The 5×5 secret Rules in Design and Advertising - Part 4: Personal Matter


This is the fourth installment in the 5×5 secret Rules in Design and Advertising. So far, I’ve covered the following parts:


Set 4: The Rules of Personal Matter

A job in the design field is certainly different from any job they tell our kids about at school. I covered this in my previous post. But what makes a designer successful in his job? What do you need to know as an up-and-coming, young talent starting off in the business - be it working for a company, or as a freelancer?

Welcome to the 5 Rules of Personal Matter in Design and Advertising.


1. You will never know everything you ever could about design

Creativity is a wonderful thing. Every single person on the planet perceives it differently. Not everyone is aware of their creativity, and it’s certainly more distinct for some than it is for others, but generally, every intelligent mind in the known universe inherits at least basic creative skills.

So, given the fact that everybody is creative to a certain level, what distinguishes a designer from most other people? What makes a designer successful?

Let’s look at some ivities.

  • Creativity is the capability of your brain to come up with an (alternative) idea. In the creative business, this is what it’s all about. You start with a blank sheet of paper. If existent, you take former approaches (and their success or failure) into consideration, and you have to invent a couple new ones.
  • Your creativity manifests itself as an idea. The whole creative business is constantly whizzing around that single perfect idea. That one idea being able to kick-start a product or brand into the consumer’s conscience. That glorious idea making a product remarkable, unique, and irreplaceable. So if you are creative, and you have an idea, what more do you need?
  • Productivity. It’s the skill of your brain to channel your idea into an approach. At its most basic level, an idea is just that: an idea. A spark in your head. Migrating neurotransmitters. What makes the difference between being creative and being a great creative is your ability to take an idea and mold it into an approach that gives the product a face. How can you achieve that?
  • Feed your creativity with inspiration and knowledge. Educate it! Learn more, learn every day. Walk through life with open eyes and an open mind. Read everything about design and advertising you can get hold of. Look at what others are doing. Look at what you’re doing through the eyes of others. Step out and dive in! Inspiration is all around you. It’s simple: how can you design the world if you don’t know it?


2. You never stop learning, but sometimes, you stop wanting to

As creatives, our tasks don’t usually come along with a road map. As knowledge-striving and eager to learn we might be, there will always be those days where we simply have enough. Education is crucial, I’m sure you agree with me, but we all know the “I don’t give a damn” feeling, right?

This feeling is only natural, and it most certainly isn’t exclusive to creatives! Everybody encounters a feeling of “enough” from time to time. For us, it could be triggered by discovering that no matter how much time and effort we put into a comp, along comes this other agency with a far better idea for our client’s competitor. Their idea is so magnificent and you could kick yourself for not thinking of it.

It’s easy to feel helpless in such a moment. You’re probably upset with yourself, and you start doubting your abilites. You feel very small compared to them. If this is new to you, you’re either unexperienced or dishonest with yourself. Don’t be - get this instead.

  • For every successful design in the world, there are at least a dozen crappy designs in the drawer. If you admire an agency or a creative for their success, don’t forget that they are in the same business as you are. You know what they know - if not, read rule #1 again. The designs that make it are only a small percentage of what’s really being created.
  • A feeling of down can be stopped in various ways. They all involve you wanting to stop it rather than to indulge in your misery:
    • Look at other crappy designs. Laugh about them and be happy that it wasn’t you who committed them.
    • Look at other successful designs. Admire and analyze rather than envy and letting it overcome you.
    • Look at something else. Allow your mind to wander. Step out of the coil and stumble randomly. You might find inspiration for something completely new, and you’ll find motivation to move on!
  • You didn’t fail, you’re just one step closer to the result. Thomas Edison once said,

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

  • Persistence is the key. Maybe you know this line as well:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the U.S.


3. Your work is just as important as food and sleep

Your car needs fuel to roll. Your computer needs electricity to run. Your cellphone needs a network to work. Everything needs a a source of power to function.

So does your brain. How can you even think to think without nurturing it? Our brain is a machine like everything else. Our body is a machine. It’s made up of cells, yes, but cells are made up of molecules, as is your car and your computer. They all need food to work. Our body’s food is - well, food. And sleep.

