Top 10 Reasons Designers Fail – And Why it’s All in their Heads

by Calvin Cox on May 27, 2008

Here it is, my top 10 reasons designers fail to reach their creative potential. Whether your goal is to get more work or simply to gain more exposure in order to get more work. As a designer it took me a while before I figured out what kept me stagnant. I’ve come up with a list of 10 things to avoid.

#10 Saturated Market:

Yes its true; we’re global. The internet has introduced many more choices for your clients. Have no fear though, because the same web that introduced your competition also brought the global market to your feet. Become a specialist and an expert in your field. Focusing on your niche market will allow you to be much more competitve. Also, keep in mind that your customer base is now global so your niche market is not as small as it use to be.

#9 Wrong Starting Point:

Chasing after the big prize right out the gate will only get you exhausted and frustrated. Very few people get rich and famous quickly. Start by building a strong design portfolio, Hone your skills, get noticed by friends and family; become viral – your friends know people you don’t. Use social networking sites to meet other creative pros and potential clients.

#8 Runway Addiction

I call it the runway addiction. We get out of school… finally, and want to show the world what we’ve learned RIGHT AWAY. We spend all our time and money to put on a fashion show and have very little contacts or buyers at the show to justify the cost of it. We become broke and frustrated. Be patient! Spend your money wisely, invest in building a great portfolio, invest in training, software, a great website, then go after the bigger prize.

#7 Pay Me Syndrome

When creative pros are starting out; they often want to get paid for their work. ‘ Show me the Money’ Potential clients need to know what kind of work you’re capable of doing. A few calculated freebies can go a long way. My suggestion is to charge when you can but if the right pro bono opportunity comes along, grab it. Get the exposure, get the contact, get the experience. Take this opportunity to network and build your portfolio and potential client base. A successful pro bono can lead to many paid design jobs.

#6 Not meeting the Criteria for Exposure

Like any business, Creative pros need exposure to succeed. Post your work online in as many places as possible, give out your cards and promo materials to friends and family, Have your images available for others to use on their site with your copyright and web address on your images. is a great place to start. Offer your expert advice on forums and blogs. Your website is not enough for you to get noticed. Most of my contacts comes from sites other than my own. Find the right design community and create a design profile/portfolio.

#5 People Pleaser

You cannot be creative and be a people pleaser at the same time. Design for yourself and the right people will love what you do. These people could be your niche market 😉

#4 Afraid of Criticism

This is an age old problem for designers. We design in our heads and in private. We reveal our work only to people that we know won’t criticize us. Designers must expose themselves to be noticed, criticism is the necessary evil for growth. Create a design portfolio online and start the inevitable process already!

#3 No Point of View

Designers need to have a point of view. Find your voice and sing loudly. New designers must work on their individual style, whether it be with the use of colors, line quality, an edgy perspective or stylize illustrations. Find it, hone it and make it your primary selling point.

#2 No Plan

It’s not enough to be a great designer anymore. You’ve got to have a plan. Create goals and flesh them out as you go. A plan does not take away from your design vision it adds to its completeness and success.

#1 No Ambition

Many talented designers never make it because they are not motivated. Success takes a long time. You’re guaranteed to have bumps and bruises along the way. Work hard and stay focused. You’ve only failed when you stop trying, so go get them!

I’d like to get your feedback or feel free to add to my list!


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