I am Not Here for Dump Design

Heads up, this is a rant.

Maybe this is coming from a place of general discontentment but this morning when I woke up, I said to myself “I am sick of doing dump design projects.”

So what is dump design? Well.

Dump design is the practice of gathering client information and dumping it into a structure. Another terminology that comes to mind is on-demand design. These are projects that you don’t necessarily stand behind, that you didn’t give your all to, not because you didn’t want to, but because the client, the CMS, or the template you were forced to use limited your capabilities.

Lately it seems that I have been creating sites that I’m just not proud of. I go through the right steps, I set up client calls trying to discern objectives, I wireframe, carry those over to mockups, iterate—the whole design process is devoted to projects that might not necessarily warrant that level of detail. A quick aside: I am a designer by trade. Before I delved deep into developing, I had a really solid (industrial) design education at Georgia Tech, where I learned how design impacts the human experience. I’ve been trying to discern why then, when I go through this process, that I end up with results that I simply do not like. I am not wowed by my work, it falls flat (even though clients are impressed!). Is perfectionism the root of my issue? Not quite.

Using a technique I’ve picked up over the years, I have begun to unpack each project that I’ve deemed unsuccessful. It has been an eye-opening experience thus far. Here are some takeaways:

  1. Advocate strongly for your field, and your breadth of knowledge.

Now this may come down to the fact that I am young, but I have found that clients have a hard time letting me do what I do. As a designer, I think it is important to have empathy for your clients, listen to their concerns, and help them find a way to best address them. However, I believe it is equally necessary to remind your clients that you are the expert. They are not just having trouble implementing their ideas, they are having trouble organizing them, arranging them in a visually pleasing manner, and reaching viable design solutions. All of which you know how to do; this is exactly why they brought you in. As the designer, you exist to bridge the communication gap between your clients’ brains and the audiences they are trying to reach.

2. Without structure, the end will never be in sight.

I could go on an entirely different rant about this, but I have had countless clients that have no structure for the projects that they’ve asked me to complete. Because I do work full time, I initially thought the flexibility of a relaxed timeline would work well for my schedule. In fact, the opposite has taken place. I have received email upon email of clients changing their minds, going in different directions, essentially undoing the work that I’ve done to that point. By the time the final design comes to be, the intent of the original design has been so muddled and lost, that it has lost its magic. A site can be as beautiful as it wants to be, but if it serves no purpose, what is the point? A new practice that I plan on implementing to combat this issue is hashing out statements of intent with my clients in our initial meetings. Don’t get me wrong—clients have the full right to change their minds as often as they want, but as a designer, if you keep them on track and on a schedule, they’re less likely to do so.

3. Push your clients to give you outlined content.

Unless you are also a content creator/writer (bless your heart!) it is not your job to write the copy for clients who should be experts in their field. If a client can’t devote the time to write (or hire someone who can) out the copy for their site in a way that makes sense, they are not ready to create a new website. Period. Does that mean that you throw them to the wolves and send them writing assignments? Of course not! Content should guide the design, and in response, design should guide the content. Say you’ve outlined with your client that the content they’ve given you can be broken into three sections. Those three sections should be written by the client, but as the designer you can assist by letting them know the structure in which these sections need to be written in—whether they be brief sentences, bulleted lists, etc. You will know what looks best in your design.

These are the three takeaways I’ve come up with in the last week or so. I’m definitely interested in finding more, and hearing your thoughts on /additions to the list! Ultimately, my goal is to compile a list of advice that will quickly nix these frustrations for freelancers (particularly of the budding variety) in the future.