Wednesday, January 11, 2012
There's another rule in professional design. It's different from the rules I discussed last time, because it's not technical in nature.
Let me state right up front that there are exceptions to this rule — primarily that you should never do work for anything or anyone you find morally objectionable. Not that I expect there will ever be Nuremberg-style Trials for designers, but if there ever are, the excuse that you were just following orders shouldn't hold up there any more than it did in 1945 & '46. Wait … did I just Godwin's Law this article into pointlessness? Oh dear …
Anyway, here it is:
RULE: The customer has to like it.
It's important to remember: Art Is Subjective. There is room for divergence of opinion regarding what is good and what is bad. You can slave away on a layout, pulling out all the creative stops, riding one of those waves of genius that seem to hit all humans from time to time, only to have your labors rejected by your customer*.
Make no mistake: this will happen to you.
If you want to be an independent artist, doing what pleases you, then do that. If you're a professional by day and use your own time for creative outlet, that's great, too. However when there is someone else to whom you are responsible, their word is final — especially if you want to keep working with them.
If you produce great work but it doesn't fit with the customer's vision for the project, it will never be seen, and you'll likely never get paid for it. Commercial art is still art, but it's not necessarily yours. Sometimes you're the creative visionary, but sometimes you're just someone else's tool for achieving their goals. Always remember which place you're in on a given project.
It's important to remember: doing what your customer wants does not make you a "Sell-Out" or illegitimate as an artist. If you have a personal vision for your art, pursue that. If you just want to make commercial art, do that. There's no rule that says you can't do both, but it's going to be a rare situation where you can do both on the same project. Most projects will be one or the other.
Learn to let go.
This is a lesson that was difficult for me. In the past, I've had arguments with people over the dumbest things: The Oxford Comma, for example. I won't say which side I was on, because that's irrelevant. The point is, the company for which I was working had a style guide which stated one thing and I wanted another. Eventually the customer won out (of course) and I only succeeded in making an ass of myself. And don't even get me started on hyphenation in the word "e-mail" or capital letters in URLs!
The point is, the customer will have a way she wants it done, and it's their way or the highway. If you pitch a fit over every silly disagreement (most of which, let's face it, don't really even matter in the grand scheme of things), you will find yourself hard up for work very quickly, because one you get that reputation, very few people will want to work with you.
So just learn to let it go, and get on with your work.
*I'm using the term "customer" here, but what I really mean is any person for whom you are working or to whom you are responsible, whether it be an actual client, your boss, a project lead, the Creative Director or the CEO of the company in which you work.