Know Your Worth as a Designer
A resoundingly popular sentiment is that we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to others because we are all unique. On the whole, that’s great advice. But as a designer it’s important to know your worth and where your skills stand in comparison to other designers. Not only does it allow you to develop confidence when dealing with challenging clients, but it can also give you an idea of how much to charge for your design services and keep you hungry to improve.
Let’s not pretend that we don’t judge other designers’ work. Whether it’s a logo redesign by a major credit card company (I think we all know what I’m referring to), or other students’ pieces in a graphic design course we might be taking, no one escapes. But here’s the thing – in the design world, judging other’s work can actually be a good thing! It lets designers analyze the level of their own skills, how much they have honed their craft, and occasionally gives them a swift kick in the pants.
Let’s also be reasonable and rational, though. When I say judging other’s work is a good thing, I’m not talking about publicly bashing or glorifying someone’s work. I’m talking about having an internal dialogue or a private discussion with fellow designers and hopefully learning a thing or two. Now that’s out of the way…
Seeing how your work measures up to other designers’ can give you a good dose of reality. Reality is the key word here, friends. Baseless confidence, or even lack of confidence, is not only useless but can even be detrimental, which is why it is helpful to develop self-awareness of your skills by comparing your work to others’.
Knowing your worth as a designer tends to automatically lead to developing the confidence to deal with clients who are less than easy to work with. You will know when to politely, but firmly, stand your ground on design choices, payment, and other waters that can be hard to navigate. And you will (hopefully!) know when to yield to wiser counsel and learn from them.
Most professional designers have come across at least one prospective client who claims they can get someone else to do the same job for $X less. Johnny Miller, founder and director at Outlines Design, aptly advises designers to, “Stick to your guns and charge what you know you’re worth, not what somebody else thinks your worth who doesn’t know a pixel from a pickle” (http://outlinesdesign.com/web-graphic-designers-know-your-worth/).
It is so easy for designers, especially freelancers, to take on projects that pay far below what their work deserves because they are either going through a slow period, because they don’t want to turn away a potential client, or because they are trying to build up their portfolio. I get it. And, you know what? In the very early stages of their careers, most designers have to pay their dues to build up both a client base and body of work.
However, there comes a time when designers are ready to move up to the next tier and the transition period can be hard. This is when it is time to learn how to take a step back and see whether you really need to sign on to a new project with a small budget or whether you should spend time working on honing your skills and exploring new avenues that lead to projects with budgets that better represent your expertise.
MAKE YOUR SKILLS WORTH MORE
The way in which designers price their services has an impact on the entire design industry. As author Addison Duvall points out, one of the main reasons why clients are resistant to paying for good design is because, “Pricing has a lot to do with how much people value something. The more designers are able to charge, the more seriously they will be taken by their clients.” That being said, in order to be taken seriously, designers must possess the skills to back up their rates.
Study design pieces that are so good they make your heart skip a beat or even jealous that you didn’t come up with the idea yourself. Try and pin-point what elevates the design and makes it so appealing. Maybe it’s the slight background gradient and angled drop shadow, or maybe it’s the paper texture that’s used.
Maybe it’s the way simple design elements are used to create a pattern and movement.
Or maybe it’s simply the way the design is presented.
Whatever it is, find it. Absorb it. Apply it.
Find websites that provide design inspiration, listen to podcasts that might give you new ideas on how to deal with clients, pitch your designs, or grow your business, and expose yourself to fields you don’t deal with every day. Maybe go through a couple of tutorials, play around with the latest design platform flavor of the week, or read through articles that pique your interest. Build an armory and, piece by piece, stock it full of the best weapons that will make your work valuable and sought after.
Exercise THE BAD
What about the designs that make you cringe and nearly blind you? My grandmother, who was a painter, always said that artists should only surround themselves with quality art. Although this is good advice that I should probably follow as a designer, it’s not so easy because design is everywhere. And most of it isn’t anything to write home about. So, I face the onslaught head-on. I might peek at the carnage through my fingers, but I at least try to figure out what causes the revulsion. This usually leads to mentally redesigning the horror, thinking about what font choices would be better and how, if I was their designer, I would tactfully go about convincing the company that their color scheme is more appropriate for Santa’s workshop than for a skin care line. All in all, a nice little design exercise.
The Take Away
The design industry is huge and it’s easy to get distracted from knowing your own worth as a designer. Developing a realistic eye for the quality of your work is invaluable. Website designer and developer Rafal Tomal puts it very nicely: “Treat your ability to identify good design like a muscle…, you need to train it to make it stronger and better.” Figure out how your skills measure up to other designers’ by exposing yourself to their work and being honest with yourself about areas where you could improve as well as where you excel.
Good designers are, hopefully, always evolving and acknowledging that they actually do have far more skills than they realized. Or, better yet, finding out that they aren’t as awesome as they thought they were and consequently develop a rabid drive to improve.
Most importantly, keep your sights set on why all this is so important. One of my favorite design quotes is by Massimo Vignelli:
The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design.
So, fellow designers, stock your design armory well and keep an accurate inventory of what it holds because you’ll need it more than you might think.