I used to be an annoying fancy-pants graphic designer. I thought design was arty and it was the most important thing ever. Everything needed to be a battle. Oh, how silly that sounds now! Here’s a list of things that I said I would never do and then ended up doing at some point in my six-year stint as owner of LimeRed Studio. I hope you learn a thing or two from my mistakes.
#1. Use gradients.
Some designers won’t use gradients. Really. I just read a post somewhere about this very topic. And it made me think about how annoying designers can be. Fancy designers like things flat and I have to admit: so do I. I like flat, MoMA-esque design. I like Marimekko and Crate and Barrel and musem books and plain, arty design. I even liked the Tropicana packaging design. But as you can see from that link: sometimes deisgners make stupid choices based on personal taste. Some people (clients, consumers) don’t like flat blocks of arty-farty color because it’s unfamiliar. A lot of users are used to buttons and navigation that have gradients. So there’s a fine line to walk here. There’s a big difference between designing for the design crowd (think museum) and designing for everyone else (who doesn’t care and just wants to find what they are looking for). And when a client asks for something to *pop* or to make it more *exciting*, sometimes a silly gradient does the trick. And if a gradient button gets more traffic than a flat button, then I’m all for gradients. Whatever works, people!
#2. Give design away.
I do free work all the time. I almost always get a tax credit. It’s not a bad thing to do, but I recommend to everyone who isn’t me to do this sparingly. Once you start doing anything pro-bono, it will surely eat up all of your spare time. People assign value to things that cost money. It’s just how our culture works. If you get something for free, there’s a good chance that you will treat it with a little less respect and diligence than if you had to pay for it. It’s why we join gyms. Think about it. Discounts are even worse than giving things away. I would much rather do a design project for free than discount it any day. And don’t even get me started on trades. No trade is an even trade. Ever.
#3. Not use a contract.
This is just stupid. I got burned so badly in the early days of LimeRed that I learned quickly: always always always get a contract for everything. Especially if a potential client is skittish about signing the contract or sends it back and forth a thousand times. Actually, if a client does this, fire them immediately. In my experience, people who can’t play fair end up cheating in the long run anyway. I can’t tell you how serious I am about this one.
#4. Design on spec.
I just did this today! I designed a header concept for a potential client before I even had a signed contract. Ridiculous. But you know, I had a great idea. And it looked great. And I just had to do it. Sue me. I won’t make a habit out of this. And doing work on spec is disastrous unless you are a big agency and can afford the time. Even then, though eek. Do you know what “on spec” means? It’s when someone says: Can you design a few concepts so we can compare you to a few other people and then make a decision on whether or not to hire you? It’s horrible because if you win the job, you’ve already done a bunch of work without getting the whole picture and you’re definitely in store for tons of rounds and changes. Or, you don’t win the job and you’re out all that upfront research and concepting which is usually the bulk of the work. And there’s no way to tell if your concept ends up getting used in in the future. It’s a no-win. Unless you don’t care. Here’s some great information from the AIGA: http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/position-spec-work
#5. Work for The Man.
I work for The Man sometimes. Big companies and big agencies contract me all the time. Most of this work is proprietary and I’m not allowed to post it here or tell anyone that I’ve done it. So I’m not officially telling you anything. The Man has big budgets, pays well, and I end up learning a lot which I then use for my small business and nonprofit work. It makes me feel like Robin Hood.
Is that so wrong?