Defining success as a designer

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Hey fellow designers, are you successful?

For some designers, answering this question doesn’t take a second thought. But for others, it’s difficult to define whether or not you consider yourself to be a successful designer. And much of what determines whether or not you feel successful, depends on how you define success. Do you define success by how much money you make from your design projects? How about by the number of clients you have? Is your success based on how many hours you work or how many people read your design blog? I would like to make a few suggestions on how you might measure and define success for you and your design business.

After reading through a few of my thoughts on the matter, feel free to add your two cents and let me know how you define success as a designer.

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Defining success by finances?

It’s common for beginning (and some veteran) designers to measure success by how much money they make. If they aren’t making as much money, they consider themselves a failure (at least in some regard). But it’s important to remember that there is much more to life than making money. Sure, it’s important that you can put food on the table, and it’s even nice to have a little extra cash every once and a while. But when you start to feel like a failure just because you aren’t making a 6-figure salary, take a step back and remember that you are doing something you love for a living. If you do it right, you most likely enjoy getting up for work every day–something that a lot of six-figure executives would kill for.

Defining success by client pool?

Another way designers might define success is by how many people want to hire them. (This is especially common among freelance designers who are in charge of not only designing but also finding design clients.) After all, if you have a huge client pool, you must be doing something right and therefore, you are successful, right? Not necessarily. Take a moment to consider the quality of life of a designer who has a lot of difficult clients. Would you consider that designer to be successful? Probably not. When working to find new clients, it’s important to not only consider the number of clients, but also the quality of clients. Work hard to find clients who will work well with you, help you achieve your business goals, and create a happy and healthy working relationship with you.

Defining success by free time?

Another common way I have heard designers define success is by how much free time you have. For freelancers especially, this is likely why you started freelancing in the first place, so it only seems natural that you begin to define success by low late you are allowed to sleep in and how many vacation days you can take each year. But remember, just because you seem to have less free time than when you worked a 9-to-5 job, doesn’t mean you aren’t successful.

Defining success by reputation?

Have you noticed that a lot of designers are very active in the online design community. I would dare say many designers are more active in online communities than they are in face-to-face design communities. What is it that drives designers to start their own blog, submit stunning work to dribbble, or spend all day tweeting links to great design resources? Reputation. Many designers define success by reputation. Their mentality is “If I can get as many subscribers on my blog as Designer X, I’ll be successful.”

Be careful when defining success based on your reputation as a designer. There are a lot of highly successful people that are not well-known online or off.

Defining success by measuring goals

Well, are you thoroughly confused yet as to the best way to define success for you and your design business? Good. I’ve listed a few options and common ways to define success and now I would like to discuss the method of defining success that has proven most helpful, motivating, and encouraging for me over the years: defining success by measuring goals.

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What are your goals for your design business? Do you have any? If not, I would argue that it’s going to be pretty hard to define success; you have nothing to measure your success by. Goals are the measuring stick by which we determine if we are truly successful or not. Let me illustrate:

If you have a goal to make $1,000, you know very well how successful you are. Each dollar you add to the total amount, you can measure against your final goal. But if you have the goal to “be rich”, you’ll never be absolutely sure how successful you are. In addition, you will likely get tired of wondering if you have reached the goal of “being rich” yet and you are likely to give up sooner than necessary.

Still not sure what I mean, let’s take the idea of defining success by reputation. If you simply have the goal of “being well-known”, you are never going to know when you have reached that point. If you, instead, set the goal of having 10 solid clients, having 5,000 blog subscribers, or 10,000 twitter followers, you can easily measure that success.

So, what am I really getting at? What is the key to defining success as a designer (or in any aspect of your life for that matter)?

Making Tangible and Measurable goals.

When defining your success, make sure your goals are tangible (real, reachable, definable) and that you can measure your growth. When you have a list of solid, tangible, measurable goals, you will really begin to succeed.

How do you define success as a designer?

I would love to hear your thoughts on setting good goals, what kinds of things make you feel successful, and how you define success as a designer. Leave a comment, shoot me a message via twitter, or leave a message on the Millo facebook wall. I would love to hear your thoughts on all this.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.

Leave a Comment



  1. I measure my success in terms of how happy I am with the work I am doing. And I’m pretty happy. I’m happy to be able to do something I love – that never gets old. I’m happy when a client’s eyes light up as we show what we have created for them. And I’m downright thrilled when a happy client refers us to a friend or business acquaintance.

    Sure, we could make more money, we could have more clients, and we could have a wider geographical reach. But having those things would require us to let go of much of what makes us unique to our clients.

    We have clients who have become our friends and we have the opportunity to do diverse projects that keep us engaged and entertained. We spend our days making beautiful things. That for me, is the measure of success.

  2. I define my own success by several things:

    1) How many potential clients keep popping up asking me about doing web work for them.

    2) How many recruiters email me regularly on LinkedIn asking if I’m interested in new opportunities.

    3) How my designs are coming out now compared to how they looked a year ago, as well as how confident I feel in my growth.

    (that’s a big one for me since I never went to art school)

    4) How many more technologies do I know and can offer to my clients. Currently getting into HTML5 and CSS3 simply so I can be the guy offering that while many more can only offer a design and not the build.

    5) I also look at how happy I am in life, and how much work-life balance I have. Granted when I take on freelance on top of the normal job, then my life is busier, but I see it as a price I pay for the extra money.

    To me, overall happiness is the big test for any designer. I know I couldn’t fathom working the normal bland office job, even if it paid more. I like that I get up in the morning and am happy with what I do, and “geek out” when I learn new things, be it better Photoshop techniques or some new way to code something.

  3. I suppose it goes in stages.

    1. Being able to play off student loans/the bills
    2. After your making money, client pool comes next, since #1 is still fresh on your mind.
    3. Reputation as you get further along in your career
    4. Free time as you get later in your career

  4. I agree with those who said it’s happiness. For me, if I’m paying the bills, enjoying my free time, interacting with designers and clients a lot, then I am happy, thus, I am successful.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Webdesigner Depot, Kyle Turman, Preston D Lee, Rafael E.da Silveira, Alone Design and others. Alone Design said: RT @prestondlee Defining success as a designer | Graphic Design Blender […]


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