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Andy Rutledge is a principal at Unit Interactive in Plano, Texas. When not working, road cycling, or banging on the piano, he's usually found ranting about design or professionalism on his personal site, Design Pro. You can follow Andy on Twitter.
You probably hear about it every week, if not every day: a spiteful or ragged relationship has ended badly. There are bitter arguments, custody battles, legal entanglements, lives and homes broken in the wake of moral incompatibility, poor choices, and a lack of sober discrimination.
It’s the predictable result of kids getting married too young or impassioned people who barely know each other rushing into marriage. The tale is often similar with designers and their clients after a rushed, ill-considered marriage.
When one goes to the professional, one expects to invest in his expertise. This investment requires no great leap of faith, as it is supported by a trust acknowledged among the general populace and duly warranted by the traditions of the profession. The standards and practices of an individual professional in the fields of, say, law, medicine, or aviation seldom present any great challenge to their clients’ preconceptions.
Strict standards and regimented practices are the baseline assumption for all involved. Moreover, the results of those relationships generally support the ideal. Unless we’re referring to the design profession. In which case, you can discount all of that. Design, by comparison to other professions, is an odd and disappointing institution. While design exists as a profession in name at one end of the institutional spectrum, it also exists as a commoditized technical service industry at the other.
The design profession is full of happy folks, and understanding why so many designers enjoy their work is not hard. But not all are so happy. If you’re not careful, the joy of getting paid to pursue your passion can be tainted by the less joyous realities of the professional world. You see, no matter how skilled you are as a designer, unless you are equally prepared in professional matters, your prospects will be limited and your circumstances compromised. This is true whether you work freelance, for an agency or in-house with a company.
Every week I hear from designers who are struggling to come to terms with these realities. Unhappy with their current circumstances, they write to ask for advice on improving their lot. Usually, they either claim not to understand how things got so bad, or they lay the blame somewhere other than at their own feet. In every case, however, the sole cause is their poor choices and lack of professional acumen. It needn’t be so.