Yes. Same here.
In my university program, the goal of every assignment was getting approval from classmates, pleasing the instructor and getting a good grade.
After four years of practice, I had gotten reasonably good at doing this. I entered the workforce with some confidence of the kind that had been warranted in school, but not so much in the real world.
In school, instructors knew something about design. We followed the lead of those instructors and shaped our efforts in ways that catered to their preferences. The objective was usually to come up with a creative and cool-looking solution to a not-quite-typical design problem.
In the real world, there was much more to it than that. Few clients were designers and their opinions on design differed wildly from the views of my design instructors.
My first employers — mostly design studios and ad agencies — had views obtained through experience that reflected a nuanced balance between design creativity and the fact that clients cared far less about cool designs than they did about a return on their investment.
It took a long time to sink in with me that good-looking design — as desirable as it might be — doesn’t amount to anything when a client doesn’t like it. Nor is a beautiful brochure designed to sell widgets worth anything if it fails to result in more widgets being sold.
Good design involves much more than looks. It involves diving deeply into figuring out what a client needs, which is different from catering to what a client simply wants. It requires finding the real under-the-surface problem that clients rarely mention.
When they say they need a brochure, the immediate reaction should not be to start thinking of brochure designs that the client will like. Instead, it should mean uncovering why the client thinks she needs a brochure and what that client thinks the brochure will do for her.
It’s only then that a designer can speak with reasoned authority to clients about why one design solution is better than the next. It might not be a brochure at all that the client needs and might be, instead, a social media campaign or targeted ad buys. Convincing them of this is where the real research comes into play and one’s experience and ability to engage, convince, and make a sale becomes critical.