Experience isn’t everything

When you call to talk about the possibility of working with us, there are plenty of things to chat about: our process, our staff, our clients, our availability.

Here’s a question you shouldn’t ask: have you done a job like this before?

We hear it all the time. Have you ever designed toothpaste packaging? Or, how much experience do you have with websites devoted to interior decorating? In every case, the client is clearly looking for a positive response — and the comfort that comes from knowing we’ve already solved a problem like theirs. But it’s a false comfort at best, for three reasons.

  1. The path to every solution should be unique. That design you like on that similar product? You have no idea what the brief was that led the designers to it or why the client chose the direction they did. How we get to what you need may well take a very different approach. The client is the designer’s collaborator, and working with you will undoubtedly be an entirely different experience. It is much more important that you discuss a potential designer’s previous work and process holistically. Hear what they have to say about how they came up with the solutions they did — even if none of those solutions have to do with a bathroom product.
  2. Obsession with a specific kind of experience displays a lack of imagination … and trust. It also shows an inability to understand the nature of creative problem-solving.
  3. Familiarity can breed laziness. Designers who work a lot on one kind of thing tend to offer similar solutions each time. And why not? It pleased a client once, so it should again. But you should want us to do new and different thinking that addresses your specific needs. And not for nothing, for me (and a lot of people like me), work that is too similar to what I’ve done before just isn’t as much fun to do.

That said, experience in a specific area isn’t all bad either. It means the designer won’t be learning on the job. Back to the toothpaste box: a designer who has done packaging work before will go into the project understanding dielines and barcode restrictions. But the truly important thing is the creativity and the thinking. If the designer is good, they can learn all the logistical stuff to complete your job to perfection, regardless of not having done it before. The thing that they can’t google and get an answer to is how to problem-solve creatively.

Reproduced from Dear Client by Bonnie Siegler. 

Bonnie Siegler is the USA-based Founder and Creative Director of multi-disciplinary design studio, Eight and a Half, with recent clients including The New Yorker, HBO and Random House. Bonnie is the author of two books: Signs of ResistanceA Visual History of Protest in America and Dear Client. 8point5.com Instagram: Bonnie8point5

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