Asked what I’d like to write about this week, many options presented themselves, ranging from user interface, to email campaigns, and predictive science to social media do’s and don’ts. Known for being humble and modest, I decided to opt for ‘Five steps to being a great designer’.
Being a designer is like a great piece of art; it’s all in the eye of the beholder and it’s not always to everyone’s taste. This is a big statement so let’s break it down so you can understand what I mean.
To one person, a designer’s work might be the best thing since sliced bread, but to another their portfolio is distinctively average. So who’s correct? Well, neither and both. Design, like art, is subjective and it either draws you in or leaves you cold.
Designers, much like artists, are known to be precious and stubborn. And that’s only what’s said to our faces. As some one guilty of both these stereotypes, I’ve decided to come in batting for the designer’s corner. We’re precious because we care, and we’re stubborn because we strongly believe in our ideas, and believe they’ll create an enhanced product for our client.
The reality is that being a great designer is twofold: you need to be someone who is both easy to work with and also someone who understands the client’s vision. Some aspects of being a great designer are in our nature, some are taught, and some are naturally developed over time. And sometimes you have to f**k up, to ensure you don’t make that same mistake again.
And so, without any further ado, here are my five steps to being a great designer.
- Know your audience
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to know my audience. And by audience, I don’t mean the client, but the client’s audience. For example, when a client requests a new logo, of course it’s important that they like what you’ve created, but it’s more important that it’s relevant, appropriate and liked by their audience, as after all, this is who the work is for. A common faux pas designers are guilty of is to make decisions on colours, fonts, photography and so forth because it appeals to them personally and suits their taste. This should never be the response to a brief. Every project is different and unique, taking inspiration from the audience it’s directed at. Therefore the output needs to respect each and every requirement, irrelevant of the designer’s personal preferences. A great designer isn’t afraid to step outside this line, because they know what’s right for the client’s audience, and they’re the ones that need to be pleased.
I cannot overstate how important communication is in every aspect of any job. When speaking specifically about design, it’s not only important that the piece itself communicates the message in an appropriate, relevant and engaging manner, but also that clear lines of communication are maintained throughout the job, from client to designer and vice versa. A great designer ensures they’re clear on the brief from the word go. They must make sure that any uncertainties have been ironed out early as possible, and everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to the project timeline. Throughout the job, it’s imperative that client feedback is communicated back to the designer clearly, and that all deliveries of creative are accompanied by a list of notes, outlining and flagging anything additional to help explain the concept.
- Manage your time
Time, time, time. Well known for going slow when we’re not busy, and racing past when we’re up against it. But there’s no two ways about it, there are only so many hours in the day, and no amount of grumbling gets around that fact. Great designers need to be pros at managing time and eking out every single minute of productivity. For me, the trick is to make lists (many many lists), and prioritise each task according to urgency. Going through what needs to be done, and roughly working out how long it will take is paramount to hitting deadlines, which in design studios are typically very tight. This being said, being sparse on time pushes you to work on your instinct – more on this in point five.
- Work as a team
No designer is an island and working as a team is imperative to achieving the best creative output. If you keep your head down and avoid communication, you’re likely to become blinkered, eventually losing sight of the original brief by going off on a tangent. Even if you’re the lead on project, using your team as a sounding board can filter out any mad ideas (and trust me there will be a few). Brainstorming is also the best way to throw all ideas on the table, open for discussion. Use this time to ask questions, and sound out your immediate concepts. Some of the greatest ideas come out of a flippant comment. And if you can’t put your thoughts into words, why not explain them through the medium of interpretive dance? If you work with a decent bunch of people, they won’t judge you.
- Listen to your instinct
A great designer learns to identify and listen to internal warning signs and follow their gut instincts. Doing this can save you plenty of valuable time in the long run. In my case, my instinct is personified by a little voice twittering away in my ear telling me that what I’m doing isn’t right, or appropriate. Retreat! Retreat! It tells me that my chosen colour combination doesn’t have enough contrast, it tells me that the image I’ve chose isn’t sensitive enough, and it tells me that I should scan my eye over that artwork just one more time. It’s easy to ignore your instinct, especially when it’s so much simpler and faster to just carry on down the path you’re on, hoping it’ll turn out OK. But the reality is that in the long run, you’ll just have to start again at an even more inconvenient time, which makes for an unhappy boss, an unhappy client and a very unhappy you.
Some parting words of advice
Being a great designer is not just about ticking boxes. Every project is made up of many moving parts and contrasting opinions, with rarely any defined boxes to tick. You’ll find that you’re strong in some areas and weaker in others. While some designers specialise in one field, others have good ability across many areas. Both have their value, and their place.
My nine years of experience has shown me that being a great designer is about learning from every experience – and I’m still learning. I like to think that I actively run through steps one to five, but you need to make allowances for the fact that every job will generate new challenges that test you in new ways.
outré creative has a really tight team of designers of varying levels, and we all bring something different to the table. Being a great designer is not just about what you create yourself, but also how you guide others creatively to the best solution. It’s about communicating your thoughts in a clear way that’s easy to understand and won’t be misinterpreted. It’s about providing feedback in a constructive manner, and it’s about patience.