautifully designed for laundromats, corner stores and tire warehouses. Every time I see a killer site or ad for one of these obscure businesses I say to myself that this must be a young designer getting his feet wet and trying to make a name for themselves. I always enjoy seeing these types of projects because you know that the designer put all of their blood, sweat and tears into this project. That the client was probably difficult and unresponsive to the artistic layout and aesthetic beauty of the project or the complex style sheets and table usage on the site. Perhaps this is the first project this young designer ever worked on or one of the first. Its almost like a first novel of a great writer, you can see the rawness and youth seeping out of the design.

I recommend any young designer to take this route as a way to better prepare yourself for the business world. To understand and appreciate the role of the producer who often times hides all of the budget issues, re-scheduling and ups and downs from their designers as to allow them a clear mind to do what they do best, design. But a designer who knows what it is like to run after money, prepare proposals and go to countless and often time meaningless meetings can serve their firms better by understanding all of these other aspects of a project. I have worked with designers who complain about a client wanting small changes or another direction, they will get moody and upset after the producer nicely delivers the change request, yet little do they know that the request they are getting is scaled down a hundred times over and delivered on a silver platter only after the producer has spent hours and hours negotiating and making sure scope is adhered to and that it fits the budget and that the client understands all the ramifications of this change, the last thing the producer wants its another challenge especially from someone on their own team. A designer who appreciates the role of the producer will understand what has taken place and will approach the change with a different attitude.

Young designers should know that their value is increased if they can not only impress the firms they interview at with their killer designs but can also show a better understanding for the entire project lifecycle and that they can ease the pain endured by the producers by knowing that what seems like an annoying design change is something that has been battled through between the producer and client rather than become defensive and think that the producer just wants to make their lives hell. Designers who appreciate the fact that the producer must manage the budget, schedule and all parties involved in the project, can sometimes be many third party printers, programmers, other freelancers, media management companies, and so on, as well as all contractual and legal issues and their own bosses can add value to any design firm. The designer should already know what the producer goes through and can at times offer some kind words to the often worn out producer. The designer can better appreciate how much work has gone into this project even before one pixel has been designed and the producer feels better knowing that their role is appreciated by their team.

So all you young designers out there, perhaps a year between graduation and your first job freelancing would make you a much more desirable hire by showing the staff at your next firm that you can appreciate everything they do and that you will think twice about complaining about a design change or making your producers life harder than it needs to be. Also gaining this experience will help you advance in your career by establishing yourself as a team player and someone who has weathered the harder parts of the production process. Great design is only as good as the designer who created it and in my opinion a good designer is one who understands the process behind a project and can work with their producers without becoming another issue for the producer to handle.

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