The Worst Designer I Have Ever Met

Published:  August 26, 2013
Josh Vann

Back when I was studying graphic design, I spent a lot of time with a fellow design student named Zaf. Everything I know about the importance of selling yourself I learnt from him.

Zaf was a lot of things, but more than anything he was an amazing salesman. He had what your dad’s dad would refer to as ‘the gift of the gab’. His mouth worked 9 to 5 and didn’t stop for breaks. He was always meeting people at bars or parties or events and in no time he turned them into clients. From the very first moment he decided he was a designer, he was constantly churning out logos, business cards, brochures and websites for anyone and everyone he met.

Zaf always got twice as much work as I did, and more than that, he seemed to do half as many revisions to his work, and generally his clients always seemed so much happier than my own. He never seemed to have any problems getting paid and he earned more per job because he was a better negotiator than I was.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that Zaf was probably the worst designer I have ever met. To this day I have never met another designer with a worse eye for design. I used to wonder how his clients didn’t seem to notice, but it goes back to my original statement about Zaf: He was a salesman.

It’s a sad fact of this trade that it isn’t enough to be a great designer, you have to be a great salesman too. If you design a great logo but your presentation consists of a printout and silently staring at the client, they’re going to shoot holes in your work. You’ve given them the ammunition and the opportunity. They’re going to take it home and show it their husband/wife/child/neighbour/dog and ask what they think. Because the general public assumes that the design process involves hitting the ‘logo’ button in Photoshop, they’ll offer up opinions simply because they’ve been asked.

Zaf never had this problem because he worked hard to convince his clients that he knew what he was talking about. He spoke with confidence about the results he could deliver and within the cocoon of his confidence, his clients felt safe. He never made excuses; he just presented his work and told them why it was good.

The catch cry of many designers is ‘Good design should speak for itself’, and it does – but only to other designers. If your client works in finance, or on boats, or on a farm, they are not going to be educated in design, or even be opinionated about design, so they really won’t know what they’re looking at. And at that point it’s up to you to educate. Why is your design exactly what the client needs? What are the positive attributes of the design? How will the public perceive it? Assure them that you have made the right decisions, because you have their best interests at heart and you know what you’re doing.

All of this is easier said than done, especially for young designers who don’t trust their instincts to sell to a client. Robert Hughes said it best when he exclaimed: “Confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize”.

Be analytical about what you’ve done. If you aren’t confident in yourself, be confident in your work and your process. If you’ve made decisions during the development of the design, make those clear. Tell them why you’ve done what you’ve done, and tell them what didn’t work, as well as what did. Knowing you’ve explored these options will set the client at ease and assure them you have thought through all of the options and the design you’re presenting is the strongest possible outcome. If nothing else it will make them feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.

The logical end to this story is that Zaf walked away from graphic design when he realized he could make more money selling real estate. He drives a Ferrari now and he assures me it’s amazing.

4 Responses

  1. Zag wasn’t a designer, he was a sales person. Nothing wrong in being a sales person unless you are being dishonest about what you are selling.

    Understand what good design is and selling it confidently will come naturally.

  2. Simon Ashford

    Well said Josh. Great story. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Trish

    Well said, indeed.

  4. It IS a great story, and I think it’s one where there is a major lesson to take away form it. We shouldn’t dismiss Zag as being “just a salesman.”

    The reality is that you can get as comfortable and as skilled as a designer as you want, but if you can learn some sales techniques and back it up, your on a one way street to becoming a profitable designer.

    It’s something we drill into our ProPartners, and we give them a lot of support and guides on how to sell their web design work, because frankly, being a salesman / designer ‘hybrid’ is incredibly important.

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