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The Business of Design: What next after Training- Bolanle Banwo

Bolanle Banwo is an outstanding Nigerian-based brand identity designer. She is the founder of Geneza Brands, a branding agency based in Lagos. Teaming with Ingressive for Good, Geneza has offered thousands of women a sponsored opportunity to learn Graphics and Brand Design. In this article, Bolanle shares with us the business aspect of design and what you should do after a training in design. 

To get started in design you have to learn the foundational design principles. You’ll also have to learn how to use the design tools for your specific area of design. So after training you’ll have gotten familiar with the softwares you learned to use like Photoshop, Figma etc. You would have become confident about creating designs. How do you go from that level to calling yourself a professional graphic designer, or a professional UI/UX designer? How do you get clients since you don’t have the experience yet? There are certain things that you need to understand and certain actions you need to start taking as well. 

One thing you need to know is that in calling yourself a professional designer it means that you have started designing professionally, working with clients and organizations. You don’t have to start exactly the same way others have started. There are several ways to get there. It’s either you work as a freelancer or you intern with an organization. This means that you can decide to work for an agency or just start doing your own thing. 

As a freelancer you can start spreading the word through social media and your local networks about what you can do. You’ll be looking for design gigs where you can work on a contract basis. You’ll get your job done for a particular client and move on to another. On the other hand, as an intern, you’ll be in charge of all design tasks assigned to you by the company. If you’re paid, it would be on a salary basis. Both options are a good way to get started.

Sustaining the knowledge Gained

Now you’ve learned how to design. You need to know what to do to sustain the knowledge that you’ve gained. I’ll share with you some ways you can achieve that.

First of all you need to practice. When I say practice, I mean that you should make up your mind to commit 10-15 minutes every day to just design something. You can go to platforms like Dribble or Behance. Look out for UI designs and replicate them. Replicating designs help you to fill your mind with knowledge about different strategies in design.

The difference between a good design and a bad design is the knowledge of the designer. Sometimes you might see a poor design which is not because the designer doesn’t know how to use Figma or Photoshop but because of a poor knowledge base. You can not give what you don’t have. If you feel your mind with outdated designs, wrong design principles, bad color combinations, wrong applications, you can not expect to do an excellent design.

When I started designing, I decided to create designs that are of great quality. I started to study the works done by people who I admire, people like Abduzzedo, Chris Do, etc. I’ll check out their works, and place a few of  their designs on a note board and keep looking at them. A noteboard is a combination of images and text to guide your design process. The kinds of designs you look out for are what you will deliver. So, have a noteboard of the best designs. Keep it in front of your work desk or computer and keep looking at them. Let them inspire your personal designs. 

The greatest mistake you can make is in designing in isolation. A lot of people want to be good at design but they want to be creative all of sudden. Creativity is good but do not attempt to do it in isolation. You need to have the right knowledge, understand the principles behind combinations of colors, and all of this information comes from study and from observing other designs. Such that when you start designing it’s in line with what you’ve already seen. 

Bringing Value to Yourself

After you’ve already gotten used to replicating designs, creating designs for yourself, putting things together and everything is looking good, you can now start talking about bringing value to yourself and to your clients. There’s a difference between knowing how to design and bringing value. You can know how to design but you might not know how to solve a problem for a company because a lot of designers are not good business people. Even though you know how to design you have to know the business of design. 

As you think of creating designs for your client, you need to understand that as you’re creating value for them you’re creating value for yourself. If you don’t have a good laptop you need to save towards one. You need to work towards getting the right tools. Because the more value you give the better you charge and the more you advance in your career as a designer.

To make yourself more valuable you must also ensure that you join communities. You must understand the things that make you an exceptional designer. You can ask questions to people who are experts in the field. If you can not reach them personally, then you can check online for design communities that you can join. Get their resources and begin to build relationships with people who are designers. As you do this you’ll see that design is really vast and it’s beyond you, your country and your continent. This is especially the case for UI design. There are a lot of opportunities outside the country. You need to ask experienced people questions like; What’s the design interview like?, or What should my portfolio look like? 

Be proactive and work towards improving yourself. You need to be ready for any opportunity when it comes.

Finding Clients

As a graphic designer, there are a lot of companies looking to hire designers. A few hours ago a client reached out to me to help her hire a designer. But are you ready for those opportunities? It’s not about knowing everything but it’s about using the knowledge you have gained and putting them into practice. I have been designing for over 10 years using photoshop and there are some things I only came to discover recently. So this is a journey that you’ll keep learning. If you don’t know one aspect of the work, it should not discourage you. There’s a client somewhere who just needs your level of knowledge to start off.

