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The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success: Ideas and tactics for a killer career, by Creative Latitude member Jeff Fisher, has recently been stocked on the shelves of bookstores around the world. A somewhat irreverent look at the business of graphic design, the book is based on the author’s mantra of “it’s better to be a smart-ass than a dumb ass.” Much of the text is from Fisher’s own perspective on the industry after over 25 years as a graphic designer, much of that time as the Engineer of Creative Identity for his own firm Jeff Fisher LogoMotives. The HOW Design Books offering also contains anecdotes and career lessons from individuals such as Milton Glaser, Clement Mok, Jack Anderson, Art Chantry, Genevieve Gorder, Nigel Holmes, Jennifer Morla, Peleg Top, Ellen Shapiro, Petrula Vrontikis and nearly 100 other industry professionals. Ilise Benun, marketing expert and author of the books Self-Promotion Online and Designing Websites for Every Audience, wrote the foreword of the book.

Creative Latitude members featured in the book include Habib Bajrami, Christopher Gee, Von Glitschka, Nigel Gordijk, Chuck Green, Karen Larson, Morgan Mann, John McWade, “Cat” Morley, Martha Retallick, Valarie Martin Stuart, Travis Tom, John Wingard and Neil Tortorella. At the author’s request, Creative Latitude is the first web site or publication to release an excerpt from the book. It is posted here with the permission of the publisher, HOW Design Books. You may order your very own copy of The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success through all international sites. The book is also available on the shelves, or through special order, at most bookstores.

Why are we in this business of unreasonable deadlines, less reasonable clients, challenges in earning a living, and immeasurable daily stress?

As designers, we all seem to bitch and moan about clients, projects, vendors and other aspects of the profession on a daily basis. Why do we put ourselves through the agony, torture, sleepless nights and sometimes concern if the rent will be paid at the end of the month?

The pitfalls of graphic design
We all have those moments in our design careers when we wonder if perhaps a job flipping hamburgers might be a better idea. Dealing with the battles of a project we knew we should not have taken on, working twice as hard to get paid by a client than on the actual job, the constant justification of rates and invoices, and competing with anyone with a computer calling themselves a designer can impact anyone in the industry.
For Nigel Holmes, the ultimate stumbling block for the designer is “dealing with a middleman who intervenes between you as the creator and the actual client. This often happens in advertising, but not nearly as often in magazine work, where the art director is usually ‘the client.’”

Having to be the “bad guy” presents a struggle for Sheree Clark in her position at Sayles Graphic Design.

“Because I am the ‘suit’ in our operation — meaning I am the one meeting with clients — I am also the one who has to tell our creative staff when a perfectly wonderful idea has been shot down,” Clark explains. “It’s like I have to live the terrible experience twice — once, when the client gives me the word, and then, back at the office, when I have to pass that word along to the people who created the work.”

Collecting late payments from clients, responding to e-mails and “half of the day spent tied to a keyboard” are the design business pet peeves of Petrula Vrontikis.

Clement Mok says that “Trying to professionalize the design profession.” is what he likes least about the business.

“Coming up with fees that potential clients will agree to and that will allow us to remain in business,” is the most difficult task for Ellen Shapiro. “This was not a problem until the last couple of years, but pricing is getting increasingly difficult to deal with.”

Peleg Top finds the least pleasurable aspect of graphic design to be “having to always fight for our rights as designers.”

Art Chantry is frustrated by the constant need to secure more business. “It cuts dramatically into the time I would like to spend on the actual work. The constant search, alongside the demands of simply running a business (paperwork, etc.), dominates my time,” according to Chantry. “It’s probably around a 90-to-10 percent ratio, with the creative work being the 10 percent. I’m often astonished at the huge volume of work I’ve managed to produce; how did I ever find the time?”

The joys of graphic design
For me, many negative aspects of the design field are mitigated by the positives of loving what I do for a living, using my skills and talents to visually solve the problems of clients, and the rare moments of great creativity. I love those occasions when everything comes together: the idea seems brilliant, the approval process is quick and painless, the completed design piece is just as imagined and the client is thrilled and let’s you know he or she is pleased. While these instances may be few and far between, they are what make a life and career as a designer ultimately worthwhile and gratifying.

Peleg Top gets that same feeling from “being able to create something that makes a difference, that promotes a cause or that makes profit for someone.”

Sheree Clark most enjoys getting to work with people who have a positive attitude and purpose. “Nobody comes to a graphic designer because they are terminally ill or they need an expensive engine overhaul,” says Clark. “Our clients – for the most part - are companies and individuals with a story they want to tell the world. They come to us to help get their message out; they come to have us to help them be more successful, they come because things are going well and they want them to go better. People look forward to meetings with me and my firm because they value our creativity and our advice.”

“Making an impact and helping others understand an issue,” is what Clement Mok most enjoys about the design profession. In addition, he appreciates “making the experience of the everyday and the mundane more enjoyable.”

Petrula Vrontikis finds her great pleasure in solving problems and facing interesting challenges. She says she likes learning what makes businesses and organizations “tick” as part of the design process.

“There is nothing more thrilling for me than doing good work,” adds Art Chantry. “In a way, it’s the ultimate triumph.”

All in all, graphic design is a great profession. As in any chosen field of endeavor occasionally there will be difficulties, challenges and times when murder may seem like a viable means of solving some problems.
Genevieve Gorder, of double-g, explains it in her own way when speaking about meeting the goals, demands and desires of clients.

“Fear is the biggest problem in design,” says Gorder. “It’s the fear of the unknown for people who don’t know design. What they want, they could have done a hundred times over and they haven’t,” she adds. “Don’t give them what they don’t want, but rather what they need.”

Former Saatchi and Saatchi Executive Creative Director Paul Arden takes that message further. “A client often has a fair idea of what he wants. If you show him what you want, and not what he wants, he’ll say that’s not what he asked for.” Arden comments. “If, however, you show him what he wants first, he is then relaxed and is prepared to look at what you want to sell him. You’ve allowed him to become magnanimous instead of putting him in a corner.”

Arden continues, “Give him what he wants and he may well give you what you want. There is also the possibility that he may be right.”

Designers need clients. The clients need designers. Designers need to remember that graphic design is a business. But who says you can’t have fun along the way?

The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success.
Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Fisher

Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: HOW Design Books, an
imprint of F+W Publications,
Release: December 2004
ISBN: 1581804806
Price: $24.99

Contributors mentioned in this excerpt:
Nigel Holmes, Explanation Graphics
Sheree Clark, Sayles Graphic Design
Petrula Vrontikis, Vrontikis Design Office
Clement Mok, The Office of Clement Mok
Ellen Shapiro, Shapiro Design Associates, Inc.
Peleg Top, Top Design
Art Chantry, Art Chantry Design Company
Genevieve Gorder, double-g
(no link available)

Arden, Paul, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be,
Phaidon Press, 2003

Shapiro, Ellen, The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Clients: How to Make Clients Happy and do Great Work, Allworth Press, 2003

Jeff Fisher LogoMotives (click to read Jeff's profile)
PO Box 17155
Portland, OR 97217-0155

Phone: 503/283-8673
Fax: 503/283-8995

E-mail: Jeff
Web Site:

Hours: Monday - Thursday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.

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