Written by Stephanie Malone at Stephanie Malone Designs
“Design is easy. All you do is stare at the screen until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Marty Neumeier
I design for a living. I get paid to be creative. I realize how incredible and fortunate that sounds…especially if you’re among the 70% of Americans who toil tirelessly each day at a thankless, soul-sucking job you despise. I’m constantly aware of how blessed I am to do work I love, knowing all too well how rare that truly is and how few people get to both know and live their purpose. There is nothing on earth I’d rather be doing and no other job I can imagine bringing me the same level of personal and professional satisfaction. But, at the risk of sounding like a stereotypical hyper-sensitive creative type, it’s also an emotional battlefield job wrought with land mines and epic levels of frustration.
It’s rough to do a job that is constantly subjected to the unfounded bias and personal whims of so many. We’re in an industry that gets dumped on constantly, with our own members regularly contributing to the erosion of our field’s credibility and perceived value. With so many designers offering up their valuable skills and expertise at discount drugstore prices and giving away the goods on unscrupulous design contest sites that systematically degrade and devalue our profession, it’s no wonder designers are faced with a very real image crisis. But our jobs are harder than you think, we are more educated and business savvy than you give us credit for, and we ‘bleed’ for our art in ways so few understand.
1. We went to school for this. Because anyone with an outdated copy of Photoshop installed on their laptop can call themselves a designer, our craft is not always given the respect and appreciation it deserves. Someone asked me last week, “Do you guys ACTUALLY go to school for this stuff?” There’s a perception that design is just about using our natural talents to making things look pretty. But we are, in fact, so much more than that. Our industry technically and creatively evolves faster than just about any other. To stay on top of our craft, we are constantly learning new software, studying current treads, voraciously reading industry literature and blogs, expanding our portfolio, and putting our skills to the test. If we’re standing still, we’re falling behind.
There’s as much science as there is art to what we do. We are skilled craftsman, technically proficient experts, marketing-savvy gurus, and user-experience authorities. We’re not just artists, we’re creative problem solvers and skilled, strategic thinkers.
2. Trust us, we know what we’re doing. Design is an odd profession in which its most skilled practitioners are regularly scrutinized and challenged by those with no specific design skills or background. A patient would never tell the doctor how to fix their broken bone. A customer doesn’t tell a a mechanic how to repair their car. But a business owner or client has no problem telling a designer what font to use, which colors would work best, whether or not a photo works, or how much white space is appropriate. Graphic designers are well versed in visual problem solving. We are trained to be better at it than you—no matter how much you brag about having “a good eye.” We understand how design elements work together to create cohesion and balance. You may be in the target demographic we’re trying to reach with our design, but that doesn’t mean you understand the science of how and why an audience responds (or fails to respond) to a given design.
Frustrated by insane client criticism, Irish graphic designers Mark Shanley and Paddy Treacy decided to turn their “favorite worst feedback” into posters. The result is sweet cathartic release for fellow designers. For the rest of you, it’s a brilliant insight into how your counter-productive critiques and ridiculous requests make us feel.
3. We care about how design works. Good designers are just as concerned with creating an effective design as an attractive one. We understand that unlike art, design has to accomplish a goal. It has to communicate, persuade, sell, and inspire. It has to do a job…not just stand there and look pretty. We are as passionate and dedicated about driving real results as you are. We take just as much pride (more even) in driving consumers to action, increasing ROI, and strengthening your brand loyalty as we do in winning awards and seeing our work featured in prestigious industry publications. The accolades are nice, but we are driven by the chance to find effective solutions to your business problems—not by the need to congratulate ourselves for being super cute and clever.
4. It’s not all fun and games. As much as I love my work, design is not the nonstop, care-free party my non-designer friends seem to think it is. Design is stressful. We regularly manage strict and often near impossible deadlines. Unlike most other professionals, we are always on the job. We never stop being creatives. We never stop looking at the world with a design-mind. Everywhere we go and everything we do, we are constantly mining our environment for ideas and inspiration. We often have to wear multiple hats, play many roles, and face many unique daily challenges. We are consistently called upon to multi-task and adeptly juggle the left and right sides of our brain. The business of design (client meetings, emails, project management, research, creative reviews, billing) consumes as much time—often more—as the actual process of design itself.
We struggle to manage expectations. Not only are we natural born perfectionists who expect impossible greatness at all times from ourselves, but we answer to clients who always evaluating and critiquing our effectiveness. We never stop struggling to get clients to understand and appreciate our work; to realize that winning concepts cannot be immediately conjured out of thin air. While criticism flows freely, there’s not a lot of true praise and recognition in our work. We are the unsung heroes, the silent partners toiling in the shadows while the ‘suits’ get the glory.
One of my favorite visual depictions of what it really means to be a professional designer comes from The Design Bureau of Amerika. Their brilliant infographic depicting the “day in the life of a graphic designer” is a spot on representation of the daily and universal struggles of those in the design trenches. As the author states, “There are endless meetings, client revisions, committee-mandated direction, project managers who are frustrated art directors, long hours and often little recognition.” That just about perfectly sums it up.
5. It’s really hard work making things look this easy. As a designer and design manager, I often spend copious amounts of time trying to explain to the corporate types why we can’t just “throw something together” or “whip something up really quickly.” We’re not baking cookies here. It’s difficult to explain why it takes so long to design something so apparently simple. The truth is, things that look simple rarely are. And it takes a lot of time and skill to create design that looks effortless.
One of the questions my team gets asked the most often is, “Why does this take so long?” You’ll often hear us repeat our department mantra: Good Design Takes Time. Good design incorporates all of the assets that are important to the client, and presents them in a way that favorably showcases them to consumers. Bad design can be fast because it is created without much thought, and it is the research and thought behind our decisions that makes a project successful. All good solutions require an investment in time, effort, and energy; design is not any different.
To illustrate this fact, the brilliant design firm DKNG Studios created a poster for the The Black Keys show in Vancouver and posted this incredible time-lapse video of the design process.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Above all else, what designers really want is respect. It’s important to understand the value that we bring to the table. Combined with well-defined business objectives, good graphic design provides solutions to your business needs. It extends your brand, creates consumer trust and brand loyalty, enhances your service through clear communication, and makes the user experience for your product or service exponentially more valuable. Trust your designer, and they will help take your business to new heights. Love your designer, and I promise your designer will love you back.