Don’t Do What I Did
Lessons learned from Aaron Draplin’s favorite mistakes in his design career.
In 2007, designer Aaron Draplin was the subject of a viral video. One evening after a couple of drinks, he purchased an old hotel sign on eBay. He woke up the next morning thinking about what a great deal he’d gotten on the gorgeous vintage sign — a sign that would be a very cool addition to his office. But then he read the fine print — the sign was 28 feet tall. And he needed to go and get it.
Aaron made the trek from Michigan to Missouri in a Passat wagon, still determined to collect the sign. Once he arrived, though, he could only fit a few metal arrows and light bulbs in his car — the sign was simply too large to make its way home with Aaron.
It was a solid mistake — and one his friend and travel companion caught on video. All in all, roughly 400,000 people watched Aaron’s mishap unfold.
We all make mistakes in our careers — the longer and more robust the career, the more mistakes you make. The key is to not let them cripple you, but to learn from them instead.
Aaron is the owner and designer at Draplin Design Co. (DDC) and co-founder/designer of Field Notes. At Adobe MAX 2018, Aaron shared his favorite mistakes from his design career. His hope is that you will learn from them and not repeat them.
Mistake: Showing way too many options to clients
“In round one of reviews and pitches, I always show way too much stuff,” says Aaron. Caught up in the design options he has been creating and wanting to demonstrate how he has thoughtfully and successfully made use of his time, Aaron has a history of idea overload.
“There’s just this air of excitement that we get to do this together,” he says. “But the thing is, you can overwhelm them. So, I’m learning how to fold that back.”
Try to show a good representation of what you’ve been doing with your time while being cognizant of how much your clients can handle. Remember, your goal is to help them come to the best design decision.
Mistake: Lacking clarity in the review process
Aaron recalls working on a logo for a band and sending them a PDF to look through. After a few days, they called up and said, “Hey, dude, we love it.” But after asking which design they loved, Aaron discovered they had only seen one page of the 37-page PDF he sent them. The band had reviewed the file on their mobile device and assumed it was only one design, not realizing there were multiple pages to scroll through.
“Now, I always say, ‘This is a multiple-page PDF. Multiple variations. Flip through the pages and let me know what you think,’” says Aaron.
When you send designs for review, it only takes a few moments to add a personal message delineating what you have sent and how to access it. Don’t assume clients know how to use the same platforms you do. By letting them know up front what to expect, you ensure they will see all your work and have a pleasant review experience.
Mistake: Forgetting about discarded designs
One of the worst things you can do is discard a design and forget about it forever. Aaron keeps what he calls “The Logo Graveyard.” It’s a place to store logos that clients didn’t choose or ideas that never really came to fruition.
“Do I recycle logos? Yes, I do,” says Aaron. Going back to visit old designs, then turning them on their head, twisting, and tweaking them, can be a great way to get fresh designs and make your work more efficient. Review items in your graveyard every once in a while and let it spark new inspiration.
Mistake: Not taking advantage of “Margie the Marketer”
There is always one marketer on the client team who is interfacing with you. Make sure they know that you are on the same team. One way to build trust is to provide them with the goods before they’re expecting it.
“If you have a meeting on Friday to review something, call or email your point of contact on Thursday,” says Aaron. “You basically catch her off guard, and you send it to her just a little bit ahead of time. Then she’ll be armed to go to bat for you on Friday.”
And don’t be afraid to share your opinion with your clients. You are, after all, the professional designer in the room. Aaron says it is OK to point out particular designs you think have promise. “It’s totally cool to say, ‘Hey, I think number 3 and 5 have something going on. Let me know what you think.’”
Mistake: Not knowing the tricks to your software
One of the most egregious mistakes made in an age of such incredible technology is not using it to its full advantage. “With the right tools, you can have a product not in six weeks, but in six minutes,” says Aaron.
Knowing your software intimately saves a lot of time and frees up your workflow. Take advantage of new tech and time-saving shortcuts. Use Adobe CC tutorials to learn new skills, and see how the latest AI-powered tools can make your job easier. Then, save every iteration of your projects so you can easily jump in at any point in the process.
No matter how many mistakes you’ve already made, you can always learn from the mistakes of others. And it’s through that learning that you can become a better, more well-rounded designer. Aaron says, “It’s an art form to be a designer. These are the things we make in our dreams, and sometimes we stumble along the way of making them a reality. But we do it.”