One of the best ways to get clients is by putting out your work. You can start to create social media designs for brands that do not exist. This is one of the ways that you can set yourself apart and get opportunities fast. Think of a hypothetical client and give it a name and identity. Create a logo for it. 

You could collaborate with other designers and work on the project and upload it to a design studio. Create a portfolio and put these designs there. Don’t rush your process. Just try to do something nice and put it out there. You can take pictures of your process and also talk about it. People don’t really care whether the brand is a real or fake client. They just want to see a job well done.

A student reached out to me that he got a job because he put the designs that he did on the Geneza course on linkedin. Someone reached out to him to join their company as a UI designer. You might have done this already and feel like nothing is happening but keep doing the right thing. Timing might be different but if you’ll keep putting in the work, you’ll surely get it.

You can join platforms that help clients find service providers.  There’s a platform called fiverr where you can design for people and get paid. One of the easiest ways to ensure that you’re paid well is to be sure that you’re solving a problem. 

Now that you have an idea on how to apply for a job, you need to understand that the perception you want to create can only be done by you. Tell your own story.

Communicating with Clients

You need to learn things like communication. How do you communicate with a client? Create good first impressions when working with clients. Design is very visual and visual objects can influence emotions. As designers our job is to influence emotions and perceptions. When you meet a new client, try to keep your communication professional. 

Don’t send your designs as jpegs or pngs through whatsapp. It is very unprofessional. You can ensure that you and the client can communicate via emails. Learn how to create invoices and send receipts. This shows the client that you mean business. There are tons of resources online to help you do these things. 

You should ask them a lot of questions. You should ensure that you actually understand what the client wants. As a brand designer the first question should be on the kind of brand that is being built. Then ask questions on the goals that the brand owner is trying to achieve. Find out the field your client is in, problems that they are trying to solve. If a client is rebranding you want to know what the problems were with the previous brand and what brought a need for rebranding. These questions show that you know your onions and would help you design to their taste. 

After understanding what the client wants, the next step is sending a document that summarizes the terms and conditions of your work together. For example the number of designs you’re going to be providing, the amount that would be paid, the number of adjustments you can make on the design etc. this is important because people are out there to take advantage of you as a young designer. Earlier in my experience, I would give people like 10 logo ideas and they’ll end up not choosing any. When you give people too many designs they become confused. Submit about three designs, defend them and talk about them so you can actually sell it to your clients

Avoid designing in isolation. As a UI/UX designer ensure that you don’t start a project without the support of a mentor. You need a mentor to tutor you on how to build apps for clients. When you know these things you can avoid working on a project for too long for a small amount of money. You want to be sure that you know what you’re doing. If you don’t find anyone then ask questions on social media. 

Managing Client’s Expectations

Make realistic promises. Do not promise a client to send their designs within 2 or 3  weeks knowing fully well that you’re doing a lot. Give them a time frame that you can really work with. This industry is not as big as you think. If you deal with people badly, the news will spread and people will not work with you. You have to be sure that you keep to your word. Give a realistic time frame and stick to it. If for some reason you’re unable to meet up, don’t avoid conversations with them. Don’t ignore their calls or switch off your phones. Reach out to them, apologize and promise to deliver. 

You have to understand that just knowing how to design or having the gadgets is not enough. You have to have a good attitude. I’m working on really massive projects now. Most of these opportunities came from referrals from clients because they trust my work. As you try to create experiences through your design, ensure they have good experience also from working with you. 

I always emphasize that designers must be paid well. However, when you’re starting out, don’t focus on the money but on the opportunity to gain knowledge. If you’re working as an intern and you feel like the work is stressful compared to what you’re gaining, keep doing it. You have the opportunity to work with a team, build a portfolio and use their resources to build yourself. You’re also adding to your work experience which will be on your Curriculum Vitae. So do not feel cheated even if you’re not paid at all or as much as you feel you deserve in those settings.

Reach out to friends and family and offer to do their social media designs or UI designs as the case may be. Work for them even if it’s for free. By doing so you’ll be learning how to relate with people and gaining confidence on the job. The moment you realize that you’re beginning to provide so much value  to that person or company then you can begin to charge. 

Before you start any paid design work, make sure you receive a part payment. My design agency takes about 75% part payment before beginning. You need them to commit to you. Sometimes people could steal your ideas and run away with it. You want to avoid that.

Finally, I’d like you to remember that you’re deserving of a proper reward for your labor. Be confident about what you do. You do not have to know everything. With what you know now, apply the principles of business and start building your success story. 

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