15 Bad Habits That Could Kill Your Design Career

By WebdesignerDepot Staff Posted Sep. 15, 2010 Reading time: 6 minutes

Being a designer has never been easy. Working with clients, creative directors, marketing managers and other designers can take a toll on your patience and passion.

It’s important, as a professional designer, to avoid practices that could hurt your career or the company you work for.

Whether you work as a freelance designer or in a firm, avoid the following 15 bad habits that might be killing your design career.

What other habits do you think should be avoided in your design career? Please let us know in the comments section.


1. Poor People Skills

Few things will kill your design business faster than poor people skills. Clients want a friendly face to greet them and someone who is enthusiastic about their project. Avoid complaining, bad-mouthing, whining and making excuses.

Maybe you’re a whiz at social media, and maybe you’ve got a fancy email signature, but sometimes being able to interact professionally with people online just doesn’t cut it. In order to succeed as a designer, you must have strong people skills: you must be able to communicate a thought, frustration or message clearly and efficiently.

Learn how to handle difficult clients, overbearing creative directors and pestering marketing departments—you’ll have to do it all, while managing the inevitable stress of deadlines.


2. Not Setting Boundaries With Clients

If you work on a per-project basis, avoid excessive revisions proposed by clients. If you fail to set limitations, your clients will request frequent revisions, which can eat away at your time and patience.

Allowing clients to request anything might seem like a good policy, but you’ll come off as more professional by setting limits with them during the design process. These should be outlined in your terms of agreement or contract.


3. Complacency

I once worked with a designer who insisted on using tables in the design process. We all know that tables have a place in the work flow, but we were dealing with a layout and style that could have been achieved with some pretty simple CSS. This designer had become complacent; following the same path will kill your own design career.

Begin by identifying aspects of the job that you’ve grown complacent about. Perhaps you are satisfied with your current number of clients, so you make little effort to market your business. Perhaps your standards have fallen, and you’ve stopped giving your best and care to do only enough to get paid.

Whatever you’re complacent about, conquer it. Start caring. Shift your paradigm, and arouse in yourself a desire to always do your best.Killing Your Design Business


4. Laziness

Laziness is the brother of complacency. A lazy designer essentially stops caring about whether their designs look good, whether their clients are happy and whether their career will go anywhere. And designers who stop caring become selfish.

They take more time off than usual, put off deadlines, put themselves before their clients and, therefore, lose clients, forfeiting referrals and killing their business.


5. Procrastination

Putting off essential tasks that will help your design business thrive is extremely easy. After all, there are always tweets to read, emails to answer, articles to read and personal projects to experiment with.

Do your paperwork on time, try to hit or beat deadlines, keep contacting potential clients and stay on top of other important tasks. The more you procrastinate, the easier it will be in future. It’s a slippery slope.

Copying other designers


6. Copying Other Designers

Copying design masterpieces can be tempting–especially when a client comes to you with a particular idea (“I love the look of this website. Can you do something similar?”).

Overcoming the temptation to copy other designers in order to please a client can be difficult. Instead, meet with the client to discuss what about the work they like. Once you have determined why they like the design, you can create something that satisfies their needs, without infringing on another designer’s copyright.

Deliberate copying can result in huge fines and lost credibility, and it will ultimately kill your business. Avoid it like the plague.


7. Doing Spec Work

Spec work is a hotly debated topic in the design industry, and we won’t get into it here. Suffice it to say, it can really hurt your career if not done properly.

Some argue that spec work is good for novice designers with little experience, but you can lose time and work by participating in crowd-sourcing contests. Look for alternative projects that guarantee payment for your work.


8. Casualness

Designers often wear worn-out jeans and wrinkled t-shirts, and frankly, most of the time, I say embrace it. But when dealing with clients, make an effort to dress and act more professionally.

When sitting at your desk, working away on the Wacom, you are a designer, and the jeans and sandals fit that role perfectly. But when meeting with clients, you are an account manager, so at least put on a nice shirt.

When you dress and act professionally, clients will see that you take the business seriously. This will build trust.


9. Workaholism

Being a workaholic can actually hurt your business. Good design requires an enormous amount of creativity, and let’s face it, getting the juices flowing is sometimes difficult. Some days, coming up with a great logo concept or sharp marketing material seems impossible.

Instead of pushing the limits of your creative powers, take a quick break. If you can’t get away from work entirely, alternate projects so that you don’t get burned out by a one.


10. Shyness

This may not sound like a “bad habit” per se, but shy designers usually don’t see their business thrive. If you are shy, you’re unlikely to charge what you’re worth, to stand up to clients who treat you poorly, to market yourself efficiently or to jump at every opportunity to find new clients.

Step out of your bubble and embrace your career. Make things happen for yourself, and you will see huge success that you can be proud of.

jumping how high


11. Jumping “How High?”

Nothing’s wrong with being ready and willing to help clients when they call or email, but some clients take advantage of such kindness. Ever heard the expression, “When I say ‘jump,’ you say, ‘How high’?” Some clients feel like you exist solely to cater to their every whim.

When a client tries to take advantage of you (whether by not paying what you deserve or asking for a lot of work in a short period of time or whatever), don’t let them walk all over you. Stand up for yourself. Respect yourself as a creative professional, and they will respect you, too.


12. Being Disorganized

I used to let my office space get disorganized and messy. It would stay that way for a few weeks, and then I’d dedicate an entire Saturday to reorganizing all the paper and materials I had neglected.

Not only did I lose a whole Saturday every few weeks, I found that getting work done in a disorganized space was harder. I couldn’t focus well, and I didn’t feel productive.

Stay organized. Create the perfect work environment for yourself. Make an effective filing system for your paperwork (both hard and soft copy), and keep your desktop clean (both the physical and digital ones). You’ll find that you work better, find things faster and have more time to do things that actually make you money.


13. Not Learning From Mistakes

If something awful happens to your business, evaluate the situation and determine what you could have done better. If you’ve lost a client, determine how to avoid losing others the same way. If you haven’t been paid for work you’ve done, re-evaluate your payment structure so that it doesn’t happen again.

Refusing to learn from your mistakes, whether out of stubbornness or arrogance, is a quick way to kill your career.


14. Mixing Personal and Professional

This bad habit might be obvious, but I’ve met a number of designers who have been ripped off because they let a client become more than just a client.

Nothing’s inherently wrong with taking your client out for lunch or coffee to discuss the progress of a project, but be wary of getting too friendly. Turning down a request for a lower price is awfully difficult when it comes from someone you hang out with every weekend. Watching a big game on their plasma screen might be a little awkward after you’ve disagreed on a price.

Mind the division between personal and professional especially if you work from home. Avoid getting too familiar with clients. Maintain a professional relationship with them, and your career will succeed much more.


15. Being Cocky

I’ll be the first to admit it: designers are cool. We make cool things. We amaze people with our Photoshop skills and wow clients with phenomenal websites. Still, no one likes a show-off, someone who brags or thinks they’re better than everyone else. Don’t be that guy.

Designers come in a range of personality types, but don’t think you’re right just because you’ve been a designer for 10 years. Be open to new ideas, new ways of seeing things and new styles. Accept change with humility. Hear people out, and take time to appreciate differences in the way people work.

This article was written exclusively for Webdesigner Depot by Preston D Lee, a web designer and lover of all things web and tech. Preston manages GraphicDesignBlender.com, where designers go to master the business of design. You can follow Preston on Twitter (@prestondlee) or visit his personal website, prestondlee.com.

What other habits can you add to this list of career killers? How do you ensure success in your design business? Comment below and let us know what you think.