5 Words that Every Graphic Artist Loves to Hear

Cover design by Mariah Fox - Pyragraph

Conversations With Ellie by Bill Worrell. Book cover design © Mariah Fox 2014. Painting © Jim Eppler.

Last week, after submitting a layout draft for approval, one of my favorite clients delivered possibly the best five words that any client can say to a designer: “Are you happy with it?” This was pure music to my ears. I was over the moon. I love this client!

Why are these five words such a big deal? It’s because hearing these five simple words just does not seem to happen often enough.

This particular client understands that he has hired me to provide an excellent service. He has instilled trust in me, and wants to make sure that I am happy with the draft before we move on, regardless of any feedback that he has given me. He is wise enough to recognize that my 20 years of experience in the field is valuable, and that is exactly why he hires me.

Artists are not marionettes and clients are not puppeteers.

You’d think that most people who hire a graphic design professional would be doing this to access unique knowledge and expertise that they do not have. Instead, I’ve found that many who request services really want to dictate too much about the project. They seem to view me as a computer operator who is simply executing something that they are not capable of doing. But there is so much more to design work than this.

Don’t get me wrong—the client should be integral to the project. For example, we should be working together on a mission for the design: clear goals for communicating visual messages that represent the brand, business or identity. I want all of my clients to be happy; I’d never want to produce a design that my client is unsure about.

But on the other hand, artists are not marionettes and clients are not puppeteers. You wouldn’t expect to tell an electrician how to wire your home, or even a cashier how to operate the cash register.

Good design services can be very expensive. This is not because we want to rip people off, or because we all have inflated egos (although, I can’t vouch for everyone on that last point). It’s not even just because our equipment, software and constant upgrades are outrageously costly! (Oh, but they are.) The education and training one needs to learn and develop design skills is also pricey. In the end though, it all comes down to the one thing that is irreplaceable and in a way, priceless; the one thing that no designer or client can purchase. And that one thing is time.

Since design is made up of various problems that require solutions, the more time you spend designing, the more solutions you learn to develop. I think of these solutions as a repertoire, or my bag of tricks. In this way, a seasoned designer is usually able to complete work much faster than the novice, allowing them to get more work done in less time, sometimes even saving their clients money. It’s more often about these solutions than it is about technical speed, though that does help, too.

So when a client says, “Are you happy with it?” I know that they have literally put their money where their mouth is. They see the value in hiring a professional who will help make the project stand out, make sense, and effectively convey what it needs to in order to generate results. And at that point, both the designer and the client will be over the moon.

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About Mariah Fox

Mariah Fox, Assistant Professor of Media Arts at New Mexico Highlands University, is an Addy Award winning art director and illustrator. In 2001, she founded her company, Ital Art, which provides creative services for a variety of clients. Mariah’s mixed media work has been exhibited internationally and she has contributed art, editing, research and writing to 32 books and 14 publishers, including several major New York houses.

1 Comment

  1. Peri Pakroo on July 11, 2014 at 9:13 am

    I love this Mariah. Working with clients that don’t value your vision and craft is always disheartening, and it happens too often, especially when you’re just starting out and not getting the best clients.

    I think it often boils down to a fundamental lack of value for quality work in general. Too many clients don’t really care whether their copy is well-edited or designed; they just want to pay as little as possible for the freelancer to do some monkey work and that’s it. A year or two into my self-employed career I learned to recognize the warning signs of a bad project fit: If I (the freelancer) care about the final product a whole lot more than the client, it’s not the kind of project I want to work on.

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