The Importance Of Design Etiquette

This week I’m excited to share with you some of the things that I’ve learned regarding etiquette for designers. This list could become long, so I decided to narrow it down to a select handful of things that you can start taking action on immediately.

My Experience:

There are a ton of examples in my career when either me or another designer wasn’t practicing the best etiquette. I think the simplest one to follow and perhaps the most relatable to everyone would be the following story:

Three years ago, I was approached by a designer at an agency on the west coast. They wanted to know if Greenline Creative would be interested in partnering with them for branding and various web projects. This particular company consisted of one designer, but they outsourced much of their creative to focus more on strategy and managing the process. They said they weren’t getting the exact results they wanted from their current partnership and that they loved our work and wanted to set up a call to see if we’d be interested in the opportunity to work along side of them.

Often times with these conversations I go into them with some reservation. When you’re a much smaller studio or moonlighting, the terms are a bit easier to negotiate. However, it’s really hard to come to set terms that work for both parties when you are two independent studios growing and thriving. We weren’t looking for an extra partnership but I felt like chatting with them anyway. What could I lose? So I set up the call.

As with all phone calls, we started off with some small talk and then the company started to open up about their pains around their current designer missing deadlines and not fulfilling on their promises. Although I didn’t agree with the way they chose to approach talking about their previous partner, I did sympathize with them some. Deadlines and quality of work has always been important to me. As you can expect, I said that I was sorry to hear that they were struggling with their current provider and that Greenline Creative takes pride in deadlines and that wouldn’t be an issue if we chose to work together.

All was going as expected. Then things took a crazy turn when they asked about our rates. Keep in mind, we’ve done some partnerships like this in the past at Greenline Creative, so I already had a pretty clear idea on the rates for this type of work and what I could expect from each party. So I gave them a ballpark rate with a tiny percentage off due to the fact that they would be providing us with some steady projects. However, based on their response it became very clear that what we were charging them, was no where near what they were expecting. That really wasn’t the problem because I’ve had many conversations with other designers and developers around our rates. It only became a problem when I started to get lectured. They said, “How could you charge us that? We we’re only charging x for these projects and our current provider is only charging us x.” That question was quickly followed up by “How would you guys handled revisions with our clients?” and I told them “All of our revisions are based on a certain amount of hours. Once those hours are up we then bill separately.” As you can expect, I began to get lectured again around how they expect their clients to be happy clients and that they usually go through revisions until the client is in fact happy. With a big gulp in my throat I responded with; “I understand, but we always place a cap on revisions with our clients because it keeps the revisions focussed.” I then added that this cap would be even more critical in a situation where we don’t work directly with the clients.

At this point in the conversation it became clear to me that this was not going to be a good fit. Our rates, processes and terms were simply not going to align. However, I continued to make small talk and chat with them more about their clients and goals. As we started talking more about potential projects, they asked to see more of our work and began exploring our website. No harm in that right? I was wrong. They began to criticize some of the design decisions we made regarding our own website. Asking “Why would you do x or y and that you shouldn’t do it this way.” Now as you know, I like feedback and I can take criticisms, but this moved past feedback and more towards anger. Perhaps they were upset with me and were being really passive about it?

I quickly explained our design decisions and decided it was time to end the phone call. I said, “I really appreciate your time and consideration, but I don’t think we’ll make a great partnership based on your company’s goals and ours.” We ended the conversation and Greenline Creative put the conversation behind us and moved on.

To this day, it still shocks me that a fellow designer could reach out to another designer for help, but then bash them for their own terms and design decisions in the same phone call. We all have our own reasons for making the decisions we make. My terms and design decisions are based around my own experiences and so are theirs. I may not agree with theirs and that’s okay. Because, it works for them and I’d never criticize them for making them.

What I’ve Learned about Etiquette as a Designer:

