When I first started designing, I began as a specialist. I was told by instructors and professionals that it’s helpful to pick one thing and get really good at it. After working as a freelance designer for a few years I became an expert on designing e-commerce sites and naturally took that on as my specialty.
Over time, I eventually got hired by more startups to design marketing sites and visual design for their products and, oh snap, my specialty had changed! As my career organically grew, I found myself designing brands and logos for these startups. Again, I needed to rebrand myself as a designer specializing in brand design. It was getting exhausting trying to wedge myself into smaller specialties when I really loved all these kinds of design work. I took a deep breath and decided to be honest with myself— I’m actually a generalist.
I absolutely loved being a generalist, but I still wasn’t 100% satisfied with my client work. I found myself spending half my time working for companies that had values I believed in, but the other half was spent designing for corporations that were pushing values I didn’t share.
Knowing I was advancing the agenda for something that didn’t feel true to myself left me feeling uninspired and unmotivated to make good work. I had to step back and think how I could re-frame my approach to client work to only attract the companies that shared my values. Maybe I was being too much of a generalist by working with any company. Even though I loved being a generalist in skill, could I be a specialist in values? The answer is yes!
1. I identified the values I held to be important by listing out the things I value. For me it’s making the world a happier place, creating safe spaces and communities, and lifting others up.
2. I came up with a short term that easily defined the kind of company that shares my values. I coined the term “Happy Companies” to define these future clients.
3. I changed the language on my website to clearly define what kind of companies I work for. Not only do I use the phrase “Happy Companies” all over my website & social media, I also do a great job explaining what that means.
4. I changed my attitude! When I meet with new clients, I’ve started giving them a pitch about myself, my work with happy companies, and what a happy company is. At the end of my pitch I explain how this must be a mutually beneficial relationship. If I’m not the right fit for them, or they don’t feel as though they’re a Happy Company, I’m more than thrilled to put them in touch with a designer who is a perfect fit. This allows me to only work with clients who fit my values, but also allows me to sometimes hand-off great projects to my designer friends!