This might be a “duh, Kelsey” kind of post, but I’m going to take a stab at it none the less. After seven years of calling myself a designer, It hasn’t been until this first job where I really and truly had to start thinking with the audience in mind. I was reading this article by Julie Zhuo about how to work with designers over my lunch break, hoping to glean some backwards information on how to work better as a designer working with others. While she is speaking generally, this quote was this lightning bolt to my brain about certain situations that I have been having a hard time pin-pointing at work: “designers may use their own experiences as a compass for what to focus on, when in fact they are not the target demographic.” Ta-da!
How simple is that scenerio, and how often do you find yourself slipping into that as a designer? I know working alone on projects in grad school, and freelancing on the side I had to rely on my own expertise to create. When I was able to pick the project, often-times I situated the target audience around someone similar to myself so that I had a true understanding of what to base decisions off of. Clients often come to me for a certain aesthetic or have a target audience that is based around the audience I’ve had most of my practice dealing with. Even when working for a financial institution, the target audience was a post-grad young professional looking to take control of their finances early on—aka, still ‘me’. All of this time spent creating projects for audiences similar to myself has actually trained me to rely on my personal aesthetics as a benchmark for ‘good’ design.
I don’t think this is a problem if you’re looking to build up your personal brand and you’re still meeting the needs of your client. It’s just a little different for me now. In the stationery world I’m designing for children, for mothers, for fathers, for people with a strict budget in mind, people who don’t value design as their main purchasing factor (gasp), and so many other possible contributing factors that are just new to me. In design critiques over the past couple weeks, I’ve been relying on my personal experiences and my own ideas about ‘good’ design to help guide my decisions and opinions. There had been something off, and I just couldn’t lay my finger on exactly how or why I should trust a design detail or aesthetic choice when I didn’t believe in it deep down. I know now that I wasn’t resonating with the audience. Directly stating this already has me in a better mind-set to move forward from. Here is where trusting in your team to make some of these over-arching decisions comes in, and where I resign myself to learning all over again. While I’ll still have my opinions and kooky ideas from time-to-time, I need to take a short while and learn to resonate with my new audience.
Have you ever had an instance where you had to learn to design or work for a new set of standards? Change is hard sometimes :) As always I appreciate your advice and our discussions around these usually new-to-me topics. Cheers to life-long learning!