You could tell me integrity is important in any job and you would, of course, be quite right. Integrity as a designer or artist may not come high on a lot of people’s agendas – surely it doesn’t matter how an artist goes about doing a design, provided the client is happy with the outcome, right?
Lately I have been asked to do a number of jobs that I have felt a little uncomfortable about. If you’re a designer yourself then you may recognise that gut feeling that a job doesn’t sound quite right – sometimes because the budget doesn’t pay enough, sometimes because the brief is a little vague, but mainly because you’re being asked to do something that goes against your core beliefs as a visual artist.
This isn’t about being headstrong and arrogant, this is about putting into practice your ethos as a designer – your integrity. This does not mean that you’re not flexible or that you don’t listen to your clients, but what it does mean is that you are able to be honest when you feel that a design just won’t work. As a visual artist you should have a great understanding what will look aesthetically pleasing, otherwise anyone would be able to do what you do. There have been occasions when I have been asked if I can create something that I think will look naff, or to copy someone else’s designs – sure, I can but I won’t. And contrary to what you might think, that’s not just because of any copyright issues, it’s actually because artists are more than what they put on paper – they have ideas and imagination, they have an eye for colour and detail. Why would anyone want to pay for a design that’s been copied?
Admittedly it’s not always easy to turn down jobs when you need to pay your bills, but if you settle for work that is purely about the money then quite frankly you are selling yourself short. Worse still, your client or commissioner is getting a raw deal too because, although they may feel like they have got a bargain, they have actually bought something that’s a little soulless. If it’s a commercial commission then it could make the company look cheap and you will get a bad reputation too. Your portfolio should be full of things that you’re proud of, things that were sparked from your imagination and creativity.
So alarm bells should start ringing if you get enquiries because you’re a ‘generic artist’ who can merely copy what someone else can do. Alarm bells should ring for the client too if the designer simply adapts other people’s stock illustrations or can do things for you within the hour or for £10/hr. Of course there will be deadline’s to meet but an artist will be able to be realistic as to what is an achievable goal and what is going to look rushed and unprofessional.
I’ve learnt a lot over the last year about the importance of communicating clearly just what a client or commissioner is getting from me. Admittedly, it will always be a learning curve – I’ve learnt the hard way a few times, but I would hope that I only produce work I believe in and not just because someone tells me to do something that deep down I know would look really bad. I will always have to do jobs that I feel less passionate about than others, but there are some jobs that make you feel so undervalued as a creative that they’re hardly worth doing. People should come to you because of the unique skills and ideas that you have on offer, and they should expect to pay a fair price for it. Selling yourself short means that the client will be getting a raw deal too. Be honest with your commissioners. Turn down the jobs that tarnish your work ethic. Have integrity.