One of the problems a freelancer or small start-up can run into as they grow and takes on clients is the rapid changes that happen in the move from a garage or spare bedroom into a more corporate environment. Designer and icon guru Josh Williams, who gave a presentation at Web Directions North today, concentrated on how designers experience this change, but his lessons apply to anyone in similar circumstances. He referred to D.N.A. (designer’s natural aptitude), which includes personality, education, hobbies and education, as well as your “bent,” which essentially means what your particular unique take on a subject.
In terms of success in the bedroom environment, after you’ve left your corporate job, it’s important to concentrate on a niche, rather than trying to be everything to everyone. Instead, become an expert in your area of expertise, which will encourage awareness of your skills. Williams also said deviating from your niche to make extra money will eventually wear you down and deviate from your chosen focus, which may mean short-term gains but will result in long-term misery.
With growth, you can become a target, so Williams counseled preparation for negativity and hostility from other companies and fellow small firms. He also said to be careful working with friends and family, and not to align with people simply for the sake of alignment.
Building awareness consists of keeping an email list, which is a simple but critical step to creating buzz for a product, as well as “making it remarkable,” which Williams termed as distinguishing yourself from the pack in order to be noticed. Even if you get a little negative publicity. Williams highlighted his own firm’s use of “garish green”, which garnered some negative blog posts but also drove traffic. He also highlighted work he’s currently doing on a Facebook application, which he said “wouldn’t make you sign up twenty friends in order to use the app.” By crafting a refined app in a space such as Facebook, where apps commonly weigh down your profile page with useless ephemera, Williams follows his own principle of making a “remarkable” product.
Williams also pointed to IconBuffet as a site that didn’t make as much money as it did build awareness and drive clients towards his firm for other projects.
Williams wrapped up by saying that the designer of tomorrow goes beyond design to embrace creation, and can transition between focused niches, all while raising the bar for the industry.