It’s always easy to neglect these things, especially as a creative. Sometimes, you’re in a state of flux, you’re being overly productive and in the middle of “it”, and you don’t want to stop. Taking a break in order to eat, drink and sleep is hard. Gee, even standing up to go for a pee is. But it’s necessary - not only to keep ‘er runnin’, but to maintain the level of quality. So if you feel tired, sleep, for heaven’s sake! Wake up in the morning and you’ll be thankful that you listened to me.


4. Time is a rare commodity. Spend it wisely

Let’s be honest, friends: being on time isn’t exactly one of our most renowned values. We might be excellent designers, but sometimes, we could just be not so late. Can you refer to this?

Well, many creatives I know can. It’s because of the nature of our business. Read rule #1 of Workflow: You laugh at nine to five. So it’s necessary to undertake certain steps to ensure our punctuality and credibility.

  • Don’t take on more than you can manage. When you start off in the design field, you’ll probably take every job you can. You’re in your early years and besides needing the money, you’ll want to gain experience - and referrers, because you know that your happy clients are the best source for new jobs. And this is my point exactly: Happy clients generate new clients. You won’t do your client a favor by delivering crappy and unsolid work due to a lack of time - nor will you do yourself a favor.
  • Don’t wait for the last moment to start work. Even if you think that you’re able to do a job standing on your head, you should start working on it early. The longer you’re in the business, the more you learn that a project’s true extent is being disclosed in the process. So don’t make the mistake of underestimating your work load. This directly reflects on our next tip for time management:
  • Be generous with your time estimates. When your client asks how long you’ll need to deliver, always add at least 50% of the time you think you’re gonna need to the estimate. In fact, better double it. You think you need five days to design the website? Say you need 10! You estimate a total of two months for the campaign plan? Name three. Don’t hesitate to be liberal with your time estimates. You’ll bite your butt if you can’t deliver on time and need to call for an extension - that only makes you look unprofessional. The second benefit is that if you’re able to do it in half the time you estimated, you’ll make a terriffic impression. This can be most important for your success - paired with our fifth and final rule of personal matter:


5. Don’t try to be a ticket of ten

Especially when you start off as a freelancer, you’ll want to take every job that is available. You most likely don’t have a solid client basis yet - but you need one, and you have to start somewhere, right? Well, not quite. You shouldn’t start somewhere - you need to start in your niche. As a designer, you’re supposed to create identities. Why be inconsistent when it comes to yourself?

If you’re a topnotch web designer, and you want to be a shining star in that field, you should focus on web design and not necessarily do flyers, posters and calendars. Many freelancers tend to spread their field too widely, often into areas they are not so good in, only to deliver bad work. That results in bad reputation. Remember our happy clients? They want solid work, and only if you can deliver that, you’ll be hired again - either by them or by the ones they recommended you to - because you made them happy!

So, instead of being a mediocre all-rounder, focus on your profession and find people to network with. If you know a killer identity guy, call him up and form a relationship! Send him the identity you get, and let him send you the web development jobs he runs into. Networking is key: Not only will it give you more jobs in your field, a better reputation and more awareness, but it will also make your clients happier because you can provide them with more options and resources. Plus, it will give you what you want and need: it will make you happy, simply because you’re doing what you love to do. Tell me, how important is being happy to you?

Our next week’s follow-up will be Part Five: the 5 Rules of Customer Relations. Subscribe to our RSS Feed now to stay posted!

3 Responses to “The 5x5 secret Rules in Design and Advertising - Part 4: Personal Matter”

  1. 1 Roy G. Feb 28th, 2008 at 19:50

    “Don’t wait for the last moment to start work.”

    This is so true, many times I have started a very simple project close to the deadline, only to have everything that could go wrong, go wrong.

    It has been very hard for me to learn to start early, but seeing it hear helps solidify that in my brain.

    Thank you.

  2. 2 Jon 'Pixellated' Bennett Mar 7th, 2008 at 18:31

    Good stuff. I know it definitely helps to go downstairs during a college studio lesson and laugh at some of the display work. People generally think I’m evil, but I’m just building confidence. =D

  3. 3 nubloo Mar 7th, 2008 at 19:26

    @ Roy G., I, too, had to learn it the hard way :)

    @ Jon Bennett, you could tell them not to take it personally, and to be thankful that somebody has the courage to tell them the truth ;)

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