“I’m a design consultant,” I told a friend recently.
“Oh. Isn’t that nice,” she said.
“What’s a design consultant?”
“I work with newspaper publishers and editors across the country, helping them to improve the organization and the look of their newspaper. We develop better ways of delivering information to readers by repackaging that information and redesigning our approach to what we offer them.”
“And they pay you for that?”
Now that really had her perplexed. She couldn’t understand how a guy with a laptop in one hand, a box of crayons in the other and a few awards tucked into his pockets could get paid just to redesign someone else’s newspaper.
Frankly, I don’t understand that either. The problem here is that my friend thinks that a design consultant is…well…a guy with a laptop in one hand, a box of crayons in the other and a few awards tucked into his pockets. The point is: being a design consultant is much more.
Here are my ten most important ideas of what a design consultant is:
1. A professional. The consultant doesn’t do the work because it’s fun (though it is!). He does the work because he has a way of helping others to see what he sees—and to do what it takes to achieve what they both see together. As a professional, he has invested his career and his reputation in his work.
2. A visionary. He knows that the design he’s doing today will not be the design he’s doing tomorrow. He looks for what will make that next project unique. He searches for ways to break new ground—without breaking his client’s newspaper.
3. Open-minded. The consultant has to be ready to see things from other points of view. He must remember that it’s his client—and his client’s readers—that he’s working for, not some other designer or an awards judge. He has to be ready to listen and to redirect his efforts if that’s required.
4. Level-headed. In the face of occasional impetuousness by his clients, the consultant stands firm and offers sound reasons for doing the job right. He applies his experience and his communication skills to convince the client that the first move may not be the best move.
5. Experienced. This is the consultant’s stock in trade. He has been there, done that—many times over. For most of his clients, it’s the key to why they hired him in the first place. They’re eager for him to turn what he has learned to their advantage.
6. Unafraid. The consultant must be willing to take significant risk. Without that trait, his skills as a designer may shrivel. Sometimes he’ll create an element that the client may not support—but that’s not a factor as long as the consultant is willing to try something new and different.
7. Thick-skinned. Every so often, the consultant’s work is met with criticism he may consider undeserved or unfair. The worst thing he can do is to become defensive. He must remember that a redesign is not about him. It’s not about his work. It’s not about his client. It’s about the reader.
8. Focused. During the course of a redesign, situations may arise that can divert the consultant’s attention. At those times he must step back, relax, and then forge ahead. His mission is to create a solid redesign. Everything else is secondary.
9. A teacher. The consultant has to teach others how to design, how to redesign their thinking—indeed, how to redesign themselves. Unless he is a firm but gentle teacher, even the redesign begins to go away when he goes away.
10. Caring. I’ve saved the most important quality for last. To be more than just another hotshot shoot-from-the-hip-don’t-give-a-flip designer, the design consultant has to care for the people he’s working with. He must become a confidant, a comrade. He must remember that he has two ears and only one mouth—that very often it’s how he listens (not what he says) that’s most important.
I often tell my clients: “I’m not just another design consultant. I’m a consultant…who designs.”
Yep. They pay me for that.