8 Rookie Designer Mistakes That Make You Look Like An Amateur

Posted by John Shaver on May 01, 2012 in
8 Rookie Designer Mistakes That Make You Look Like An Amateur

After posting our 11 Things A Designer Should Never Say infographic, we received some questions as to why some of the items that were on the list were, in fact, on the list.

There are some nuggets of wisdom behind the humorous facade, but after having a laugh, we can all learn a thing or two (or eight) about living life as a professional graphic designer.

If you have worked in the design industry long enough, you have probably learned some of these the hard way. For the rest of you, we will shed light on some of the telltale mistakes of an amateur.

1. Charging A Flate Rate Without A Clear Project Scope

Asking for a per project fee instead of hourly is perfectly acceptable, if not the preferred method. It is when you propose a price before defining the scope of the project that you will get into trouble.

We have all done it, the $100 logo. One hundred dollars for the simplest of logos is not the worst thing in the world (although branding is much more valuable than that), but after 3 rounds of color changes, 5 different fonts, and hearing the infamous question, "What other ideas do you have?" you quickly realize that you should have specified exactly what the client was entitled to for the amount they paid.

The more detailed, the better, so next time you are asked to give an estimate, make sure you write up a description of work to go along with it.

2. Working For Cheap Because It Will Be "Great Exposure"

Do you know what is great exposure? Making a paying client so thrilled that they recommend you to all their connections because of the quality of your work.

Do you know what is not great exposure? Doing design work for minimum wage and having your client tell all his/her friends how cheap you are.

It is extremely tempting to be the cheapest option, especially when you are first starting out and want to get some clients under your belt. The problem is that if you start off doing work for ridiculously low prices, then you build a reputation for being the "pretty-much-free" designer.

You can build a body of work that will get you paying jobs without selling your soul.

If you are just starting out, build your portfolio with personal projects that you enjoy, not by doing free or half price work.

3. Doing Free Work For Family

There is a different between designing a business card for a family member and developing an e-commerce website from scratch for free.

There is nothing wrong with having a discounted rate for close friends and family, or even doing the occasional pro bono work for the people closest to you, but if you are planning on making a living as a graphic or web designer then you can't afford to spend all your waking hours working for free.

Choose wisely and do this type of thing rarely.

You want people to feel like you are doing them a big favor by working for free. You definitely don't want to give the impression that your work is so worthless that they should be getting it for free.

4. Doing Work On Spec(ulation) And On Crowdsourcing Websites

This is a hotly debated issue and is why crowdsourcing are so popular. A client pays $100 for a logo, and has 20 different designers submit five ideas each. That is crowdsourcing and that is a whole lot of work for just $100.

The problem is that only one designer gets paid while the rest worked for free.

You might think that it's not as risky because you are better than the rest of the people that are submitting designs, but that is the whole point. If you are a legitimately good designer, you should not have to submit your work to contests with hopes of being chosen.

On top of that, many clients don't know what is best for them, and part of your job as a designer is to educate them as to why your design works best.

5. Doing Work Up Front For Free With The Promise Of Future Profit Sharing

Once you get your foot in the design door, people will often come to you and say, "I have this great idea that will make millions of dollars, and if you do the design work for free up front, we can split the profits 50/50 down the road." Whenever I hear this phrase, my fists transform into punching mode.

If it was such a great idea then why wouldn't they spend the few thousand dollars up front to keep the $500,000+ later on? Because it is not a great idea, it is not a great idea at all.

This is one of, if not, the most common things I hear when I tell people what I do. I have quickly learned that if they aren't willing to invest a single penny into their idea, then I am not going to invest my own time either.

6. Getting Feedback From The Wrong People

My mom thinks I am great at a lot of things, some of which I know I am, others not so much, but that doesn't stop her from singing my praises.

Don't let your friends and family be the sole resource for feedback on your designs. Not only do they not have the design knowledge to give you meaningful critiques, but they will straight up lie to protect your feelings. You can't fault them for it, it is just part of life.

I am not saying you can't learn anything from people with less experience than you, but the majority of people have no clue what good design should look like.

7. Using Common Free Stock Photos Or Pictures From Google Images

There is a limited supply of free stock photos, yet everybody wants them. What ends up happening is that you see the same images used constantly all over the place.

Free images are also often taken by amateurs and are typically lower quality when compared to paid photos from a professional photographer with proper equipment.

Even worse is using pictures from Google's image search. Why? Because it is illegal to use someone elses image commercially with obtaining permission to use it, which usually requires payment anyways.

High quality images don't have to be expensive. Save yourself the time and trouble by licensing some professional stock photography from places like Envato's PhotoDune.

8. Underselling Yourself To Clients

Get it through your head. You are a designer. People pay you to design things, or at least I hope that is your goal. Do not sell yourself short.

If you owned a bakery, would you tell your clients that your scones and tarts were dry and crumbly? Absolutely not. You would ramble on about your tender, moist biscuits all day long. So why do so many designers talk as if they don't know any more about what they are doing than the client they are working for?

Clients look for designers because they need help. Most of them want to pay someone to do something that they know they can't, so accepting that role is the best way to make them happy.

You are the expert and you know what will work best. Of course it should be a collaboration, but don't just do something because they told you to. Let them know if you have a better idea and if so, why.

You Have The Skills

You may have noticed that many amateur design mistakes have to do with money, and that is because it is the number one reason designers fail. They have the skills, but feel guilty for charging people what they deserve, which makes it impossible to make a living.

Your skillset is unique and very much in demand. Do not forget that.

Are you guilty of any of these mistakes? Do you even think that they are all wrong? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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