Why Designers Shouldn't Settle

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March 08, 2010

Ugly designs abound on the web, and behind each and every one of them is a "designer".

In many of these cases the designers behind the sites are simply incompetent.

They're often amateur designers or those who have little or no design training or people who design their own sites based on a book from their local library that's ten years out of date.

But there are other times when the designer was perfectly capable of creating a better site.

So why would a perfectly competent designer create a site that isn't very good? The answer is simple: they settled. It happens all the time.

Maybe the designer has hit a slump and they're looking for any paying work. Maybe it's a site for a friend and they just don't have the heart to tell them their design ideas are horrible. Maybe they were overwhelmed with work and just didn't have the time the needed to devote to a project.

In any case, the end result isn't up to par. It reflects poorly on the designer and oftentimes is left out of their portfolio entirely.

Of course, design isn't the only place designers shouldn't settle; it's also important to maintain high quality standards in their business, their blogging, and other aspects of their professional life.

Work Begets Work

It's long been said that work begets work. But it's more complicated than that.

In reality, high quality work begets high quality work, and low quality work begets low quality work.

If you take on high quality design projects and product high quality results, you're more likely to get similar projects in the future. If you take on projects with low design standards, you're likely to get similar projects offered to you in the future.

Think about it for a minute. If someone sees a great website and they're looking for a web designer, they may try to find out who designed that website. Of course, "great" is a subjective term.

So if someone likes site designs that look like they're from the mid-90s, they'll contact designers who are still designing like that. If they like designs that are up-to-date, unique, and professionally designed, then they'll be looking for designers whose work is similar.

So again, if you settle for lower design standards, then you're likely to get more work along the same lines. Hold your work to the highest standards you can and you'll not only attract more high-quality work, but you're also likely to improve your own skills in the process.

Pushing Yourself Results in Improved Skills

If you always settle for the easiest way to do something, you'll never improve your own designs skills.

If you push yourself to always do things in the best way possible, you'll constantly expand your skills and your knowledge. New and better techniques for doing things are coming out all the time, and if you expand your knowledge enough, you may be able to create your own techniques that do things better and easier than other methods available.

If you improve your skillset, you'll be able to take on more complicated projects in the future. You'll also improve your efficiency, as you won't have to spend as much time figuring out how to do some things. Both of these can lead to higher income from your design work.

Good Clients Will Respect You More

Good clients will respect a designer who holds fast to their own standards. If you're willing to sacrifice quality for the whims of a client, you'll almost surely create inferior work at least some of the time. But if you're confident enough in your own skills and your own aesthetic ideals, stand up for them and good clients will respect you for it.

After all, a good client recognizes that you're the designer, and that while it's their business, you have more experience than they do when it comes to design particulars.

They'll appreciate it when you say (tactfully) that the giant flashing banner on the home page and all that scrolling text just isn't going to give the impression they're after. While it's important to listen to your clients, don't be afraid to step up and tell them why something isn't a good idea.

Sure, you might lose some clients if you refuse to bend to their every poorly-thought-out decision, but the clients you retain will be easier to work with and will likely give you more design freedom. These clients will also likely refer more work to you, both directly and indirectly.

If your portfolio is filled with projects that are high-quality and reflect both your aesthetic ideals and those of your clients, you'll attract more business. And if your clients are happy with their websites and the results they're getting, they're more likely to refer others they know to you.

Other Designers Will Respect You More

Designers tend to respect other designers who do excellent work and have a clear aesthetic and style.

While adapting to what your clients want is important, it's still possible to maintain your own signature in your work. In some cases, this can be recognizable to others trained in design and can make your work stand out.

Respect from other designers isn't important to everyone. But then again, it can lead to a lot of opportunities that you might not otherwise have. If a designer has too much work coming in, they may start looking to refer that work elsehwere rather than just telling prospects they can't help. If you're respected in the design community, some of that work is likely to come your way.

Low Standards Will Eventually Kill Your Business

Low standards in your designs will bring you low-quality clients. And the thing about low-quality clients is that they are generally more of a hassle than they're worth. These are the people who will request a million revisions, delay paying you for as long as possible, and wonder why you didn't send them back the changes they requested within the hour.

Dealing with clients like these will drain your energy and enthusiasm for design, which will show through in your work. Eventually, you'll likely give up on designing for other people all-together, or you'll find that you just don't have enough clients coming to you. In either case, your business will suffer and likely close.

The same is true for aspects of your business other than design. If you have low standards for your bookkeeping, for example, you'll likely spend money where you don't need to, or fail to pay certain bills (or your taxes, which can result in very high penalties).

If you don't uphold high quality standards in blog posts you write, you can expect that you won't be asked to guest blog for more popular blogs and your blog will likely stagnate and fail to gain many new readers.

Upholding high quality standards can improve every aspect of your business and make you more effective. You'll also likely enjoy your work more if you're challenging yourself on a regular basis and designing projects you can be passionate about.

How to Get Past Settling

If you've got a history of settling in your business, it may be hard to break out of the confines of that mindset. But in order to grow as a designer, freelancer, or blogger, you need to be mindful of what you're capable of and what your personal expectations should be.

If your portfolio is currently filled with designs that aren't as good as you could have made them, take on some projects that will really let your skills shine. These could be personal projects or even pro bono work, but it's important to set a new level of quality for yourself.

Make sure you eliminate low-quality work from your portfolio. No one ever said you had to include every design you ever created in your portfolio. Only include the high-quality work that's indicative of the kind of projects you want to work on in the future.

Once you establish the quality standards you want to uphold, it's important not to settle again. Defend your position to clients who want you to settle. Explain to them why you're not comfortable incorporating a design element or feature they've requested and then stick by your decision. As already mentioned, good clients will respect you more for this.

If it helps, keep a list of specific things you found yourself settling on so that you can avoid them in the future. Put them on a post-it note on your monitor or post them on the wall behind your desk. Think of it as a to-don't list rather than a to-do list.

Don't be afraid to cut some of your clients loose. If you have a client who always expects you to settle, tell them you feel like their needs would be better-served by another designer. If you eliminate some problem clients, you'll have more time to devote to high-quality projects that come your way. Plus, your stress levels will be lower if you're not dealing with difficult clients all the time.

In the end, what you consider "settling" is going to vary, based on both your own skill level and the project at hand. While doing your best for the project at hand is important, different projects require different quality levels. A four-page brochure-style site has different requirements than a full-fledged web app. Keep that in mind and don't go overboard on projects that don't require it.

Written exclusively for WDD by Cameron Chapman.

Do you settle in your work? Why or why not? Please share your opinion below...

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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