« Back to Blog August 24, 2015 | Design Career

Attract Better Clients with Self-Initiated Design Projects

Is there value in a self-initiated design project? Of course there is!

A lot of designers scoff at self-initiated work. They claim that if there’s no client, there’s no value to what you’ve designed.

Design is about embracing the constraints you’ve been given by a client, and coming up with a solution that fits within those constraints and looks good to boot. But if you can harness the constraint applying role that clients have, even without an actual client, you can design something valuable. Even if it’s only valuable to yourself.

Does a runner only run when it’s race time? Of course not. A runner prepares for races by practicing under similar conditions working their way up to the big race. Design is no different.

By creating the kind of work you’d like to be known for and want to be hired to do, you will attract clients that you actually want to work with.

How do you create a successful self-initiated design project?

So, what is a self-initiated design project anyway? It’s a project where you act as both the client and the designer. You set the terms of the project, and implement those terms yourself. It can be a logo for a fictional company or a website for something that doesn’t exist. It’s a way to create the type of project you want to be working on, but aren’t yet being hired to do.

To avoid the valid criticism that self-initiated work often gets, treat it the exact same as a client project. In order to do this you’ll need to have two different perspectives on the project. The client perspective, where you are the client hiring a designer to do a job for you, and the designers perspective, where you are the designer solving your client’s problem.

A lot of designers will simply come up with a “cool idea” for a logo, and shoehorn in a company name to fit their idea. Then they share it on dribbble or behance, get a bunch of likes and just repeat this process time and time again.

That isn’t how design works. No one designs a logo and waits for a client that it works for to come along. That’s crazy. This is why self-initiated designs don’t get much respect.

When you are coming up with an idea for a self-initiated project, use the same process that clients go through to contact you. (This is also a good way to find any part of your process that needs improvement.) Fill out your contact form, your questionnaire, and answer all the types of questions you’d ask a client. Remember, this is a real project, so treat it like one. 

As soon as you’ve answered all of the questions that a client would answer, you are ready to get to work.

Dealing with doubt

It can feel strange doing working that isn’t “real.” You are going to need to get over that feeling if you want to do the kind of work you want to do. If you can show that you can program a website, design a brand identity, or illustrate a comic book, clients will eventually hire you to do what you’ve shown them you can do.

Do the kind of work you want to do. Show the world you can do it.

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