Every single designer reading this runs a blog, or at the very least a Medium account; around 5% (wildly anecdotal statistic) actually post on it. Most designers reading this speak at conferences, or at the very least have an opening slide mocked up in a sketchbook. Most designers reading this have a startup, a side-project, or an idea that will shift them from design professional, to owner who designs. In short those of us that design, spend a lot of time aspiring to not design.
We’re often told to “get our name out there” in order to be successful. That writing about design, speaking at events, contributing to the community, building our own projects, will get us “noticed”.
Good work begets good work
However, managing a blog can be (trust me on this) a full time job. Speaking regularly means being away from home, and office, for days or even weeks at a time. Every hour that goes into a side-project is an hour that doesn’t go on client work. They may be beneficial, but they carry a cost; they all take time.
Design is a craft, it takes practice. Do too little and you get rusty. Spend too much time getting noticed, and there’ll be nothing to notice. A few years ago a very experienced designer, with an extremely high-profile client list explained to me why he’d won very few awards: “To win awards,” he said, “you have to design for awards. I’d prefer to win clients.”
Clients seek the surety of high-profile, award-winning designers
Good clients, in my experience, come from one place, past clients. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to stumble onto some great clients and they nearly all had one thing in common: word of mouth. You do a good job for a client and their contacts will ask them who they hired for it. Not only do you get a lead, but a lead with zero competition. Good work begets good work.
But how many clients are really qualified to judge good design? Many clients seek the surety of high-profile, award-winning designers, to avoid making an uneducated decision. So, whether you’re aspiring to be a designer, or aspiring to continue being a designer, should you spend time writing, speaking, engaging with the community, or focus all your energy on doing good work?
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