I Am Not a Successful Designer (Yet)

April 4, 2011 By Chris

I graduated from the graphic design program at City College back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, internet-wise.

We learned PageMaker 1.0 and Photoshop 2.5 (Before there were layers. That was fun.) If you wanted one of the two color computers (Apple LCIIIs—the rest were black and white Mac classics), you needed to show up around 7:00 every morning. My last year of school I was rocking AOL 1.0. My 2400 baud per second modem would practically smoke every time you tried to download a file. CD-ROMS were still the “next big thing”, so I taught myself Macromind Director 2.0. When the rest of the portfolio class was arranging photo shoots, welding metal cases and cutting mat board, I was learning the intricacies of “Go to the frame -1”. My portfolio was the first interactive one to come out of the program, and I took second place in the annual portfolio review.

After I graduated, I worked for a skateboard company.

Then the web guy quit, which meant I had to learn HTML. Learned that, and went to work for the first interactive agency in San Diego. I wasn’t feeling it there, so I tried another agency. And yet another.

I taught myself Flash when it was FutureSplash.

I used that skill to get hired on with the best and brightest crew I’d ever had the pleasure of working with. Plus free soda machines, beer Fridays and Foosball. Then the bubble burst. I survived one round of layoffs, and another. I finally bailed out a few weeks before the doors closed for good.

I tried a couple of other agencies.

Nothing seemed to fit. An opportunity to design scrapbooking idea books came along, so I took the plunge and went freelance. That turned into branding and art directing a magazine. That led to a photography website, and finally customizing themes for women-owned small businesses. I’ve been freelancing for five years now.

Looking at my resume, you might assume I’m a successful designer.

After all, I’m still doing it 15 years later, my portfolio is pretty solid (if I do say so myself) and I’ve been able to work for myself the last 5 years. You’d be wrong.

Like many designers, I’m a total sterotypical “creative”.

I don’t like paperwork, or numbers, or, for that matter, the actual business end of running a business. So I’ve taken clients I didn’t really want to for a paycheck. I’ve suffered through clients not paying me for 90 days past the date they owed me. I’ve missed deadlines. I’ve totally forgotten about meetings I’ve scheduled. I’ve juggled way too many balls and dropped a few. I’ve neglected my family and personal life to write code for three days straight because I was a champion procrastinator.

About a year ago, I realized I wasn’t very happy doing what I was doing.

I loved the actual act of designing, but was constantly hustling, and scrambling, and just generally whizzing around like a pinball, always reacting, never planning. Something had to give. It was time to re-evaluate everything and decide if I wanted to keep doing what I was doing. Since being a graphic designer is who I am, not what I do, the answer to that question was easy. But I sure didn’t want to keep doing it the way I’d been doing it in the past – it was stressful and not a whole lot of fun.

So Life 2.0 was created.

The conversations that my wife (who agreed to come along for the ride as my COO) and I had about those questions has turned into something we started calling “Life 2.0”. We wanted to take the lessons we’ve learned in the first half of our lives, and make the second half better. To reevaluate what’s important and how we’re going to get there. Our business together is a major component in our new plan.

I have noticed changes in myself already.

We started this journey in earnest in January of this year. I am focusing on things like increasing efficiency, finding revenue streams and deciding on time tracking utilities – all those things my right-brained inner artist used to ignore because they “weren’t creative enough”. I’m discovering that they can actually be fun (except for time tracking – I don’t think I’ll ever actually like that) and make being a designer so much more than just decorating websites with the latest trends for a check. I’m hoping you’ll enjoy following along on this journey!

So what’s next?

Every Friday, I will have an article posted here that will talk about one aspect of, as Oprah would put it, “Living our best life”. Things like how to work smarter instead of harder, focus your marketing efforts and decide what type of life you want to live, and how your business fits into it, instead of the other way around.