No offense to the hard working folks peddling food and drinks at the game, but I have really grown to despise the word “vendor”. Especially as it is sometimes applied in our business. Not only does it sound (and feel) condescending, but it reveals an underlying mentality from the speaker of ignorance to what a designer is and does. If you hear that word coming from the mouth of one of your clients, run–don’t walk–away as fast as possible.
A healthy client/designer relationship is built on trust and mutual respect of each others skill set. A good designer brings fresh, creative thinking and unfiltered perspective to a client’s business. He or she can help them see new avenues for growth. Educate them about the messages and images that will resonate with the needs and desires of their audience. Work with marketing, accounting and management teams to help craft an overall branding strategy that communicates core values and propels a brand forward in ways never before imagined. A good designer is more like a partner than a vendor.
Having run a small design firm for almost 30 years, I know first-hand how difficult it is to say no. I struggle with it to this day. But even though it might seem counter-intuitive to refuse work, saying yes to folks who treat you like a vendor just leads to frustration and ultimately, bad design work. So the next time a potential (or existing) client calls you a “vendor”, kindly direct them where the real vendors do their work–the nearest ballpark.
Ok, so I’m an old guy who has been in this business forever (maybe too long some would say). So take what I say with that in mind. And stop me if you have heard all of this before.
When I started in the design and advertising business, as an art director or designer you could not even get in the business if you could not draw. Everything was done by hand and the element of “craft” and principals learned in design education were essential to success. With the evolution of technology there are now a whole generation of folks (read between the lines: clients) who feel like they can do what designers do. After all, they have all the tools, right? Yeah. Right. Just like if you handed me a pipe wrench and pointed me toward the toilet that needs fixing. At the end of the day there is probably going to be a lot of crap to clean up. Having the tools is different from knowing the tools and, more importantly, knowing how to use the tools and the principals behind them. There are templates and formats and so many resources to “plug in” to these days, but without an understanding of why things are where they are, why they are certain colors, why the size relationships are what they are–and on and on–using these resources does not make for good, effective design. Like having a pipe wrench in my hand doesn’t make me a plumber (just ask my wife). It takes education, experience and sometimes just “having an eye” for what works and what does not. Yes, you can design your own web site, newsletter or brochure. But things like font choice, paper stock, brand integrity, etc. are design decisions best made by a real designer. Is the type too close to the edge? Should the photo be cropped differently to be more effective? Should an infographic be used instead? There are a lot of decisions a ready-made template cannot make for you. Do you really think it’s ok to just default to whatever the template dictates? Isn’t your business or organization unique? Don’t you want folks to know what separates you from your competitors or other similar organizations? Here’s a thought: instead of downloading a template, hire a real designer. And now excuse me while I call the plumber.
A while back I did something I should have done a long time before. My wife and I make it a habit to tell each other “I love you” many times a day. Every once in a while she would come back with “why do you love me?”. And I would either say “just because” or stumble for some brilliant or romantic response, usually without much success. I’m a designer, after all, not a writer. So on the occasion of our 25th anniversary, I made a giant poster/card for her listing the top 25 reasons why I loved her. In retrospect, one of my better presents. In honor of that, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Disciple Design, here are the 25 reasons I love design:
1. It beats working for a living
2. I get to learn about all kinds of new cool stuff before anybody else
3. I get to meet famous people like athletes and celebrities and act cool about it
4. I get to draw all day and somebody (usually) pays me for it
5. Doing work for non-profits keeps my perspective in perspective
6. How cool is it to see a logo you designed on SportsCenter?
7. How cool is it to see a logo you designed on license plates all over the city?
8. How cool is it to see a name and logo you dreamed up on backpacks all over the world?
9. I was Apple before Apple was cool
10. No ties
11. Or dress pants
12. Or dress shirts (unless I want to)
13. Did I mention flip flops?
14. Working with great photographers & videographers on location all over the world
15. Almost every day is something new and different and challenging
16. It keeps me young and hip (at least I like to think so)
17. I’m constantly learning new things from clients I work with
18. It makes me keep up with the latest technology (you know, old dog, new tricks…)
19. In what other job does doing something like going looking for cool props constitute work?
20. Working with a really great writer who “gets it”
21. Working with a really great client who “gets it”
22. The rush I get when the “big idea” hits you
23. The struggle to get that “big idea”
24. Breaking rules is part of the job description
25. My parents still don’t understand what I do for a living