Creative Bliss Day 14: Taming The Nightmare Client—You

After 1-year in the making, I finally finished the redesign of my company website and in the process, I have come face-to-face with the world’s worst client: MYSELF.

Why is it so hard for graphic designers to design for ourselves? We have complete creative freedom and control, yet it’s a nightmare. I have even known some top graphic design professionals to go so far as to hire outside creatives to (gasp!) design their marketing materials for them. Is it because creating a logo or web design for our own companies begs us to ask (and answer) the deepest question, “Who am I?” Or is it that too much creative freedom really isn’t a good thing? Or does it boil down to the fact that designers are hardcore perfectionists by nature?

Who Am I?
Creative freedom — It’s the thing we love, the thing we crave. You get to design however you damn well please. Pretty great! And pretty darn overwhelming too. About 99.9999% of the work we do is created to meet other people’s design objectives. Rarely do we ever sit and ponder, “what kind of designer am I? What separates me from everyone else? How do I want to be perceived?” It really can throw you out of whack to put yourself in the client’s shoes and answer your very own creative brief questions.

I think it was only last week that I figured out what I want to be when I grow up. But “who am I?” We spend our whole lives trying to answer that question. In essence, all businesses have to answer it. But usually, we designers are the ones asking it to our clients. We look objectively at who they are, who they want to be, and how we can help them achieve it. Sure there’s all kinds of client restrictions, approvals, rejections, etc., but by asking the right questions and looking at their businesses with a fresh perspective, we (usually) gain a solid design direction.

It’s Business. And It’s Personal
But when designing for ourselves, objectivity flies out the window. It is personal. Our website, logo, business card, etc. have to represent both who we are and what we sell. Where other businesses are one step removed from the process (i.e. a business card for a therapist), whatever we design is exactly what we are offering to our clients. Our product and branding is one and the same. So, of course, we want it to be the absolute best it can be because it literally is our bread and butter. Thus, there’s the added pressure that our designs have to, of course, be nothing short of fabulous.

How To Tame The Fire-Breathing Dragon of a Client Within
If I were my client, I would have most definitely fired myself in the process of redesigning my website. Rather than  three or four design options, I demanded 15 to 20 different versions. I was never satisfied. My objectives were unclear. And to top it off, I didn’t pay very well. But I did learn a lot. Here’s some tips to help make designing for yourself a little less torturous:

  1. Treat Yourself Like a Client.
    Take the process seriously. In other words, go through all the steps as if you were designing something for an actual client (i.e. fill out the creative brief in as much detail as possible, figure out your objectives—what you want to achieve—and do visual research to get a clear idea of how you want it to look). Many designers jump right in and start creating, then wonder why they are so lost.
  2. Take the Time, and Hurry up Too!
    We all know good design takes time so don’t beat yourself up for not nailing the solution right away. Allow yourself the time to really do it right. On the other hand, know when to let it go. I’ve seen renowned design firms with “coming soon” pages on their sites for over a year! Unless you have awesome word-of-mouth marketing, that could seriously turn-off prospects. If you’re a graphic designer, you really do need a good website sooner than later.
  3. Create Objectivity.
    I got so frustrated when redesigning my website that I had to put it aside for a couple months. To be honest, I did this primarily for my sanity. But it was actually extremely beneficial in creating objectivity. When I went back to the project after not seeing it for a little while, I had a better perspective on what worked, what didn’t, and what I wanted. So step away from it for a few days if you’re hitting a wall (but don’t fall in the pitfall explained in No. 2). I also recommend getting an outside opinion on your work, but it must be from someone who you trust, who will be supportive and honest, and is familiar with your style.
  4. Sheer Determination.
    As I said, I went through at least 15 to 20 different versions before I settled on the final design. If you hang in there, the solution will eventually come. If you quit, you’re guaranteed to never find a solution.
  5. Scrap It if It’s Not Working.
    I finally realized I was trying to design a website around a logo that didn’t reflect who I was. Once I scrapped the logo, a lot of pieces fell into place.
  6. Design First, Execute Later.
    Because I was trying to save money by programming the website myself, my design was initially limited to what I knew how to code. I finally let that go, designed the site I wanted and then signed up to take more programming classes. Later, of course, I contacted my friendly web programmer to help me figure out what I did wrong! But I primarily did it myself and (eventually) got the site I wanted.
  7. Drop the perfectionism.
    Great design is in the details. The details also can drive you nuts. Let go of the, “it has to be perfect” mantra. Make something you’re proud of and will be comfortable living with for a little while. Could my marketing materials be better? Sure. Everything can always be better. But I certainly like what I created for my company … at least for a few more months until I contemplate redesigning it again.

Check 30 Days to Creative Bliss for more daily doses of design inspiration.

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  1. Pingback: Design Writing: The Nightmare Client—YOU (or rather…me!) | Stephanie Orma