Creatives Don’t Work for Themselves

by Alex Tillard | March 13, 2018

I’ve been an artist all my life. As a child I loved drawing and painting. I drew with pencils, charcoal and pastels. I painted with watercolors, acrylics, and oils. In high school I discovered a love for sculpting with clay. In college I threw clay pots, and learned to sculpt with wax, how to cast bronze, and how to weld. Our senior sculpture project involved taking an old organ (the musical kind) apart, spreading it across the room, and getting it to work again. Each time I got to create exactly what I wanted. I made portraits and animals and caricatures. I made art for me. And then, I became a graphic designer.

Reality check.

Throughout my years as an artist I had gotten used to pretty much doing whatever I wanted for no great reason (any good art student knows that when you have to explain your art to your professors, you can pretty much make up whatever reason you want after you’ve created your piece). But when I became a designer, I suddenly had a lot of critics. I wasn’t designing just for myself anymore; I had clients. They had to like the designs. And not only that; the designs were usually for marketing purposes—they weren’t just supposed to be pretty; they had to serve a purpose.

Early in my design career I would get offended any time I was asked to make changes, and I took most critiques personally. With one design, I got upset simply because I was asked to just change the color. WHY did they want it red??? I designed it blue, and blue was so much better!! My boss had a talk with me and explained that I wasn’t just designing for myself anymore. That I had others to answer to, and I had to try harder not to take it personally. And he was right.

Dang it.

So I changed the design to red, and guess what? It still looked good. I got used to seeing it in red after a while, and I actually liked it.

I’d like to say that after that, I stopped taking requests for changes personally, but I still did. And honestly, I sometimes still do. But I’ve gotten better at it. It takes practice to toughen up and be able to accept design changes and constructive criticism.

That practice is essential to your success as a designer, because it will help you focus on what really matters—making sure your design does what it’s supposed to do. Does the logo clearly convey what the client is all about? Does the marketing piece explain itself clearly?

It also matters that your clients are happy. They might not have design expertise, but they do know their own business/organization best. And usually if you’re in love with the first design and they aren’t, there’s a reason for it. Even when I have to rework something because a client wasn’t in love with it, we usually come up with something we both love within another round or two of changes. I’ve even looked back on a design’s first round and thought to myself, “Wow, I’m glad we didn’t end up going that direction!!”

If you’re a designer, I’m sure you’ve experienced this. And hopefully if you’ve been at it a while, you’re nodding your head with me. But if you’re not, take a step back and look at yourself. Do you still get frustrated every time you’re asked to make a change? Ask yourself why. If you’re new to this, be prepared for a bit of a long road ahead. It’s hard to take criticism, but it will get easier. And you’ll become a better designer for having experienced it.

Of course the best part of all this is that if you’re an artist and want to be creative, you can still create for yourself any time. Go out on a weekend and paint. Take an evening and sculpt something. Bring a small sketchbook with you and doodle a lot. You don’t have to let anyone tell you what they think about it. And then hopefully, when you’re back at work, if a client or your boss or your team asks you to make a change, you’ll be ok with it.