I’m not in love with my graphic design work. This isn’t the cry of someone searching for compliments. It’s a mindset I had to establish to be a professional graphic designer. There was a time when I coveted all my creations, but that was beaten out of me years ago. As a graphic designer it is our job to provide solutions to problems. As Mike Monteiro would say, it’s a skilled profession, similar to a plumber. For example, say a plumber just finished a job for you. She worked her butt off to design a wonderfully intricate network of PEX tubing that, when looked at the right way, looks like The Fonz. Does it allow for fecal matter to get from the toilet to the sewers? Nope. However it looks really cool. See the problem? It doesn’t matter if the layout I’ve been working on pays homage to every single design principle in the book. If it’s failing to satisfy the goals of the project and the needs of the client, then it sucks and I need to fix it. See? No room for love.
Back in design school there was a feared professor that was talked about with such reverence. Just the mention of her name would make first year students shake in their flip flops. Why? She had built a reputation of being an incredibly tough critic. Her classes would start with a review, where everyone would print out their progressed designs and pin them to the classroom wall. Then she would survey the work. If she didn’t like what you presented, especially if it was apparent that little to no effort was put in, she would break out the red marker. The pen would hit the paper with the finesse and flair of a calligraphy writer. She’d scrawl what we called the “stink face” right in the middle of your print, which was an X’d out frowny face with the tongue sticking out. Seeing it on your print felt like a punch to the privates. In one extreme case, she even ripped it up the right in front of the designer’s face. This wasn’t meant to bully or belittle the students. It was meant to harden us. To show us that the real world was not going to be like the circle jerk of the classroom. She cared enough about the designers she was training to separate us from our work.
It’s been ten years since I finished design school, and I’m still grateful for learning how to separate from my design. I’ve met far too many designers who weren’t taught them same lessons. Great designers who are starving for work or who have built a reputation of being too hard to work with. And of course I’ve met my fair share of critics. Some were professionally trained but most were not. Regardless of their background, they had no problems shredding my hard work to bits with insults and questions about my judgement. However, with my armor on, I can ignore the insults and return them with questions. The goal of these review sessions is not to prove that I am Design Lord and you shall approve all my decisions without question. It’s to find out if the solution we provided is working, or if it still needs improvement.
With this mentality, edits don’t bother us. Suggested changes are heard and assessed. If the client’s opinions are not improving the piece, we take the time to explain our reasoning and to find the compromise. There is no room for ego when designing. The only that matters is what’s best for the composition. It’s not the easiest mentality to keep but it’s one that will keep my fellow designers, or really, anyone in the creative service industry, more sane.