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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


Personal Rules of Design

Every design­er has at least one design they would nev­er admit own­er­ship of, even under oath; some of us have a slight­ly high­er num­ber, and I’ve just been remind­ed of most of my own. 

I’ve been review­ing my col­lec­tion of work recent­ly, for var­i­ous rea­sons rang­ing from self pro­mo­tion to just dig­ging up old ZIP disks used for project archives, and after spend­ing a good deal of time review­ing over 7 years of my per­son­al efforts (in graph­ic design and web design), I have reached some con­clu­sions which I thought I would share with you in the form of my new Per­son­al Rules of Design.

These rules (or guide­lines. if you pre­fer) are not fixed, and as such as sub­ject to change as my opin­ion does. That said, I can say with a fair amount of con­fi­dence that they won’t be chang­ing any time soon. 

Personal Rules of Design

  1. Nev­er present a design to a client if you would­n’t use it to pro­mote yourself.
  2. Comps are only comps to the design­er; to the client, they are the fin­ished project. As such, only present a comp to your client if you will be pleased with it as a final design.
  3. When­ev­er you get the urge to tell a client “it’ll take about a week”, bite your tongue, and dou­ble or triple that estimate.
  4. When writ­ing a pro­pos­al, nev­er for­get to include the time it will take to talk with the client, espe­cial­ly if they like the sound of their own voice.
  5. Treat every project as if it were the most impor­tant design you had ever cre­at­ed; you nev­er know who will see it.
  6. All your work reflects on your skills as a design­er, and on you as a per­son: make every design mean some­thing, and nev­er allow your­self to be con­tent with a sub-stan­dard design just so you can “get it out the door.”

I can only add that I believe if I had always fol­lowed these rules, I would have many more projects to show for the last 6 years. Instead, I hang my head in shame when look­ing at the major­i­ty of work I have pro­duced in the past, and can only imag­ine the ben­e­fits I would cur­rent­ly enjoy had I only been a lit­tle more par­tic­u­lar about my own standards. 

I urge you to cre­ate your own ver­sion of this list, and do so only after review­ing the last few years worth of your own work: it will make you a bet­ter design­er, and it will raise your per­son­al stan­dard for every future project.

This item was posted by Dan Rubin on Wednesday, May 14th, 2003.


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5 comments on “Personal Rules of Design”

  1. Posted by Erik P. Hanson on Friday, May 16th, 2003.

    7. Don’t design just for your own tastes, design for and tar­get the pur­pose, prod­uct and audi­ence at hand.

  2. Posted by Dan on Friday, May 16th, 2003.

    A good addi­tion Erik, and one that I would have list­ed on my orig­i­nal list were it not one of my per­son­al, unwrit­ten rules.

    I will say this though: The design should suit the pur­pose and the audi­ence, how­ev­er, it must always please you as well. If a design is tay­lored to a spe­cif­ic view­er but you are not hap­py with it, do not let it out the door. I believe it is always worth the extra effort and time to make some­thing wor­thy of inclu­sion in your own portfolio.

  3. Posted by Erik P. Hanson on Saturday, May 17th, 2003.


    : )

  4. Posted by Ed on Tuesday, May 20th, 2003.

    Thanks for the tips! I’m still try­ing to fig­ure a lot of this busi­ness out. Good to hear some advice from more estab­lished design­ers. Cheers.

  5. Posted by leslie on Wednesday, May 28th, 2003.

    Rule #2 is very true. I’ve been through that headache one too many times! 

    I would add: Be hon­est with the client dur­ing pro­pos­als. Don’t promise what you can’t deliv­er, no mat­ter how bad the client wants to hear it. Hon­est answers usu­al­ly equates to get­ting a high­er rate of hon­est clients who pay their bills on time. 

    Oh, that reminds me. #7: No check, no work. period.