This is a little essay to help graphic designers preserve their sanity. It is primarily aimed at them, because that is what I do for a living, but it is just as applicable for anyone else who creates work that is special to them which is then taken out of their control.
We’ve all been there, created a beautiful visual for a client, only to have it ‘corrected’ by a project manager (they will normally mention that they used to be a graphic designer 20 years ago), or improved by a client who asked guests at a dinner party what they thought of it.
A piece of work that you put a lot of heart and effort into can so easily be spoiled. And not necessarily made worse, but made no longer your own. Do you want to put your name to it any more? Do you still want it into your portfolio after the marketing guys have insisted in making the headings bigger. And bolder. And italic. And changed the font to Gill Sans.
During a 15+ year career I must have produced thousands of pieces of work, both for print and online, and very few of them are in my portfolio. And quite recently, I realised what I’d been doing wrong.
What I’d been doing wrong was I’d been saving the final printed copy of a document (or finished website) and in many cases, it wasn’t my work. It was built on my original design, but it had accreted layers of additions, amends and ideas from other people. In some cases the final piece was unrecognisable.
I realised that what I needed to do was spot the point at which the design was moving away from my original intended direction and Put A Pin In It. Save it away in my Portfolio Folder, safe from any future interference. That way, it didn’t matter what happened to the design after that.
Now don’t get me wrong, I would still do my best to defend it against silly opinions from the client’s wife who thought that lavender was a suitable colour for a business card, but if I lost that battle, I’d still have my baby, intact.
I recently gave this advice to a computer game designer who was tearing his hair out over the same problem. It made him a lot happier.
I’m sure there are designers who are shaking their head at this defeatist attitude. But it isn’t defeatist, it is how things work unless you are fantastic, or famous. And I am neither.
So, next time you are working on a beautiful brochure, and the client sends you 5 times more copy than they had promised, before you shoehorn it all in, save a version away. Safe. And then put that version in your portfolio.
Or perhaps you don’t agree… let me know.