  • We’re all working towards a common goal: It’s very easy to feel intimidated by other designers or developers who may be (or appear) better than you. It’s also easy to forget where we all started in our careers, and sometimes that means we also forget to provide mentorship or advice to young designers starting out. I believe that as designers we’re all working towards one common goal and it sure is much easier to achieve it if we all work together. There’s a whole generation of designers before you that helped pave the way for you, and there’s another generation of designers behind you that deserves the same.
  • Developers, vendors and contractors are your friends: I learned this really early on in my career. Developers, vendors, and contractors are your friends. They truly have the power to make you look amazing or honestly, really bad. Don’t delay your payments or treat them as expenses. They really want to help you reach your goals just as much as you do. I’ve learned that it is best to learn how to work with them, rather than fight them through the project. If their terms don’t align with yours that’s okay. They don’t have to all be a great fit. The important thing is to be honest and professional when you part ways. Business is business and their should be no hard feelings.
  • You never know when the shoe will be on the other foot:We’ve all had projects that we wished we never took. They turned out horrible for reasons that we may or may not have been able to control. However, one of the best things about being a designer is that we have many opportunities to redeem ourselves from a bad project. We’ll brush the bad project under the rug, learn from it and move onto the next great opportunity. If that’s true, then how come we’re so quick to judge other designers or developers for their decisions on certain projects or code? We have no clue what hell they may have gone through or the people they had to work with in order to get their project completed. Rather than poke fun or drag someone through the coals, recognize their efforts and try and help. The reality is we’ve all started somewhere and by giving designers the opportunity to share their story with you or the industry, we all can all learn something from it.
  • Organization is not just for you, but for others: In recent months, I’ve not been very clean with my Photoshop files, or more recently my Sketch files, but now that I’m working closely with other designers again, I’m getting back into organizing my files. Having organized files, servers and documentation is not just for your benefit today, but for also you in the future. You never know when you may have to get back into the project much later on. Being organized is also great for others. You can’t predict the future, so even though you may be the only person working on the files or code today, it may not be true in a year from now. It’s important that you’re able to hand off your files to clients and other team members in a clean and professional way. Being organized is the right thing to do and it also shows your professionalism.
  • Don’t steal: This should be pretty obvious to everyone, but anytime you’re working on a project with designers, developers or other team members, give them credit where credit is due. Don’t steal others ideas or resources. Pay for your software, fonts, images and other assets. If the creator asks for a donation, donate even if that means forgoing your latte for the day. If it wasn’t for those who take the extra time to create useful plugins, fonts, brushes our other tools, our worlds would be much more complicated as designer and developers.
  • Welcome feedback from others: As you can tell, I love feedback. I’ll take the good and the bad. How else will I learn? To reach your goals you need to open yourself up and accept feedback from the industry. If you’re afraid of feedback, start small with those you trust, but please put yourself out there. You’d be pleasantly surprised at how many people you may be able to help along the way. This blog is not perfect. I’m not a great writer. I know that because readers have pointed out typos and grammatical errors. However, I’m okay with that. I welcome knowing where I can fix my mistakes. It’s with that I will get better. If I kept my designs and writing to myself, I would have never launched this blog and I would not have been able to reach any of my other goals.
  • Be honest and constructive in your feedback: The best feedback is when it’s honest and constructive. Don’t be mean with your feedback. Provide suggestions that can help a designer. Take the time to ensure that your feedback will actually help them. Try to have a critical eye when you’re asked to give feedback. Don’t just say you like it because everyone else does. Ask yourself what would you do to make this solution better? Giving constructive feedback not only helps others, but it’s also a great way to evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses as a designer.
  • Get out and meet new people: I love meeting and sharing my story with others. However, most importantly, I love hearing and helping others with their goals. I strive to try and meet a handful of new people either online or in person every month. It’s a great way to stay inspired and get a pulse on what’s happening in the industry. I’m always surprised at how little time it takes to have these conversations and how welcoming others are to having them.
  • Practice the Golden Rule: This shouldn’t need an explanation, but if you’re in doubt about how you should be acting as a designer, just be sure to treat others as you would like to be treated and you’ll be fine.
  • Say your sorry and move on: I’d like to say that I’ve been perfect in my career, but I haven’t. I’ve made a few bad decisions with contractors and have let the stress of a project get the best of me. However, I’ve learned that the best thing I can do in a bad situation is say that I’m sorry and then move on. Holding grudges will not only beat you down, but make it really hard to navigate around such a small industry when you’re constantly looking around every corner ensuring that a certain someone or story isn’t lurking close by. Rather than distract yourself from your goals, own up to your mistakes and move on. You’ll feel better about yourself and gain respect in the process.

My Takeaway:

Nothing great is ever accomplished alone and when it comes to making sure you are setting yourself up for success in the industry, it’s important to start with one of the only few things that is truly in your control. That is how you treat others. I’ve met designers who are not just amazing designers, but more importantly are amazing people. I do believe that the focus you place on yourself will have a direct impact on the rest of your career. People want to help nice people. It is as simple as that.

It’s not that hard to have good etiquette as a designer. It just takes evaluating your shortcoming, fixing them and making it a habit. Throughout my career I’ve learned that because of my own insecurities and actions I’m truly my own competitor. If I’m too afraid to put myself out to the industry, how would anyone ever find me? Or if I’m being rude or arrogant to others, why would anyone ever want to work with me?

I don’t generally do this, but this week, I’d like to give you some homework. Choose one person out of your contacts or followers and reach out to him or her directly and ask, “What are your goals this week and how can I help you with them?” You’d be amazed at the response you’ll get. I wish I could take the credit for this, but I have to thank a good friend of mine David Sherry for asking me that question one time.

Because, I’m a team player, I’m going to extend that same question to all of you. What are your goals this week and how can I help you with them? Shoot me an email, I’d love to chat about them.

Communication is important to me, so I’d love to continue the conversation with you all. What did I miss? Are there any things that you feel are important when it comes to etiquette as a designer?

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