Fries With That Logo? No Thanks

Ever since Radical, I've met amazing clients that understands and appreciates my work. Before this, however, I didn't have that much luck and I wasn't too smart about the kind of projects I'd say yes to. Here's a reflection upon my freelance life just 2 years ago when I was a fresh graduate, hopeful of what's to come in terms of my career and eager to accept any freelance job thrown in my way. It all started with stumbling upon an old Smashing Magazine article called: "Do You Want Fries With That Logo?". The article addresses the question of how to maintain standards and integrity as a designer when your boss or client asks for a logo and expects it to be delivered like a pizza: in thirty minutes or less.

As I read on, the question “Why couldn’t I have read this earlier?” dawned on me. Not many designers enjoy the "I-need-this-thirty-minutes-ago" aspect of their job, but do you know what you can eat? Food. Know what you can’t eat? Dislike for tight deadlines. Pickiness aside, every designer encounters jobs like these, and sometimes you have to take them so you can put food on the table. If circumstances allow, it’s a good idea to think twice before consistently accepting fast-food design jobs.

The article verbalized an issue that I had a lot of trouble articulating: that the frustration I'd been feeling was namely the result of getting designs done rather than getting it done well since clients demanded fast food results.

"Not only are these types of jobs not portfolio builders, but it’s like flying trapeze without a safety net. Without a skilled mentor to provide guidance, standards below the norm, and lack of experimentation time, these positions can seriously stunt a designer’s growth."

It’s difficult to find clients that respect your time, understand it without micromanaging you, and who trust your design and time management abilities. In my experience, I'd say the chances of finding free spirited clients are roughly 1 in 5. In most cases, clients will not fully understand (and sometimes not willing to understand) the amount of effort and time that go into the design process, and at this point they become pixel pushers. With this in mind, a certain level of emotional detachment is necessary, because that's the only way to get the job done instead of getting the job done well, even though it's what we strive for as designers.

Faced with the realization that my creative light bulb was slowly burning out, I finally made the decision to pass on fast food design jobs. After months of "Urgents" and "ASAPs", work was just not enjoyable anymore, no matter how much money was offered. Sure, pressure helps with fast results, but try fast food everyday for all 3 meals and you get the idea. How does constant pressure benefit anyone? Sure, you’ll get “used to it”, but to what end?

When I started as a freelancer, I had little awareness of design industry standards and usually didn't conduct enough research or get better acquainted with clients before accepting projects. I used to tell myself that the fast food issue is just how it is anywhere, everywhere. In retrospect, that in itself is a deadly statement because it automatically eliminates the opportunity for change before any change can be made. There may be times when you catch yourself doing this, where you just accept fast food clients without hesitation and ignore the warning signals in your head.

"Staying in a 'fast food' design job for too long can result in early onset designer burnout. To avoid this creative killer, it is highly recommended to pursue other creative endeavors on the side."

To put it plainly, there are times to hurry the fuck up, and when you’re in the moment, my best advice is to hurry the fuck up. Keep in mind though, that while fast food designs may give you an adrenaline rush and immediate cash, cash dries up and adrenaline wears down. Over time, your job should become more about growth and exploration than pumping out sub-par designs like fast food joints pump out crappy food. Remember that if you’re in the position to pick and choose, you should not be afraid to say no to clients. When all is said and done, the high standard to which you hold yourself and your integrity as a designer should be reserved for future clients that will appreciate and respect the work you do.

Edited by Joe Ticar

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