The Uninspired Designer

I just got back from a graphic design conference. The conference was titled, “Revival.” That is exactly how I feel after four days of rousing talks, spirited roundtable discussions, and a lack of immediate client demands: refreshed, renewed, revived.

While at the conference, a client inadvertently sent me a long email thread in which she said I was “uninspired.” While those words describing me as a passionless graphic designer stung, it was totally true. I had been “phoning it in” with some of my work. The client is partially responsible: one-liner emails asking for something asap with little or no description of the project, background or direction. But I have to take responsibility for not asking more questions and simply creating Reactive instead of Proactive design. The email was in response to a save the date they had asked me to design. The specific design directive was the following:

“I need something else urgently from you that we can email to our clients. We are hosting a dinner on December 4th and need to send an e-save the date ASAP. Can you please make something simple and elegant for us? Preferably using metallics, (gold and silver) and a delicate frame?”

Apart from the fundamental problem that metallics cannot be reproduced on screen, this is a thin thread of information to work with. Hoping for more direction if I showed the client something to react to, I sent this (decidedly uninspired) layout to the client:

Save the Date

This design is what garnered the “uninspired” comment (that I deserved). What I realized is that I should have asked more initial Why questions in the beginning instead of hoping that, if I sent them something boring and lame, they would give me more information to work with. Instead, they just thought I was lame.

Here is the final outcome:

Save the Date

It’s really nice to look at something I designed an think, I like that. My goal moving forward is to create proactive, thoughtful, successful work. And to ask questions that get me to an inspiring outcome (even if I have to nag the client for information). I’m a designer, after all, not a magician.

My ten conference take-aways:

1. Don’t let fear hold you back.
2. Be proactive.
3. Re-evaluate; look with fresh eyes.
4. Ask more Why questions in addition to How questions.
5. Be humble.
6. Give credit to others (where credit it due).
7. Take more time to get it right / charge more money.
8. Think Glamour! Does the viewer see their future ideal in your work?
9. Write more.
10. Make stuff that is unrelated to paying work.

While I might not achieve all of these goals, I am inspired to try.

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