Although there are exceptions, every single graphic or web designer I asked, confirmed that it was harder for them to design their own brand identity or website compared to creating or building something for a client.
When it takes a couple of weeks for designers to accomplish a client’s project, it can take months before having their own project finished. “Blank page” effect, a thousands thoughts at once but nothing concrete coming out, frustration… Designing for ourselves can really become overwhelming at times, and way more complicated than it seems.
But why is this? Why is it harder to design for ourselves than for a client? Why, we, as graphic/web designers, are not able to produce the same way as we do for clients, when we actually have the full freedom to do what we want? Are we really our worse client?
But if we are our worse client, there is a solution that stands in this sentence.
Let’s discover some of the main reasons why this happens and discover the solution that will change the way you work for yourself.
While many people would think that having the freedom to do what you want is actually a good thing, it is not always the reality. In fact, many time having “carte blanche” (aka full freedom of creation) when starting a project can be crushing.
“Should I start with a square? A Circle? or another shape? What if I used this color and not that one…”, sounds familiar, right? And while you are staring at your A4 paper or at your canvas on your computer, you start getting in your head, and before you know it, you turn off your computer without one step of progress.We’ve all been there and although very normal, it puts us in a doubtful position about ourselves and capacity of doing it.
Another reason why it is harder to design for yourself than for a client are deadlines. As stressful as they can be, deadlines play a major role in the success of a project.
Are you able to work without deadlines? I cannot. If I don’t have deadline, I’m lost on where to start which usually gets me very anxious and less productive throughout the project. This is never a good feeling as you will start doubting about yourself.
Taking a positive step back and looking at our work is definitely a very complicated task to do. When you create for yourself, you become instantly your worse critic. Too many ideas, too many doubts, too many possibilities, it gets harder and harder to see clearly what we want and what we are doing. This happens often after long creative sessions, or should I say… long anxiety sessions where you try to reach perfection. Our designs seem to never be good enough and we tend to be very harsh with our work which can quickly become confronting and making it harder to design for ourselves than for a client.
Technically, everything is possible when a graphic designer is working on their own graphic design. But because we can almost do anything we would like, we tend to want to have it all in one logo, while we all know that less is more. It is then very easy to create a logo that would go against any design rules you set for yourself when working for a client.
If the message you are trying to pass isn’t clearly defined in the beginning of your project, this will be your first step to failure.
Didn’t you notice that all the problems I mentioned above are actually what we first ask to our clients when onboarding them? Would that explain why it is harder to design for yourself than for a client?
So if we take into consideration that we are our worst client, why not becoming our best client? And how to do that? By treating ourselves as a client.
Would you be able to deliver a work without any information from the customers? Would you be able to work as efficient as you do if you had no deadlines? If you answered no to all of these questions, you should probably start by the basics:
This is the most important step of the process when onboarding a client, and it applies to your project as well. Missing this step is starting with weak bases. Although it can be very hard to sit and write a brief, this will be guiding you throughout your project and ensure clarity in your ideas. You will be able to conduct proper research for your project which will develop your ideas and creativity. Try to be concise and clear. The goal isn’t either to write a thesis. One solid paragraph of 10 lines including some major keywords representing your project should be a very good start.
Setting deadlines can take a couple of minutes BUT you need to do it smartly. Very often when taking your agenda to start planning around, you will feel very enthusiastic and optimistic, perhaps too much. You will probably start putting a lot on your to-do list for the next day, and same for the day after, thinking that, yes, you will manage to accomplish it all.
And while this might happen to be true for some people, for some others it gets soon too much at once. Therefore you need to plan realistically. And because you never know what sort of struggle you might encounter in the creating process, try to plan some buffer time to make sure that your tasks don’t overlap in your schedule in case of delay in one of the tasks.
In fact, no one else will be as critical as you oabout your work. Take a step back and try to be gentle with your thoughts over your project. Do not try to criticize your work right after a creative session, it’s too easy to do it but very difficult to stay positive. Try to do judge your work objectively.
If you can’t do, leave it on the side for a day or two, and you will have a better opinion about your work.
Even if you set deadlines to yourself, there will be a moment where you will hit a wall and feel stuck. Instead of pushing yourself trying to desperately find a solution, just take a break. And not just 15 minutes. Just take a break, reset your deadlines for yourself and get back to it when you gave your brain some rest. Remember, that no matter what you do, there are days where it all goes according to plan while some other are days we wish we could skip straight from the morning. It’s alright to not feel it sometimes. We’re all humans!
Another important point is to not forget to take your own private life into consideration as well while planning. Our personal lives also impact our level of creativity. If you are having struggle with something in your personal life, it might have a direct impact on your workflow. You might want to consider extending your deadlines to not overwhelm yourself more than you already are.
Don’t forget that it took 2 years, 2 months and 5 days to build the Eiffel Tower, it hasn’t been done in a day, so won’t your project! Be realistic and accept that perfection does not exist. It is more rewarding to produce something that might not be perfect at first but that you can develop and implement over time. However, let’s be clear: it will never be perfect. Starting somewhere and taking baby steps in the creating process will help you build sustainable basis for your project, which will ultimately lead you to a better result.
Since we know how hard it is to criticize our own work, very often, when asking family members their opinion about a design, they are usually very positive. It’s easy to doubt if they genuinely like it or if they say so just to make us happy, or maybe they are not the right persons to ask for feedback? And regardless rather their opinion is positive or not, if they do give you any suggestions for changes, try them! It’s too easy to listen at the critics, picturing them in our mind, but not really trying them on paper or on the computer. Even if you think it’s not a good idea, Just do it !
Try to apply their critics to your design, simply because you might be pleasantly surprised of the outcome.
So, you might say: it’s good to give advices Jimmy, but what about you?
It’s easy said to treat yourself as a client, but doing it is another story. It takes discipline, motivation, consistency and determination.
Developing my own logo and website took me a long time, more than I wanted. But I definitely took a different approach than I did before, just by treating myself as if I was a client. And… though very hard, it worked!
I set strong rules to myself, and ended up going against some of my principles in matter of preferences but that’s how I designed my own brand indentity. I constantly pushed myself to take the constraints into consideration and play with it instead of feeling overwhelmed by it.
As everyone I have my flaws, I have hit the wall a couple of times, but when it happened I went back to the root of my project and what the plans are and what is the wanted result. I definitely reset my deadlines every now and then taking my personal life into consideration and how I feel and I prioritize tasks and re-arrange my to-do lists.
I try to remind myself that it’s about process and not perfection and that, ultimately, I will manage to have it the way I want it. Also, when something specific does not work, I tend to switch to something where I feel like I will be more productive like: writing a blog post, work on strategy, catching up with email and messages. It allows me to keep distance of potential frustrations that I could get by continuing working on something that does not seem to work on that moment.
Be consistent, be strict, be motivated, be determined, be the best client you can be! You can do it!