I consider myself an incredibly fortunate person.
Through a combination of hard work and luck, I am a freelance designer – my dream job. For all of its ups and downs, complications and stressful moments, this is a career that suits my talents and temperament supremely well.
And yet – being solely in charge of my own business all the time can take its toll and threaten to deplete me of a very precious commodity which I like to call my DHQ (Designer Happiness Quotient).
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Why is your DHQ important to your design business? How does it help you succeed as a designer?
Here’s why and how – if you’re able to maintain the joy in your work and your work life – you are going to stick with it that much longer:
- You will find ways to overcome the obstacles that face a designer in the freelance world.
- You will tough it out through the hard times.
- You will grow and evolve
- You will stay excited and inspired as a designer.
If you keep your DHQ up, it will reflect in your work. Your clients and prospective clients will see that. This can only lead to a more profitable, better business. And that’s also something to be happy about!
Need a few ideas? Here are a bunch:
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1) Try a new niche.
Have you achieved rut status, doing design for the same industry over and over again? That’s a recipe for boredom which leads to lackluster design and a low DHQ. Approach prospective clients in a completely different line of business to liven things up!
2) Flip your perspective.
Work in association with other designers whenever you can, and see how they do things differently than you do. Working in-house is a great way to do that (read more here).
Seeking inspiration online works, too. Find new ways to approach a type of project you do often – following the same template over and over may be speedy, but it gets a little boring, doesn’t it?
3) Add some new tools to your arsenal.
Just getting some new font collections inspires me to reinvent myself. Why not try on different design personalities? Would a pen tablet kick your vector skills up into the next level?
Give it a try!
A couple of years ago I taught a series of drawing and cartooning classes to elementary and middle school students. Talk about a complete reset for my creative brain!
The next item on my DHQ boost list is to have a Skype conversation/design collaboration with a classroom of kids in the Cayman Islands, led by my friend Cathy who teaches there. I can’t wait!
5) Work through tutorials.
I know it’s hard to make time for this – but every time you make the effort to spend a little time learning, you’ll feel great, knowing that you’re becoming a better, more productive, more marketable designer.
Whether you’re learning new software or simply honing skills on an application you use daily is up to you!
6) Guest blog (if you like to write).
In my case, writing about design keeps me thinking about how to be a better designer. It holds me accountable to the practices I preach. And the communication with other designers can’t be beat!
7) Donate your design time for a cause you love.
Funnel the energy of your non-design passions into your design life. If you have a nonprofit that you support, reach out to see if they need a project done – periodically.
Don’t become their full-time, on-call volunteer designer, though – that circles right back around to burn-out, which defeats the whole purpose!
8) Say no.
Creating time and space to allow you to be a thoughtful designer is important. And on those same lines, allow yourself the time and space to think about other things besides design.
Giving yourself that distance gives you the excitement of coming back to it instead of feeling like you’re under a constant crush of projects and deadlines.
If your circumstances allow for you to move your home base for even a short time, do that! Trying out some new surroundings can be the ultimate refresh of your design sensibilities.
And if you can go somewhere that’s culturally very different than your usual location, all the better – let some of that new culture soak into your design and liven it up!
10) Attend a community creativity workshop.
Even if the focus is not on design, hearing from other creatives talking about their process always boosts my DHQ.
11) Get feedback on the results of your work.
Say I’ve designed a direct mail piece for a restaurant. If my client tells me that she got a ton of coupons back and a big jump in foot traffic, that spikes my DHQ for sure! Making my clients happy and improving their business makes me happy and improves my business. Win-Win!
12) Find the joy in the small details of design.
Bringing order to chaos. Incorporating beautiful photography. Getting that certain buzz that you only get from opening a Pantone swatch book. Visiting a press.
Remember why you chose design in the first place. Think about the amazing fact that you are a professional designer! Being able to call yourself one is just awesome, isn’t it?
So there you have it – just a few of the infinite number of actions, large and small, that you can take to make yourself happier as a designer. You’re still going to work like a dog and feel like a lunatic at times, but just keep in mind that your DHQ is important. Your very survival in the design world may depend upon it.
Do you have a secret for boosting your DHQ? Leave a note in the comments!
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