This weekend I had some time to geek out and watch Gary Hustwit’s documentary film Helvetica. In listening to the designers he interviewed talk about Helvetica and type in general, I started to think about the choices we make as designers and the impact they have on the people we work for.
There are times in a designers career when we question our choice of profession – does what I do matter? Would I make more money and be viewed as more important by my organization if I were a salesperson where my influence on revenue is more obvious? Is what I bring to the table unique and valuable or am I easily replaceable?
I did some reflecting this weekend and reassured myself with regard to these questions. Not only that I had made the right choice for myself, but that what we do as designers is important. When a company hires you to carry out design tasks they put you in charge of the visual identity of their company. Your success or failure directly affects the perception of the company. In essence, you can set them up to succeed or fail–and that’s a pretty serious responsibility. Be worthy of their confidence in your abilities and keep these principles in mind:
Be Trustworthy and Ethical
As a freelance designer I have had people share concepts for start up businesses with me. I have been privy to information of technical and financial nature that wouldn’t normally be shared with an outside consultant . There is trust involved in a designer/client relationship that makes it intimate and exciting. Create an environment within your practice where clients don’t think twice about divulging sensitive information to you. When this does happen, guard that information as if it’s your own.
Educate your Client
Ideally, a designer or firm is chosen based on their track record and admiration for their aesthetic. That said, it is a rare job where the client has no preconceived notions of the end product. Merging your design sensibility with clients’ expectations can be difficult and in some cases, impossible. Another responsibility of a designer is to explain themselves. In some cases this includes educating the client. I don’t mean to suggest that the designer’s way is always the right way–only that in theory, a designer makes a decision based on practical consideration and training. It’s important to communicate your thought process.
If you’re going to put yourself in a position to dictate design decisions, you better know your shit. Continue to educate yourself on new technology, software packages and techniques. Talk to colleagues, read blogs, read books and attend conferences. Are you a print designer by trade? Learn flash. Web developer? Take a course on user interface design. Staying current will keep you passionate about your work and keep your bag of tricks stocked.
Sell Your Ideas
I recently read something that suggested that many good ideas go unused because they’re poorly presented. Nearly as important as being a good visual designer is being an articulate speaker. I enjoy putting on my headphones and shutting the world out while working as much as the next person, but I’m becoming increasingly aware of the need to communicate my design approach. For now on I will be more cognizant about explaining my motives and inviting dialogue about my process. I suggest you do the same!