When I started my career a senior designer told me that the hardest thing about being a designer was maintaining enthusiasm for the length of a project.
One of the challenges of working alone is gauging where you are in terms of a project's solution.
Because I meet with the client, prepare the budget, write the brief, do the design work and bill the project I always painfully aware of the amount of time I have into a job. My time keeping software maintains a running total of billable and non billable hours. My business brain has me working hard to hold my hours to the budget, answer the brief and please the client.
But there is that intangible point where a design becomes "good." How do we now when we've reached that point when we work alone?
I longingly remember sitting in a huge conference room high above Third Avenue in NYC where every single inch of wall space and table was covered in rough sketches for a branding project. A dozen designers sat around discussing the merits of each approach, brainstorming and arguing our points back and forth. It was exhilarating to see so many different approaches to one problem. And all the while budgets, schedules and time sheets never entered the discussion.
Twice recently I've presented first round design drafts that I had some mixed feelings about. Both times the work answered the brief. Feedback from other designers was good. But something didn't feel quite right.
In one case the client loved the presentation. I showed three concepts. He loved one direction. He liked one direction. And he didn't particularly like the third direction. I asked him to spend a few days reflecting on the brief and the designs and we made plans to meet again to plot the next step.
Imagine my surprise when five days later he asked me to pursue the third direction, the one neither of us particularly liked. He agreed that the mark wasn't as strong as the others but he felt that he couldn't let it go. It captured an essential element of his product that he was confident would resonate with his target customer.
Faced with a mark we weren't thrilled with I had a decision to make. I could listen to the left side of my brain and hold to the proposal and clean up the mark and prepare reproduction files. Or, I could dive back into the design process and create a piece we both would love.
Since I'm writing about it I'm sure you guessed the next step. I turned my back on my time sheet and I started sketching again. Focusing on the attribute the client liked I explored new ways to represent the attribute the client liked—exploring lines, patterns and values. I worked and reworked the type—creating custom elements that make it unique. I created new color palettes. And finally I settled on three variations for a second design presentation.
Ultimately it felt good. I liked the marks. The client liked the marks. We still weren't quite where we needed to be but one small change and we had wrapped up the final design.
Yes, I exceeded the budgeted time and put in significantly more time. Yes, my project folder was exploding with sketches. But I solved the problem for both of us. The client got a unique mark and I got a project that I can add to my portfolio proudly.
Sometimes we have to we have to follow our right brains. We have to take a deep breath and let the creative process go where it needs to for the best solution.
I'm convinced now that that senior designer was right. Maintaining enthusiasm is tough. Tough but worth it. Ultimately the difference between good and great is patience and persistence.