When I was working towards my degree in Graphic Design in Savannah Georgia, I had a design professor make it very clear that for most of our careers, people would not know or understand what graphic designers did. He joked that his mother still wasn’t clear about her son’s vocation, even though he was teaching in his own field at an accredited private art school.
I’m not sure why his words didn’t worry me at the time, but the viability of a career in the graphic arts balances in the wings of dispelling those very words. Can you imagine anyone hiring you when there’s even a hint of uncertainty as to what you do? I mean we don’t hire plumbers to fix our cars or gardeners to launder our clothes, so why all the confusion around the design world?
I think it’s because every day people rarely end up working with designers. Marketing teams do and in-house designers work with various divisions of their company, but there’s rarely a circumstance when an average family will require the services of a graphic designer. Furthermore, a lot of the work that designers are involved in is a behind the scenes effort where the general public is exposed to the finished piece, versus the process. You know that average family that I just mentioned? Well just about every commodity that they come into contact with involved a designer. From the cereal they eat, to the newspapers and books they read. Every piece of packaging and type that’s set involved a designer at some point.
I have an client who recently commented, “I didn’t really know what you do,” and almost hired someone else for a project that I really wanted. Even more curiously, another existing client for whom I’d done work for in the past made a similar comment about not being clear about what it is that I do. It almost makes me wonder whether my clients have ever taken the time to look at my portfolio? Even if they haven’t, it’s forever my responsibility to make things explicitly clear and deliver the message with a giant heap of enthusiasm. I genuinely love what I do, and want a lot more opportunities to continue doing more of the same.
For the sake of clarity, here’s a list of things you too can do to make sure people know and understand what it is that you do in an effort to secure more work doing what you love:
- List off skills or areas of specialty (bullet form) within your niche on your website without using ambiguous or esoteric descriptions.
- Write about your work on your blog or create podcasts about your process/projects.
- Be consistent in how you represent yourself and the language that you use to market your skills.
- Check in with your friends to make sure that they know and understand what you do, so they can refer more work your way.
- Even if you slant towards introversion, don’t carry on like that in the world or nobody will know what you do for a living. (The kiss of death for freelancers)
While I completely understand the ambiguities that surround the world of creatives and creativity, I think on some level it’s the responsibility of designers and artists to be bridge builders in filling in the gap to provide clarity around what they do. In some cases even, how they do it—because people tend to value what they can understand.