A designer should – and must – give a damn. She must care about her work, care about the client, and care about the process. Yes – this is what every client wants to hear, but it’s not about that. It’s not a sales pitch or a motivational speaking point. It’s reality. A designer must give a damn.

About what exactly? Everything. She must care about her own reputation and her own approach to the work she does. After all, regardless of whether or not she ever works with that client again, the work she assembles will serve her career long into the future. But only if it’s done right. See previous point about giving a damn.

This is all common sense. Up until now, I haven’t said anything that any designer didn’t already know. Do good work! No kidding.
So let’s move on to something more substantial.

Beyond caring about her own work, a designer must care about the client’s work too. She must care about the client’s industry, business, and every nitty gritty detail of that line of work. How are the widgets made? What are the challenges? What are the moments of reward? What does the client love about their industry? It’s not just about logo colors and website navigation. It’s also about putting herself into the shoes of the client and convincing herself, if possible, to fall in love with that client’s world.

In my career, this has been an absolutely vital part of my own process. I try my very best to enter the client’s industry and mind. I go into the kitchen, watch the chefs, watch the staff, watch the food being prepared. I go to the front-of-the-house and watch customers. I observe their questions and responses. I look for the facial expressions when they’re eating and interacting. I eat the food myself. I ask about what I’m eating, what the ingredients are, and what’s special about them? Somewhere during this process, I’ll find my hook.

What hook, one may ask? The angle from which I will approach the design. The angle of who the client is, what’s special and magical about their industry, and – most importantly – what’s special and magical about the client’s business specifically.

This means observing and listening. Once again, this means observing and listening. You know – the opposite of talking and having all the answers. Trying to really understand and care about the client’s business will make that client feel reassured that they’re working with the right person. And, in doing so, will actually cause the designer to genuinely care about that business. Once that happens, great work can commence.