15 Bad Habits That Could Kill Your Design Career

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.

  • absdotcom

    Comprehensive list, most are no brainers, however i think back to when I started designing and I did over look a few key points like “jump” how high, just to secure deals. Limits and boundaries need to be implemented from early

  • http://www.philcoders.com Arthur Abogadil

    How true! I’m a web developer in my small web studio ( http://www.philcoders.com ) , i definitely agree with this post. This are really some of the stumbling blocks of not only a few designers!

  • http://www.squiders.com Web Design Kent

    Shall be sure to note the killers!

  • http://bhimashankar.co.in/ bhimashankar

    good one…its really required to look for it…

  • http://www.dboyz-interactive.com Alex

    Oh my god, so true.
    So many times where I come to a designer whos in jeans, and clothes he’s been wearing for 5 days, acting like he lives in a penthouse, with nothing but an XBox 360 to keep him entertained.

  • Kenn

    So I have 2, 4, a little of 6, 9, 14.

    Wow. I could be much more successful I think.

    I hate 6. I really do.

    (hah! and my math problem captcha… =six)

  • http://www.studiosevin.com Levin

    Great post; number 14 is always something to always practice and be aware of.

  • http://www.berlstone.co.cc Clinton Beyerle

    Its really fantastic words !!

  • http://bostondave.net David

    Could be a list for many a career choice!

  • Jared

    Don’t forget Mass Multiplayer Online games; or any online social blackholes for that matter.

  • http://www.albruna.nl Martin

    Good list and I am guilty of at least two of the points you make. So this made me kick myself under the … and get to it!


  • http://www.dzinepress.com Dzinepress

    informative article.

  • http://webidentity.pl Sebastian

    Very good post and I must admit many of these bad habits are mine habits. :)

    For example I used to be a seller in the past and I developed my interpersonal skills but now on my own business I sometimes find it hard to be assertive and self-confident when meeting customer. It’s easier to wrote an email or text the customer than call or meet face to face. However it’s also easy to force myself and fight this little conformist inside of me. ;)

    Regarding 11. I lost one client who I do all jobs he asked me even twice the same for one salary. Then one time I said ‘enough, that was not in a brief’ and that was the last project I did for him. In spite of losing customer I still feel happy to not work for him any more.

    That were my personal experiences of my short designer career. Now I’m going to clean up my desk since yesterday evening I found it completly messed! ;)

  • qitree

    Very useful. Thanks. I need to overcome bad habits

  • http://jenvasseur.com Jen

    Good article.

    I Just wanted to add a small point to number 14. It’s also been best in my experience to not make friends or family clients in most cases (not just the other way around as you mentioned).

    I had a family “friend” who wanted a website and she wanted to keep things relaxed, she was a friend after all. When it came time to pay she withheld a portion of the contract saying my work was horrible, incorrect and that she hated it when she approved my work all along. She thought as a family friend she would get better than what she received and at a considerable discount. I had never told her that and told her what the site would cost, but she waited until she had what she wanted from me to drop this bombshell. Needless to say it caused a huge rift and no one talks to her anymore.

    Now I only do sites for family as a favor (not expecting anything in return) when time permits. If I were to take on family as paying clients it would be with a very complete contract and extreme caution.

  • http://climbingdown.wordpress.com Bea

    Sad to say, I had to undergo spec work for a few months (or rather weeks), but due to a combination of laziness and procrastination (when did those two ever separate from each other?), it didn’t end well.

    I think spec work is good if you’re just looking for works to include in your portfolio, especially if you’re just getting a fresh start. But after that, too much spec work can be annoying if not unnecessary.

  • Umar

    hey, nice article,
    Now I know, I have been lazy, instead of working I am more complaining about client server problems and em out wit friends………… IM KILLIN MY FREELANCE CAREER… AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

  • http://www.yuvadesigns.com Yuva Designs

    Great post

  • http://www.childmonster.com/ Childmonster

    “Not Learning From Mistakes” ya~ thats right !! We can improve oursefl from mistake :)
    Thanks post

  • http://www.perfilgeek.com Edwin Sandoval

    Missing the related with take regular rests between projects and dairy work jejeje.

  • Niubi

    This is an awesome post and applies to all people who run their own business, whether they are a web designer or a DubLi associate – if you want your business to work then it is vital that you’re always on top! Never, ever let complacency and laziness settle in and always try to give 110% to each and everyone of your projects and clients. And don’t forget that rest is important too.

  • http://www.maiconweb.com Maicon Sobczak

    Essential topics. Laziness and procrastination are the best to kill a career.

  • http://www.klick360.com Jamie

    This article is very well written and does indeed reflect the experience I have had in my last 15 years as a graphic design. It is a shame I cannot thank the person who wrote this, I don’t seem to be able to see who wrote this?

    In regards to spec work I think this is just an option for a designer to look at and should not be overlooked. When I first started my career it was quite painful building up my portfolio. I had no real clients and getting real clients was possibly the most energy draining experience I’ve ever had. I also had limited experience with working with clients, working with clients on design contest websites is not the same as working with clients one on one but is better than nothing at all.

    Spec sites do give young graphic designers a chance to build their portfolios and work with clients and is simply another tool to add to their marketing strategy.

    • http://www.graphicdesignblender.com Preston D Lee

      I’m the author of the article and I appreciate your kind words. Good luck in all you do!

  • http://www.bizlegal.com bizlegal

    Web usability is about making your website in such a way that your site users can find what they’re looking for quickly and efficiently. A usable website can reap huge benefits on to your website and your business

  • http://www.thefreelancegeek.com/ The Freelance Geek

    “Not Setting Boundaries With Clients”… the best thing I ever fixed!

