The likelihood is, if you’re a designer like me, coming from a background of self development learning from experiences rather than traditional education routes like College or University, you’ve found it hard developing your path as a designer.
I had humble beginnings, starting my career as a designer predominantly using one piece of software, but, like many, over the years, my creativity and interest in developing new skills, branching out to new software, lead to adding various tools to my toolbelt.
Being a generalist in design is often seen as a negative, and that’s so far from the truth. A ‘Jack Of All Trades Master Of None’ attitude is something you need to erase from your mind – because that’s all it is, a negative mindset holding you back.
I want to give you full disclosure, how I’ve harnessed the skills I’ve procured and the positives and negatives that come with being a multidisciplinary designer.
1) Providing varied solutions
When you’re a designer with various skills, you can turn a one-part project into a multi-step project with some simple up-selling. Providing an all-encompassed solution that makes your client’s life a lot easier, removing the need for them to outsource and delegate jobs to others.
If you know the in’s and out’s of a project, understand the requirements, and feel like you’re confident enough to provide the services your client asks for – why not mention that you’d be able to take on more work as part of the project, and offer a package that meets all their needs.
This approach can have its drawbacks, so by all means, I’m not saying this should be an approach you take with every project. You need to understand what your capabilities are as a designer, and if that means letting your clients go to someone else that’d be able to provide a better solution, do it.
The last thing you want to do is provide a below-average sub-par effort. “Overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer” (If you get that reference, you know I’m a nerd). Your client will undoubtedly question your ability at this point if a project has taken a turn for the worst. You’ve heard the idiom, your eyes are too big for your stomach, right?
Up-sell what you know you can provide, making projects bigger and more lucrative, but please, leave the rest to the experts.
2) Being in control of your brand
Self-explanatory, but a big positive when it comes to being a multi-disciplinary designer. You are in control of your destiny, the content you put out there, and how your brand is perceived.
As designers, we want our branding a certain way, and letting someone else work on our ‘babies’ is something we don’t often consider nor allow people to do. If you’re reading this and thinking, “THAT’S ME!?” crack on, and start working on your branded message.
Everything you see when it comes to my branding, I’ve created myself. From my logo, website, social media presence, this blog post you’re reading, and everything in between. I know that I want my message to be a certain way, and the best way for me to get my personality out there is to work on things myself.
I have loved the process. Developing your branding can be an exciting adventure, but it’s not for everyone. It requires time, patience, and willingness to get things wrong.
Bear in mind this can be a lengthy process, something you need to be patient with if you’re designing the assets mentioned yourself. It’s a lot of work, don’t underestimate that. Which is why most business owners outsource a lot of work. It saves time.
Work on what you can, but don’t stress yourself out by going in circles trying to create something out of your range. You can either do it all yourself and end up with missing pieces of the puzzle, or trust in someone else understanding your vision which ultimately is what we ask of others as designers, and let them deal with what you can’t.
3) Taking on what you can handle
As designers, sometimes we can have visions of grandeur. We hear about an exciting project, and our minds are filled with endless possibilities and dreams of what we could achieve.
A down-side to being a multidisciplinary designer is that it’s relatively easy to underestimate the scope of a project, the time it’ll take to complete tasks, and all project management soon goes out of the window.
Every designer is different, has a limit to the workload they can take on, and you need to understand what yours is to avoid being overwhelmed and burning out.
Don’t just say yes to a client that has a tight deadline knowing full well you already have a back-log of work, and you’ll have to work copious amounts of long dreary hours to complete their work, on top of the work you already have on your plate.
A tired mind is not productive, and a tired body, well, that’s even worse.
If you’re taking on projects that (as mentioned in a previous point) require you to use your skill-set in various areas, plan ahead of time, and if the client has a tight deadline, see if there can be any leeway.
Ultimately, the client wants the best possible results, and if you aren’t able to provide that in the time-frame given, you need to provide honesty and transparency. The likelihood is, if they are open to shifting the dates around, they’ll be more than happy to fit in with your schedule, as long as they know in advance.
But, if you’ve already signed that contract, you better make sure you’re meeting that deadline. There’s no excuse.
4) Staying creatively satisfied
Making sure your mental game is on point is a minefield for creatives. As well as never taking on projects you can’t handle, you should also never take on projects that are immediately uninteresting to you.
If you get an inquiry that doesn’t get you excited, you aren’t going to feel too thrilled when you’re stuck working on it. It’s okay to say no and you should say no.
As a designer, I’ve experienced creative dissatisfaction on numerous occasions. Through experience and understanding of myself, I’ve learned what makes me tick as a designer. The dissatisfaction stemmed from taking on every project that came my way, refusing to say no to tasks that I knew would bore the living daylights out of me.
You’re going to hate what you do and resent yourself for taking on projects you know just aren’t going to give you the satisfaction you need. I know money makes the world go round, and that’s what pays your bills, but if you don’t keep your mind stimulated, you aren’t going to last long.
Take it from me. Because of the lack of satisfaction garnered from what I was doing as a designer, I was ready to pack my bags and give up very early in my career. I didn’t know what I loved because I was taking on so many varied tasks.
Finding your path as a designer is vital. You can do all of the things I’ve mentioned and be completely satisfied with your career, but if you aren’t, it’s time for a change of pace.
5) When niching down is the right move
Niching down for me was a step in the right direction for my career. I felt stagnant for a long time, and the feeling of being a jack of all trades was looming. I realised that to be satisfied with what I’m doing as a designer, I needed to find what it is I love the most and master that aspect.
Knowing when to niche down might look like a similar occurrence to you too. You aren’t enjoying the projects you’re taking on, aren’t attracting the right leads, and feel like you should be focusing your efforts on mastering a skill.
So, how did I make the shift?
- I took a look back at some of my previous projects, drawing the pros and cons from each.
- Noted every memorable project that left me feeling thrilled and satisfied as a designer. What did I get the satisfaction from doing the most?
- Evaluated what my strong points are as a designer and what I believe to be my most valuable skills
- Removed emotion and personal attachment to see what type of work I produced the best of
- Understood what areas I felt sparked my creativity the most
From doing this, I noticed a clear pattern in my work, creativity, and satisfaction levels. I felt like my expertise resided in Logo & Brand design, where I can creatively flourish the most. Other areas like print, social media, and website design being secondary services that, if the opportunity arose, I knew I’d love to work on equally.
You’d be surprised at how quickly my passion and love for design returned after making such a simple change, niching down on the services I offer, chopping down the trees producing bad fruit.
If you feel like you aren’t moving in the right direction in your design career, that’s when you should be considering what it is you could be doing differently and adapt accordingly.
This principle applies to most aspects of life, not just design. If something doesn’t feel right or you are starting to find less satisfaction in what you’re doing, it’s time to re-evaluate and find a solution that works for YOU.
- Understand your capabilities, up-sell what you’re confident about taking on, leave the rest to the experts!
- Only take on projects that get you excited, work toward satisfaction, not a necessity.
- Find your limit to the amount of work you can take on and stick to it.
- Re-evaluate to find your specialism, niche down when being a generalist becomes overwhelming and dissatisfying.
- Enjoy creating your brand, stop when it becomes a chore, and trust that others have the capability of achieving your goals, not just you.