Wisdom Nuggets: What Makes Work Great?

Vintage vector background with sailing vessel.

So, what makes work great? We designers all aspire to do amazing, portfolio-worthy work. However, sometimes something, or worse someone, takes the wind out of our sails.

When I first began cutting my design teeth, I was ever-the-optimist. In fact, I was so prolific and so inexpensive, every single client appeared to love what I gave them. I was still a kid and they seemed to have more reasonable expectations of me than I did of myself. Of course they loved it, it was practically free! As time went on, I thought I needed to get a real job. You know, where you have a boss…who has a boss…who probably also has a boss?

It turned out my portfolio wasn’t good enough to get hired at the best agency in town, but it was good enough to get hired at the second best. That, right there, began to take the wind out of my sails. The win of getting that clutch job prior to graduation felt huge. However, being turned down for the one I really wanted was a defeat. It was really humbling. Clearly, I was too confident. I had even had the chutzpah to send a cover letter, resume and custom portfolio to Pentagram. It turns out, they didn’t hire kids who were still in art school either.

For the next twenty years or so, I would work for a boss, who had a boss. Eventually, I would have a boss who seemingly didn’t have a boss. I then learned that even when you own the company, you still have a boss. It’s the client.

What’s my point? It wasn’t until I was 25 or so that I realized my work wasn’t great. It was just really good. I won a lot of local, regional, national and even some international awards. But, the best work – the work I am most proud of – that’s the work that comes from collaboration.

My favorite projects seem to all share this singular common bond: they begin with a fruitful conversation with the client. Then, we document the whole thing. Sort of like a creative brief. Then, my fellow designers and I craft a visual language. We share that with the client. They chime in. We might even have a working session, where we play together. I bring it back to the art department, where we finesse it. Et voila!

The best clients are the ones you get to do that with. While it’s all well and good to have a client blow wind up your skirt, and gush over how great you are. It’s even better when they get invested.

So, the next time someone tells you they don’t love it, let that be the wind in your sails. Get them involved! Engage the critique. This is an opportunity for your design to go from good to great!


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