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Believe it or not, design firms and designers can actually choose the clients they want to work for.
I try to evaluate a potential project using five criteria.
If the project gets a "yes" in a majority, then I am likely to bring that project into Plumbline.
1. Is the money right?
Will the client pay you what you are worth? If the project is going to help keep the lights on, then it's worth consideration. It's amazing to see how far this criteria gets pushed... Every designer (every person) has his or her price and it's incredible to see how far some will go - and how much of their soul they will sell - for a fat payday. That's not to say that "selling out" is always a bad thing. Quite the opposite in fact. A boring or tedious job that brings in big bucks will allow you to work cheap on a killer project that may bring great accolades and awards
2. Will you enjoy doing it?
Design is fun. Or it should be anyway. If the designer doesn't like the job it will show in the results. Will every job be a rip-roaring great time? No. But every project shouldon the whole, be enjoyable. Designers have been known to geek out over something as seemingly trivial as new font. So there is probably ample opportunity for satisfaction in any given project. You just might need to look for it.
However, if an RFP comes in for a project that you or your team just cannot seem to get jazzed about at all, you should probably not send in a proposal. Of course if the money is fantastic, then at least you can get excited about getting paid. That's terrible advice. True. But terrible.
3. Is it good for your soul?
The best criteria. Are you going to feel good about the project and your contribution to the success of the client? Ultimately, what you do as a designer is not for you - though it does feel like that during the process. The designer is tasked with the challenge of increasing sales, awareness, traffic, visibility, profit and so on for the client, their business, shareholders, or organization. So if you do a great job, and the client's efforts succeed, you better be okay with those results. In other words, don't design for something (or someone) you don't believe in.
To that end, I suggest going after projects that get you going. Non profits that you love. Causes you support. Ideas that make you say "wow", even products that you buy yourself. I'm not saying that you can't compromise a little, but as a general rule, your portfolio should be filled with work you like that you also feel good about.
4. Do you get to be creative?
I would gladly exchange some compensation for creative freedom. The opportunities to do great graphic design work are few - If you want proof of this concept just wander down any aisle in the grocery store. So when a client comes along, with a project that will allow you flex your design muscles, you should leap on it and wrestle it to the floor.
On the other hand, If you feel in your gut that the potential client just needs a wrist to move the mouse 'cause they don't know Illustrator, run the other way.
5. Could it lead to more work?
Most designers and studios I am familiar with will tell you that a good chunk of their clients come to them via referral. I believe in the long-term client relationship. It's usually better to take on a smaller engagement first - get your foot in the door, than to try to get top-dollar for a single project and then walk away when it's done. Of course client's will promise you the moon so you have to be careful not to take that bait, but if a client can lay out the future design needs of their company, and it seems like it's pretty well thought out or planned, then its a good idea to bite - even if the portion is initially small.
Of course the best project will fire on all cylinders. When a potential client comes in and asks you to design an entire suite of award-winning pieces for a cool new product that's also going to save the planet, and they are willing to pay your what you are worth, you should take that job. And play the lottery cause you are extremely lucky.
In reality however, you should be thrilled if you can give an emphatic "yes" answer to three out of the five.
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