Naturally you would expect that a graphic designer is proficient in logo, print and web graphics, but what else do clients commonly request? (Web, email, motion graphics, 3D animation etc…)
I’ve heard a few times over my graphics/design career that it is better to be an expert at a couple of things, rather than a “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Is this true in the freelance graphic design world? How do you handle requests that fall outside your normal scope?
If you decide to expand your skill-set and take on that work, do you promote it at risk of appearing less focused or “expert” at your other work?
List of requests I’ve had and completed:
- Brochures, Business Cards, Logos, Manuals, Books, Sales Digests, Mag-a-logs, Invitations, Postcards, Vehicle Wraps, Billboards, Hang Tags, Packaging, T-shirts, Annual Reports / Sales Reports, Advertisements for publications, Letters, Fliers, Posters, Labels, Pens, Mugs, Post-its, Envelopes, Buttons, Lanyards, Menus, Signs… (I’m sure there’s more but I can’t think of them now).
- Full sites, Skinning CMS systems, HTML Email, Landing Pages, “Squeeze” sites, Buttons (and any other random graphic for a site), Integrate existing audio, Integrate existing video, CSS templates, PHP form processing, PDFs for download
- Cartoon-style Illustration, Technical Illustration, Product Illustration, Vector conversion of logos and maps, Vector Portraits, Caricatures, Photo restoration, Photo retouching/color correction, Murals, Commissioned lithographs, DVD Menus, t-shirt sublimation, laser engraving/etching, traditional engraving.
Most of the above items are relatively close to some degree. All the print stuff uses the same skill set, as does the web stuff. Technical specifications are merely altered for the particular project. That’s the key to versatility.
Once you understand the technical side of print design, everything for print adheres to the same standards.
Web is a bit more difficult because of the ever-changing nature. So you have to continually keep learning and growing when creating web content. If a client approaches me with a specific aspect, such as using the some web service API in some way I’ve never done. I tell them right away I’m going to have to learn how to do that if I think I can. Otherwise I simply tell them that I don’t currently have the time to dedicate to learning XXXX’s API.
List of things which have been requested and I declined:
- Anything with Flash and / or Shockwave
- Most Animation (other than simple gifs)
- Video editing (Beyond cropping and sizing)
- Audio editing
I’m not a “motion” guy so animation video audio are not within my skill set in any way. Could I fake it? Absolutely. but I’d rather have a reputation for doing things well than just getting by.
- Complex web applications
- Facebook/MySpace pages
- Complex back-end alterations to web sites such as modifying Drupal or altering a custom built ASP web application
I can edit most back-end content, but I don’t like to. It’s no fun. So I’d rather simply not do it. In addition, I’m not a CIS major or a developer with a degree in Computer Science so many times, I don’t have the skill set to work on very complex web applications. I will easily alter front-end stuff, but I decline many back-end projects.
- Product training (seminars/workshops)
- Authoring a book
- Authoring a sales course
Once you become a trainer/author then that’s what you do. I’m not willing to forego designing and illustration simply to train others. I wrote an on-going series of articles over a year for a now-defunct publication and that was enough to teach myself that I’m not the guy to be spending my days training others or writing about training. Funny thing, the SE sites are good for a drive by answer and I think that’s why I visit this site and a couple others. I enjoy helping and answering direct questions. It keeps my skills sharp. But when faced with a deadline and a word count to meet, the joy evaporates for me. It may not for you.
- Apparel design – Just not “me”.
- Personally objectionable materials. This is more about me and my beliefs. If I would be ashamed to admit I’ve designed something for a particular product or client, then I won’t do the work. For example: I’d never do any work for the KKK regardless of the paycheck or how badly I may need it.
- 3D modeling – I simply don’t know the software.
Essentially, I decline any work which I am not at least 80% confident I can complete in a timely manner without issues. Or, things I just don’t want to do.
I am always immediately forthcoming with clients when asked to do something which is out of my comfort zone. I’m the first to speak up and say “That’s really out of my skill set and I wouldn’t feel comfortable completing that project.” Or “Sorry, I simply don’t have the skills required to complete that project at the level I feel you deserve.” Clients respect you saying “I don’t do that.” far more than you delivering a sub-standard product.
You really don’t need to be a “Jack of all Trades.” You can stick to one particular skills set and be a beast when it comes to those requests. You’ll get work if you’re good. And you’ll be happier doing it in my experience. Spreading yourself too thin just causes stress. I may have a wide skill set but that’s been generated over a steady career. I’ve been very, very, very lucky.
If I decide to learn something new. I will. But I do it on my time when I want. And I don’t take on work or promote that new skill until I’m confident I can complete most projects given to me which may require that skill set. There is always a period of real-world learning which takes place and I traditionally will lose money on those first few projects requiring a new skill set because I’ll need more time to train myself. So, I schedule them with this in mind. I’ll take one of these types of projects during slow print cycles in most cases. Print work tends to have 3 or 4 peak seasons a year and the off-months allow for more time. Then as I feel more confident I will expand the scheduling allowed for those projects.
There are times when I tell a client “I don’t know how to do that.” and they want me to learn how. At that point it becomes my choice. The client is willing to wait or slow delivery for me to learn, but I have to determine if first, I WANT to learn whatever it is. Second, how quickly I think I may be able to learn. And lastly, if I’m willing to devote the time needed to learn it. In some cases I do. In other cases the answer is no. So I stand firm that I can’t complete that task for the client. In the end, it’s my time and my business, just because a client wants something does not ultimately mean it will benefit me or my business by knowing that particular skill.
Wow, this turned into a much longer answer than I anticipated.