Editor’s note: This is a contributed post by Addison Duvall, author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, and culture. She’s written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.
There are two types of designers in this world: those who are in high-demand, and those who aren’t. Most of us start out in the latter category, and, unfortunately, some of us remain there for the duration of our careers.
But there’s a way to cross the gap between being in high demand and low demand that isn’t always obvious. It’s not easy, otherwise, everyone would be doing it. But I’m going to assume you’re a designer interested in improving the quality of clients you get, so I’m going to give it to you straight.
Here are several steps you can follow to boost your appeal to your potential clients, and climb the ladder from mediocre performer to becoming a high-demand superstar designer.
Recommended Reading: Tips to Getting More Design Projects
Do the Thinking
The most important asset a designer can have is his or her thought process. High-level clients – the kind you want to go after as a high-demand designer – are far more interested in what you were thinking about when you created the work in your portfolio, rather than just the visuals.
Before you meet with a high-level client, it’s helpful to arrange your portfolio so that it tells a story. When you do present your portfolio to a potential client, don’t just show a bunch of pretty pictures, explain the thought that went into your decision-making process.
You want to take potential clients through your market research covering unique selling points, and all that is relevant that goes into creating a marketable, effective design.
Know who you are designing for
With new clients, take the opportunity to explain your choices that make up your past designs. Why and how did your choices work with your target users? Get the answers to these questions, and you can do that by pulling data from the people you design for the most often.
Interview your users, start an email list, make polls or surveys whenever appropriate. Don’t just listen to what people say, but also look at their activities and reactions to the designs you’ve created. Observe the clicking, reading, or buying habits of your clients. Cross-reference those habits with what you get from the horse’s mouth to get a better, more complete indication.
Show the process behind the visuals themselves. Why these colors or that logo concept, and most importantly how did your choices improve the effectiveness of the design? Go deeper into the psychology of your ideal clients and the markets they serve. High-demand designers do this every day.
Think for your client
Every design client loves to have a designer who can think for them. Someone who knows their exact needs before they even voice them, and who can intuitively draw out their true desires for a successful project.
(Image Source: Proteus Documents)
How do I know this? Because I’ve been a design client as well as a designer. Even though I’m a designer myself, I love it when a freelancer can seemingly "read my mind" and figure out what I really want before I even say it. If you’re thinking that no designer can accomplish this reliably without the use of a magic wand and sparkly cape, think again.
Learning to quantify the needs of your target market is a very learnable skill in any industry. However, it does require you to be ultra-specific about the exact industry or industries you want to serve – you can’t read everyone’s minds, after all.
Choosing to Specialize
If you’re after true high-level clients, you can’t be an "all-purpose" designer. Unless you’re really, truly strapped for cash, it makes no career sense to take on just any design job you can find, regardless of your level of expertise.
(Image Source: Visual.ly)
This dilutes the strength of your personal brand and takes away valuable time that you could be using to focus your attention on the markets you genuinely want to serve. It can be hard sometimes to walk away from lucrative jobs that you have no apparent interest in. But you need to free up time to conduct the proper research into the kinds of design jobs you really want to take; the kind that will make you a high-demand designer.
By having a target market, high-demand designers will automatically know what their clients want, because it’s the same thing that they themselves want. This has a bonus effect of giving one more experience with one’s niche market, which is something all clients want.
Not Good Enough
A lot of designers when faced with less-than-appealing work, approach it with a lackluster attitude. This inevitably affects the quality of the finished project. It is an unavoidable fact that there will always be work that’s not going to have your steadfast attention. In those cases, you may be tempted to do work that’s merely ‘good enough’, and not put your full effort into delivering a quality piece.
This practice is detrimental to your path to becoming a truly high-demand designer, because it creates dark spots in your portfolio. Every mediocre project you put into your portfolio is taking the place of a potentially awesome project. But if you do each project like it’s the most valuable one in your entire career, you’ll eventually have a portfolio full of amazing work that any client will salivate over.
It’s also important to do side projects which show your thought process to potential clients. Many designers don’t really understand how important this is, because they think that all an art director or freelance client wants to see is the result. But high-level clients aren’t paying you for your design skills. They’re looking for people who show a superior thought process from initial sketches to the final solution, and their ability to interpret demands and demonstrate them in the results.
Get Out Of The Kiddie Pool
One of the advantages of becoming a high-level designer is that it eliminates requests for spec work – the bane of every designer’s existence. Except for a small set of very special circumstances, high-level designers never get asked to do spec work. And when they do, it’s for a very specific, mutually beneficial purpose.
If a client is confident that you can deliver their needs and wants unsupervised, it won’t even occur to them to ask you for spec work. Spec work for me is quite unnecessary, it doesn’t show your problem-solving side, just your designing skills, and everybody has that.
High-level clients want their high-demand designers to go beyond designing, they want designers who know how to think and connect with their target audience. Remove yourself from the kiddie pool, do your research into the target markets of your cliens and create opportunities for yourself.