Designers are your friend

By Alex Bozich

Designers are a rough bunch. Ask anyone in the business and they’ll tell you the last person they want to run into in a dark alley is a designer with a grudge. It turns out that talent and passion are a volatile combination, and the best designers tend to be the ones who can say the most cutting and hurtful things about people who don’t understand or won’t understand what they’re doing.

This isn’t meant to offend designers, though, it’s more a cautionary tale about trying not to get on their bad side and the best way to go about that.

1. Pretend designers are wild, angry mountain lions.

You may not see the warning signs until it’s too late, so tread carefully, speak softly, and bring food or alcohol. Okay, maybe mountain lions don’t like beer, but this is a shaky analogy as is, so bear with me. An angry designer is someone who needs to be placated, usually with a beverage and given some room to rant and rave. Let them cool down, throw them some raw steak (or perhaps sushi, in this case), and let them take a nap. They’ll be far less cranky if you give them a chance to let it out.

2. Understand designer morality.

Designers are often seen as egotistical and arrogant artists. They aren’t. Rather, they have a finely tuned sense of right and wrong, and when something is wrong, it’s very, very wrong. Nothing will offend a designer more than asking or insisting that they do something they believe is wrong. It’s the equivalent of telling them to slaughter a village of kittens – it’s cruel, unusual, and generally unnecessary.

If you absolutely must ask a designer to go against their beliefs, focus less on arguing with them, throwing your weight around or justifying it. Instead, be frank, use logic, and listen to what they’re saying. If they’re making a valid point and presenting a workable solution, try it. If you absolutely must do it your way, let them know that you understand and respect their professional opinion and experience. Acknowledge that your needs are unfortunate, lousy and ill conceived, but that for some compelling reason, like budget, technical capabilities or what-have-you, you can’t do what the designer wants.

Simply put, take their side, tell them they’re right, (because 99% of the time, they are), but you can’t realistically do it. They’ll respect and accept that, usually.

3. A lot of what designers do is magical. Don’t take magic for granted, it is powerful and dangerous.

There are loads of legends about where and how artists get their gifts. From muses to fairies to the devil, these legends transcend time and culture. Regardless of where talented people get their talent, you probably don’t want to screw around with the source. You think mountain lion creatives are a volatile group, you’ve got another thing coming when you start annoying magical creatures. Call it karma, call it whatever you like, when you get on a designer’s bad side, the initial fall out is nothing compared to what’s to come. A campaign is launched to slowly drive you insane, make you irritable, screw up your plans and generally make you unhappy. Did you get stuck in traffic? Spill your coffee? Stub your toe? Maybe you should be a bit nicer to the creative people in your life.

4. Treat designers less like mystical creatures with strange ways and bizarre rituals, and more like people.

Designers, at the end of the day, no matter how touched they may be, are still human (in perhaps the loosest definition of the term). They need to eat, sleep, and unwind. You may resent them for being able to “have fun” and do things they enjoy for a living, but respect the fact that work is still work, even if it does involve magic and sorcery. Especially if it involves magic and sorcery. That stuff is exhausting and maddening. Sometimes, you need something yesterday, and you need to ask designers to work crazy hours to get it done, or even travel through time. Don’t take that for granted. Don’t assume that because they’re a freelancer/creative/magical creature that they habitually stay up until three am or enjoy staying up until three am. Even if they do, I can promise they don’t like doing it when they have to spend all that time working on a deadline. They will do it because of their sense of morality, their drive to “do it right,” but not because they like it, or need something to do in the wee hours besides hiding your socks and sabotaging your coffee machine.

Also, stop calling them randomly. Schedule that like you would with someone who isn’t a creative. Never use the excuse that you’re calling them at one am because you “know they work weird hours.” How could you possibly know that? Even if they are up at one am and not sleeping like most people, do you really want to interrupt? Magic and sorcery, remember? You don’t want to break the concentration of someone who’s involved in that sort of thing.

5. Designers are friendly, but they are also reclusive.

This perplexes many people. Often times they don’t understand how to befriend a designer, because designers operate on different wavelengths. A designer will get into “the zone” and not want to be bothered at all, not to hear about your children, your pets, your hilarious story about the time you and your buddy Jim went up into the mountains and somehow wound up wearing each others’ pants (they will totally want to hear that story after they’re out of the zone, though). They will become easily aggravated with “trivial” niceties, meetings, and anything they see as unnecessary or irrelevant to their job. If you believe it is relevant to their work, make that expressly clear and engage them from the beginning. If you can see they’re focused and working, come back later, or shoot them an email asking when they’ll be available.

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