From Nat's Desk: Art vs. Work

At your service!

At your service!

So you’re a designer, a creator, a maker, a visionary—an artist, right? Kind of, but not really. At the risk of sounding like that friend you go to for advice because you know they will give you the brutally honest truth, (even though you always hope that THIS time, maybe this ONE TIME, they will just tell you what you want to hear) you, my friend, are a service.

Over the course my life as a designer, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that no matter what I think about my “art,” I am not an artist.

Allow me to elaborate.

Time and time again, clients reach out to us because they have fired their marketing or branding studio. These other guys just “did not see our vision,” the client says. This tells me one of two things: 1. We should not work with these clients, because they don’t have a strong sense of their own vision when it is presented back to them; or 2.  The designers they were working with consider themselves artists who would not let go of their vision to see the paycheck in front of them. The paycheck that keeps the roof over their heads, the food in their bellies, and the lights on late into the night when they’re on their third bottle of vino complaining to their friends about their clients’ lack of artistic sensibilities.

Clients ask for advice on visuals all the time. They would like their visual identity to tell a story about their brand, or their brochure to explain their products, or their website to educate their readers. The key word is their. On many occasions I can sit down with a client, learn about their business, and immediately see exactly what I would do visually for their business. I have HUGE ideas, BRILLIANT ideas (or at least I think so), and sometimes—okay, often—EXPENSIVE ideas. However, three things come between me and all of MY ideas:

  1. It is not my business.
  2. It’s not my money to spend (this one is always the burst in the bubble).
  3. It’s not my story to tell.

It’s my job to successfully tell my client’s story, within the constraints of their (hopefully realistic) budget. I can give my advice and my professional opinion, and if they bite, great! It’s the start of a beautiful project relationship. If they don’t want to follow what I propose, that’s fine too. The relationship will still (hopefully) be smooth and produce everything the client wants. It might not be what excites me, but I’m paid to get a job done so that’s what I’m gonna do.

Of course, this is not to say that we as designers should not do all of this as beautifully as possible! We absolutely should! The simplest definition of design is: to plan and make decisions about (something that is being built or created). Think of yourself as a problem solver who is also trying to create something eye catching and appealing, something that reads well, has balance and consistency, tells a story, and can live a life of its own. It’s not as tall an order as you might think.

Being a designer is much more than just making something look good, and it’s much more than just making something look good based on what you think looks good. It’s about solving the problems within the client’s project, telling the client’s story, and, at the end of the day, making your client successful and happy through your design.

Much like art, you are making people happy; the difference here is that your printed marketing collateral doesn’t get framed and hung on a wall in a large gallery where folks pay 25 dollars to walk around quietly for several hours and escape from their own life to dream about what life would be like in your brochure. Nope, you’re getting paid by someone who wants you to capture their needs beautifully.

For the record, I do create art. It’s still my passion, whether I’m painting on the weekend or printing on my press. That is my art. Designing for my clients is my job, and I am here to provide a service. 

Stephanie SpenceComment