  • Jason

    Oh gosh.. the majority of those apply to me… I might as well just die now… lol :(… great article!! I definitely need to start working on improving all my habits like that.

  • http://www.soundcabin.co.za Kutlwano

    2, 4,5, 10 and 11 I suffer from. Wow, it quite overwhelming to read about something you know very well you do and kind of hard to accept. But I suppose the intended path here is growth so change is eminent. Thanx for the eye opener, hopefully I get rid of these in good time.

  • http://markarmstrongillustration.com Mark Armstrong

    Great stuff– reminders like these are much appreciated.

    Coincidentally, just came across a site which asks the question: What kind of procrastinator are you?– then offers some tips (on the second page) for combating this debilitating vice. Here’s the link, hope it’s helpful:


    Great post, thanks again.

  • http://www.blogymate.com BlogyMate

    If you work on a per-project basis, avoid excessive revisions proposed by clients. I follow this rule.

  • http://www.khwebdesign.net Kent

    Setting Boundaries with Clients should be #1 through #15 on this list.

  • http://www.psyched.be/wordpress Darkened Soul

    this has been a great read, thank you ;)
    keep it up! WDD

  • Kiddo

    This post kinda discouraged me…..because “bad habit” No. 1 is something many people can’t change, no matter how much they try.

  • http://www.benstokesmarketing.co.uk Web design Shrewsbury

    Great article – Especially:

    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.

    Every designer should set boundaries in the proposal, I think a lot of us have learnt from out mistakes!

  • http://ibrandstudio.com Eko

    Amazing tips, thanks for share…really useful for me and i’ll try to practice.

  • http://inspirationfeed.com inspirationfeed

    Great list, agree with most of these!

  • http://www.bionicworks.com Thai

    This is a great list. I’ve learned from my professors that no matter how smart and creative you are, you must possess people skills. Especially in the work place. It’s perhaps one of the greatest tips I’ve learned.

  • http://anicrispc.blogspot.com Anita

    I totally agree.. I have some of this bad habits.. gotta work on it..
    Thanks for the post

  • http://twitter.com/ahmedenam enam ahmed

    very nice. each line of this article is true. thanks a lot…..

  • http://www.rubyflores.com Ruby

    Thanks. Great breakdown and a great reminder on how to navigate as a freelancer / handle your bizness. Perfecting timing for me… especially regarding Jumping “How High”… Lesson learned!

  • http://www.slightlycurvedcube.co.uk Wayne Hodkinson

    All these are too true! Thanks for the reminder :)

  • http://www.alpaproductions.com alpaproductions

    Some good advice here!
    I think laziness started to catch up with me after I said I’ll enjoy my summer and work hard after that. I’ve got to get moving and finish my client’s work ASAP!!

  • Digital flames

    Amazing post ;)

  • http://www.artnuke.com hamdi


    Frankly, I took a long time to learn this business

  • http://m2ew.carbonmade.com m2ew

    Jumping “How High?” is defiantly a key point. If you don’t establish clear guidelines with your clients you’ll be stretched thin by chasing their demands. This could hurt your creative drive as you’ll feel more like a drone chasing orders; you’ll forget why you wanted to be a designer in the first place.

  • http://www.psstyleaday.com/ John @ Photoshop Style A Day

    Procrastination seems to ring a bell, lol. Oh well, I’ll work on it tomorrow.

  • http://www.stefanvella.com Stefan

    So so true, and very good guidelines,
    btw Rage against the Machine FTW :D

  • CaRteR

    The “no spec work” comment is stupid. It reflects the writer’s lack of business sense.

    Most myopic designers think that cash is the only way to get paid. But you can be paid in shares too – however, you need a strongly structured business there. As long as you define the ownership structure ahead of time, you can do spec work in a manner that has a strong possibility of payoff, should the project have a solid vision.

  • http://www.craigpennings.com Craig Pennings

    This is a great article. However, when it says stand up for yourself if the client asks too much, exactly how would you go about that without being offensive or acting unprofessional?

  • http://www.dfigraphics.com Dan Futoran

    Great list. 2 and 11 are often my small problems right now, but in this terrible economy I’m finding myself tipping the scale in favor of the client. I try hard to give them what they want, but our communication gets messy when we’re both talking on cell phones, where the reception is bad and one of us has an accent the other can’t quite make out all the time. The bad reception kicks in when we both want to make a point, and some important things inevitably get unstated. We both end up saying something like “yeah, yeah”, when we don’t really know what we’re yeahing about. Then when I try to follow up with an e-mail, it’s often misunderstood, or the point(s) is not specifically addressed by the client. Consequently I end up jumping into the project, just wanting to get started, mainly because the client needs results fairly quickly. Then, when I present a review copy and things aren’t quite right, that’s when I find myself jumping to make the revisions. I don’t usually have a problem with revisions, unless they’re tangential to my original instructions, and then I’ll ask for more $$.

  • http://www.metrodesk.com.bd Metrodesk Clipping Path services

    I really appreciate your thinking. yes most of designer are effected by laziness. I think they have to read your post.

    Thanks and have a great day.

  • http://www.pixelmafia.in Kelvin Sinha

    thank god i my bad habits are not in the list accept one that i m workaholic. but its ok for me coz designing is my passion i m feeling great when i design some stuff i know my design skills are not very gud but i hate copying other’s website coz it will kill your creativity.

    all in all its a gud article thanx.

  • Linda Paul

    Great business tips for designers and anyone trying to grow a business independently.

  • Yoga

    I love it when commentors reply by saying, I’m this number and that number. As if readers are going to go back and verify exactly what numbers you’re talking about.

  • 3rd world country designer

    And now for the fun part(fun part for me it will be). Happy to announce that you all going to compete with people like me who are making 200$ per month – thats right per month! How you are going to compete with that ha?!?