Business of Design – Going Solo

Traditionally businesses have always been a mega affair with many people involved in the process, the number escalating to millions in the case of mega-corporations worldwide. Sounds fantastical and fanatical to a solo artist/designer looking to eke out a mere avenue for sustenance and opportunity to hone his art and showcase it to the world. That’s where the freelancer walks in and rebelliosly decides to vanquish single handedly the demons that plague the design industry; bad design and decisions! How can one person make a difference? Here’s how you can commander the ship of your destiny and sail towards the ever changing horizon with confidence and charisma! I will talk to you today on the main maxim employed by Sun Tzu; a historical Chinese General who is known for his treatise on the Art of War.

Step 1: Know Yourself!

Often overlooked despite being shockingly obvious, the need for self knowledge precedes and even transcends the need for domain/industry specific skills and knowledge. Yes, forget about color theory and HTML5 and focus instead on the man in the mirror. Take a good, long, hard look at who you are and what you wish to accomplish in the years to come. The most important aspect is to know your limitations and capabilities. Outline a CV or resume to chalk out what you are good at and portray it in the best possible light without being extravagant about it. No, you are not job-hunting, but merely learning to put your best foot forward even if it is to meet yourself. Don’t be specific and list every single accomplishment regardless. You maybe an amateur chef or a half-baked hockey player, a part time teacher or a full time mother. In any case focus on your good points and write them down. If you are a compassionate cat with a passion for singing the blues, by all means jot that down. If you love to run marathons while the rest of the gang are recovering from hangovers, mark that as a milestone too. When you think you have outlined all the spectacular deeds you have done and the virtuous attributes that define you, it’s time to step ahead into tougher territory! Now outline your faults and fallacies that have always prevented you from reaching out to your dreams and fulfilling them. Chargesheet yourself and do not hesitate to be brutally honest in this exercise. Every slack in character from laziness to the tendency to lie and cheat to save face may well be added to this heinous list that would probably land you in a soup if it got into the wrong hands! Relax, don’t kill yourself and wrack with guilt a life meant for glory and success. But nonetheless understand who you are as a person; both the good and the bad of it. Once you complete this exercise, you will have a clear picture of who you are and who the world will be dealing with. Now strengthen your positives and neglect your negatives and walk on to a brave new world!

Step 2: Know Your Enemy

Sun Tzu created a treatise on War, but in our case the same maxims that ensured success in the battlefield will bring results on the drawing board. Know your opposite i.e. your customer or client. True he/she is not your enemy in the true sense of the word, but as an artist or designer, we know that the most common cause of stress and angst is the client or his idiosyncratic demands towards the design of a certain entity. Knowledge of a client or cutomer entails understanding from a broader perspective the industry or domain that he or she is coming from and walking in his shoes for the duration of your project or interaction together. Yes, learn more about his company, the industry you are dealing with, the challenges and trials that faces on a daily basis in his business. For eg. if you are designing for a Car company, it is imperative to understand the modalities of the car making industry and the clients and customers that he deals with regularly before you sit down at the drawing board to negotiate design sensibilities. Sometimes this can be taken to a finer detail by understanding the personal tastes of the client to ensure smooth closure of design signoff. For eg. if the client has a penchant for the color cyan (something you discovered from his wearing the same color tie at every meeting) you may wish to include an element of it in your design. On the other hand you may decide that he is more concerned about stark efficiency and has no room for anything frivolous and focus on a hard hitting mono themed minimal design. Hence it is essential that you know everything about the client, his company, the industry and their customers before you embark on the project.

Step 3: “… and there is no Fear in a Thousand battles”

Sun Tzu said that “Know yourself, know your enemy and there is no fear in a thousand battles.” Indeed once you have in depth knowledge of your positives and negatives, your capabilities and your faults, your skill and your liabilities coupled with the indepth knowledge of your customer/client/patron and how best to serve his/her objectives you will find yourself in a commanding situation in the Business of Design without ever having stepped into a business school or crammed through thousands of pages of management theory. Follow this maxim and transform your freelance business and you will find yourself taking on the heavyweights without breaking into a sweat the next time you are asked to pitch for a project. All the best!


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Ritesh Reddy

Dr. Ritesh Reddy, PhD aka Reddy2Go is a Creative Generalist, who uses the magic of the written word and the allure of the visual medium in conjunction with bleeding edge technology to creating communication collateral for the New Media. He believes in the power of the individual & inspires independence through the Freelance Firestarter. In the spirit of selflessly sharing knowledge with the community for the betterment of society, he does not charge any fee for the same.