Confessions of a Graphic Designer

My best friend and I both are graphic designers. We're sort of geeky because we like talking about new hardware and software (we both idolize Steve Jobs) and sometimes even reminisce about our favorite versions of various applications, like Freehand versions 3.1, 5.5 and 8. (Freehand MX is a pain!)

Since we're both self-employed and occasionally suffer from that odious malady, procrastination, at times we've had to explain to clients why a project may be delayed.

In discussing this universally common situation with colleagues, we found designers have some unique and some not-so-unique excuses. Some of the more believable ones (because in some cases, they were authentic) include:

1. My hard drive crashed and I had to reformat my drive and reinstall all of my software
2. I had a press check or the press check was delayed
3. I had to visit someone in the hospital / go to a funeral
4. My email / network / server was down and I never received the files / images / work order
5. I was sick
6. The Fedex / UPS / Airborne package didn't arrive
7. The Word / image files you sent were corrupt
8. I was out of town
9. I had a photo shoot
10. The disc you sent was unreadable (most plausible if the client is on a PC and you're on a Mac)

Being a graphic designer is sort of like being a doctor on call (except you make heaps less money), so press checks and photo shoots really can occur with pretty short advanced warning, and they're sacrosanct: No one ever questions them. The really pathetic thing is, none of the above excuses would be necessary if people could simply STOP procrastinating.

Which brings up the question of why so many people wait until the last possible moment to do things?

Creative people have a tough job -- they HAVE To be creative ALL OF THE TIME. It's just expected that if someone calls with a project, you will magically come up with the most brilliant solution. How many times have I combed through CA annuals, printing and paper samples and my personal stash of "inspirational" scrap (crap?) in search of something to act as a catalyst? When people say "everything is derivative," I have to think somewhere along the line, someone had to have had an original idea.

But the pressure of always having to come up with the next big idea can be so daunting that it's hard to get started. So, reaching back to my earliest days in this field, I remembered something from a book I read ("How to Gain Control of Your Time and Your Life"), which described the concept of "punching holes."

Punching holes is this: Imagine your task as a sheet of paper. Then take the huge task before you and break it into pieces.

1. The first thing you can do that is easy is to start a folder for the project by putting the project name on it.
2. Maybe one of the pieces is viewing and editing a batch of images to see if any of them are usable.
3. The next could be starting the document in the application you're going to use to create the project and just labeling it and saving it.
4. The next piece could be printing out all of the word documents the client has sent and arranging them in the folder.

You get the idea. You "punch holes" in this virtual piece of paper until it resembles a piece of Swiss cheese. Then when you look at what you need to do, you find a great deal has already been accomplished, so the project isn't so daunting.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? It is. But even so, the temptation is to find any excuse to get going. Some of my favorites:

1. Clean my office
2. Go through old job folders/envelopes and toss out stuff I don't need anymore
3. Re-arrange my discs
4. Look for something I haven't been able to find
5. Import music into iTunes
6. Go out to lunch with a friend
7. Go shopping
8. Read
9. Wash and detail my car
10. Cook or bake something

In thinking about this, I've come to realise something: If graphic designers act out this anxiety-provoking behaviour, I wonder about personal injury attorneys, tax accountants or sous chefs? I mean, everyone must have their job-related secret behaviours. What are yours?


  1. Love scrap (crap?) LOL

    Anyway, I agree about the client excuses, the punching holes methods and def. the procrastination methods you describe; however, I think several of those procrastination methods mentioned can work to release creativity.

    The mundane tasks listed- except No. 9 that one would drive me batty LOL - help release the brain from the black hole its in, or at least thats what happens with me!

  2. Dear Ms. Latina,

    It's interesting how much the world has changed since I wrote this 6 years ago!

    But you're right when you say procrastination releases creativity. It seems more the norm rather than the exception for creatives to procrastinate. The pressure of having a deadline seems to be just the thing needed to ignite the "great idea!"

    Many thanks for reading and commenting—and wishing you a fantastic weekend ahead!




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i'm a graphic designer who loves words. - terri nakamura