Before we get into it: I've updated my collection of my favorite Type Foundries which I follow closely to discover new typefaces. If you love typography, I'm sure you appreciate this collection.
If I will ever go bankrupt, you can be sure it's because I spent all my money on typefaces. But coming back to this weeks email, I like to do something slightly different today. This weekly email list has become one of my favorite ways to speak directly with you. It's easily my favorite medium to share ideas, thoughts and anything else that is on my mind.
Besides, I just love the connection we have on here, without distraction, just you and me. Many of my articles and weekly emails are often driven & inspired by questions that have been asked by readers like yourself. But since there are so many, I wanted to devote this article to some more of these questions, hoping you find value in some of them.
Of course I've only picked a few of them, but I will try to answer more of these and you can always submit yours here. (it's anonymous, unless you decide to share your name)
QUESTION BY Rish
"How to take credits? I work as a freelance programmer, and even though clients pay well (sometimes), I never own the end result. I can't just come out and say: "look there, peeps, I did this" without asking for permission from dozens of people who may be supportive, but may also be hard-to-reach assholes who always veto every stuff they don't care about.
I'd like you to tell a bit more about how to start relationship with a new client and how to explicitly state that, sooner or later, I'd like to refer to my work without any obstacles. I have a deep feeling that it involves keeping friendly relationships with clients from the past, which eventually drives me into thinking that I either work with wrong clients (with only a handful of them do I keep positive connection), or do something wrong on a higher level."
ANSWER BY TOBIAS
This is a fantastic question and I'm planning to write a more extensive article about this some day. But here is the short version: I've struggled with this for a while and these things are especially difficult if you're in the beginning of your career. There are a couple ways to go about this, but the following helped me the most:
1. I make it part of my contract. From the very beginning, I put something in my contract that allows me to showcase the work in my portfolio. This is usually easier with direct clients and a bit harder when freelancing for agencies, but even there it should be possible. Besides adding it to my contract, I also make it a talking point early on. And it's fairly easy to make it a talking point without sounding like an asshole either.
I simply ask the client and tell them how important it is for me, and my business, that I'm able to showcase the work that I'm doing. Most people are very understanding if you make it a requirement, but with reasonable explanation. In some cases the work you do might be under NDA or can't be shown in public yet, and in that case you either can't do anything about it, or you simply negotiate a "release" date that would allow you to show your work at a later point.
But I usually learned that being honest and open up front solves the issue pretty quickly.
2. Second way is even more simple: You just show your work. Especially when I started out, I knew that many clients or agencies I worked with would deny me from showing my work, often for self serving reasons. In most cases I knew that if I ask them if I can show it, they would say no, mostly because it's an easy answer. So I showed it anyway and followed the motto: "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than asking for permission".
In the majority of the cases no one cared anyways, but in some of them I was in trouble. But then again, I just asked for forgiveness, removed it from my portfolio and the situation was done. Obviously this doesn't work for all projects, but most. I wouldn't do it with projects where I know I worked under NDA or on something that is just sensitive information.
But if the project you worked on itself has been public entirely, there is no reason for you to not show it. But like I said, I only did this early on in my career. After that I've always made it part of my contract and told people from the very beginning that I like to show it in my portfolio, and if they disagree with it, I might charge more money because of it or decline the project.
PS: When showing work, always be transparent what you did. Add all the credits you possibly can if you worked with other people on it. Be fair to everyone, and you can expect fairness.
QUESTION BY Patrick
How to learn design. I'm a software developer working on side projects all the time, but I always stop working on them when it is time to build the UI, I really suck at it and I'd like to get better, but I have no clue on how to start. I know how to use sketch and photoshop, but obviously that's not enough, I even tried to copy some design but I can't get to make something that I like 🙂
ANSWER BY Tobias
Such a good but also hard question. To be honest Patrick, you're already on the right path. Keep copying and copying until you become better and better. And the thing about not liking what you made, well, that's pretty normal. I dislike pretty much 90% of the work I do. And it usually takes me ages to do something that I like.
I know this sounds like some boring answer or advice here, but I strongly believe that the more you push out and produce, the better you become automatically. Same with if I'd ask you how I can become a good software developer, you would probably tell me to just start coding, code some more and just keep doing it.
I personally love this quote by Ira Glass because it kind of speaks to your point about not liking what you design.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
QUESTION BY Pedro
Hi Tobias! Considering the sentence: "Every designer has a different solution for the same problem". I mean, how or when do you/we know if some project has really solved a problem or even improved a solution previously applied to that business?
For example, people "hated" the new instagram logo, or taco bell, or whatever, but they will get used to it, they HAVE to get used to it, humans are able to get used to a lot of things and after some time they just don't care or don't hate it anymore. All in all, design is not like math, there's no wrong or right, there's no better or worse, there's only different (I think). For example, let's say Graphéine, Sagmeister & Walsh and You are competing on the rebranding of some business. I mean, considering the portfolio of all 3, the client and everyone else are assuming all 3 solutions will work or fit for that business, right?
By that, what I want to say is, you will never know which one would be more successful in public, because it's design and we are dealing with people, design triggers emotion and people feel and act differently about visual communication. Of course, people can like more one design to another (for the same problem), but that doesn't mean it will work better than the other. The problem is, people (not designers) only seem to judge a design by it's aesthetic. If it's prettier, it's "better". But I think it goes beyond that (of course). Don't know how to finish this. Just want it to get out of my head give my opinion.
ANSWER BY Tobias
Boom! I know, it's not really a question here but I wanted to share this statement by Pedro and add a few words to it. Generally I think you're right Pedro. But of course, this highly depends on the specific design job at hands.
In your first paragraph you mentioned how we can really know if a design has improved something or solved a specific problem. Generally I think this is fairly easy, even though it might not be a common thing around designers. Before you start any project, you can or even should define metrics.
And then based on these metrics, we design a solution in order to improve these metrics. Metrics in this case can be anything, and it depends on what we're working on. If we're working on a web shop, our metrics might be improving the conversation rate so more people can easier buy stuff.
If we're working on something else, metrics might be engagement, or other kinds of specific activity. If we're working on a branding or a new logo, we can measure it's effect through dozens of other metrics. One of them could be brand awareness and another one could be how well a company can make use of their new identity system internally.
That's why rebranding a 10 people company and rebranding a 10.000 people company are two very different challenges with completely different needs & requirements. In reality, defining these metrics is the most important first step, right after measuring and analyzing them. And yes, after we've defined these metrics, every designer could come up with a different solution, and theoretically each of those solutions could perform equally well. That's the beauty and also the dilemma of design or pretty much any creative work.
PS: Yes, some people judge a logo based on it's aesthetic. But they rarely judge a brand based on it's logo. And it's the brand that counts.
Example: If you would have seen the original Nike logo the day it was made, you would've probably thought it's a joke. And even the CEO back then didn't even like it and thought it was just "okay".
The logo wasn't the reason Nike became successful. But one thing is for sure, Nike made the logo successful. And yes, the logo was good enough to hold the power of it's brand and serve as it's vessel.