Alright, let’s cut to the chase.
Be an artist
Specifically, be like Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. To the uninitiated, Michelangelo was a Renaissance sculptor who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City. Throughout much of history, the church has been a patron of many artistic works, engaging artists to paint or sculpt scenes from biblical stories. In this case, Michelangelo was like the designer who was commissioned by Pope Julius II, the client, to paint a masterpiece. So, what can we learn from Michelangelo? A few things.
Firstly, he did the work according to what was requested of the client. The pope wanted frescoes of biblical figures? Sure, here’s 300 figures to fill up 5,000 square feet of ceiling. He delivered on what was commissioned. Secondly, he injected his flair, creativity and ambition into the commissioned work. The pope wanted something simple, but Michelangelo convinced him to do something much grander. Thirdly, he did his share of research and reading on the various stories that he was about to depict from the Bible. He apparently read and re-read the Old Testament while painting the ceiling, so that what he produced would have been inspired by the Bible, and not what was trending at the time.
“Be an artist” here does not mean to allow your creative ideals to come in the way of creating a piece of work that the client would be happy with. I think we fancy to see our works as works of art because of the effort and hours we put into creating a layout. However, at the end of the day, we are commissioned by our clients to do something for them. They need to be happy with it, even if it means sacrificing our creative ideals. Unless, of course, you are able to convince the client at the outset that you have a better idea, which brings us to the second point.
Argue with the client
Specifically, have a discussion with them about their requirements. This will go a long way to help them think through their brief as well as for you to wrap your head around the brief. Don’t be afraid to question assumptions and vague requirements, even if it leads to an actual argument, as long as you remain level headed and professional. I truly believe that a healthy argument is better than beating around the bush of assumptions.
Often, someone would have come to you with a set of requirements put together quickly with bare minimum information. What tends to happen is that you’ll put in the hours to design something only to have to change much of it because of something that wasn’t in the original brief. It’s frustrating. So, discuss with them at the beginning; argue if you have to. Get to the bottom of the why, what and how before you even begin designing. Sometimes, the discussion might prompt the client to remember things which they had left out unintentionally and this will save you and the client time (which they will be thankful for).
Another reason to argue with the client is when you know there is a better way to do something that was specified in the brief. Maybe you’ve done something like this before in the past, or maybe you saw something somewhere. Whatever it is, if you think you have a better idea, spill it, pronto. Let it out right at the beginning when you are discussing the brief, not when you are designing. If the client likes your idea, fantastic. If she doesn’t, oh well, you tried. Kudos to you for voicing out. Speaking out at the beginning trumps bitching to your girlfriends about how the client’s idea is so dumb.
Specifically, ignore feedback from people irrelevant to the project. At the end of the day, it’s up to the client or stakeholders to decide what they like, and they might not have the same taste as your boyfriend or graphic designer colleague.
Often, when other people see your work, it’s hard for them to not pass comment on what they like or don’t like. Everybody have an opinion, that’s normal. But you don’t have to take all of them into consideration. Otherwise, you might end up with a Frankenstein monster of a design.
On the other hand, some of us have the habit of going around asking for feedback on our work because we think the more feedback we get the better. I mean, two heads are better than one right? Why not five! Well, all heads are not made equal. Especially in the case of visual aesthetics, everybody has a different take on what is nice and not. Ask seven random people for feedback and you will get seven random feedback (unless you only ask your friends, in which they might just tell you they like your work and give you a pat on the back).
So what do you do then? Get feedback from the people who matter to the project: the client, the lead designer, and other designers who are worth their salt. Sure, unrelated colleagues might still offer you unsolicited feedback, but you can probably safely ignore those.
So that’s my take on how to graphic design. What are your thoughts on the points above? Feel free to agree or disagree and let me know in the responses below.
Creative Lead by day, writer by night, husband and dad throughout. I write about things that interest me and lessons I’ve learnt. My views are my own. Check out other things I’ve written.