by Anthony Fonseca, Graphic designer
So, I've got some confessions to make. I've screwed up.
Ok … maybe a few times.
I'll be the first to say that in every career a little rain must fall. Though I've seen my share of stormy days, I haven't yet found myself slipping on scuba gear to wade in the waters. Thankfully, it's not the mistake that defines the designer … rather, it's how resilient they are and how they can help others avoid following their misguided footsteps.
Every designer has a horror story to tell, though I'm glad I've never been on the business-end of an unintentional reply all sent to a client -- one of the more colorful variety. However, I'm not immune to taking the odd misstep.
Fresh-out-of-school, I was the young wide-eyed junior designer at a local studio. Eager to learn, eager to please, I was a pretty confident kid. I fancied myself a bit of an expert on the intricacies of then-standard software -- more so than any senior person in the studio. So in putting my youthful energy to good use I took some initiative on an in-progress project. Some masks and compound paths later, the files were collected. Another job well done, I thought. A few days went by, and for all the initiative I took, I served only to mess it up. Badly. Suffice it to say that some prints were spoiled. A lot of them. Photos appeared incorrectly and expensive colors weren't printing. I sheepishly sunk deeply into my chair and thought about what could have happened had I been diligent enough to …
Lesson # 1:
Proof your own work
(…and bring a fine-toothed comb while you're at it)
Take a single thing for granted and you'll get caught eventually. Get a good cup of coffee and go over everything with a magnifying glass. Don't expect that someone else will catch a mistake if you missed it -- life offers some pretty bad guarantees in that regard.
Lesson # 2:
Have your own process in place
Recognize, reorganize, reinforce
Having a unique process isn't just efficient, it's also smart. Recognizing how we best work well enough to reorganize it is no easy task. Creating a system to support each job will help reinforce the detail oriented nature of your projects, ensuring they're done to perfection every time.
Heck, as part of your process, bounce your artwork off of your peers. Most people will be more than glad to take a look at your work and offer insight. Some have more exacting standards than others, so show a superior and at the very least it'll give you a chance to rub elbows with someone with experience whose brain you can pick.
For example, a designer was instructed to remove a page in a booklet he was producing. After prepping the booklet for print, he realized he was one page short. Had he mocked up the booklet and shown it to a peer, he could have caught the error and may have avoided the frustration for everyone involved. Especially in a profession where tight deadlines get ever tighter, being alert is a must. Which leads me to …
Lesson # 3:
Get some sleep
I used to be one of the midnight oil-burners that our profession is so famous for. I'm proud to say that I no longer lay claim to that title. Who can think straight and produce for 9+ hours out of the day if they've barely got enough gas in the tank? Not this guy.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF FREELANCE
When working as a freelancer, following up was crucial to my daily routine. A deadline is a deadline, but miracle workers are in short supply. Making sure printers are on schedule for delivery, making sure everyone is on a project's strategic path -- all of these things require a degree of …
Lesson # 4:
Follow up and Follow through
If you're relying on someone to deliver and they don't, you can guess who you can point the finger at … yourself. Following through to keep deliverables on schedule and following up with suppliers gives you credibility as a professional and also offers the satisfaction of doing everything within your power to ensure a project is being handled with kid gloves.
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
Lesson # 5:
I know too many people who have a tendency to not ask questions so as not to look like they can't handle responsibility or find things out for themselves. I've learned that on any good team, everyone wants things correct and that may mean asking a lot of questions. Don't feel dumb about it, just do it -- you'll be thankful when your project is delivered right the first time after everything is made crystal clear.
The bottom line is mistakes happen. They always will. Don't be afraid to make one. I have yet to meet one person who loves screwing up. But even the greatest people in the world have made enough mistakes to know it‘s part of the learning process and that, at times, it is unavoidable. The lessons you'll learn from them are valuable notches in that "experience" belt everyone holds in such high regard. Trust me, after the PANTONE 140 hits the fan and you're able to turn around and see your stunned silhouette forever etched in time on the wall, you'll be glad to have the life lesson ingrained in your mind.
One thing I can be sure of is this: there are more foul ups to come and I'm okay with that. The mistakes I've made have helped me become the designer I am today and allowed me to impart some wisdom on others.
By learning from my errors, I've become a better designer, employee, and teammate. Hopefully you won't need to get out your galoshes to tread through the rain any time soon … if you do - learn something from it, then pass it on.
Anthony Fonseca is graphic designer (who is not overly-mistake-prone) residing in the Greater Toronto area. He can be reached at email@example.com.