Typecast

Here’s a question for some of the more experience designers here.

Have you ever run into problems with being typecast? What I mean by that is work done in the past leading to similar work, which, ultimately, leads potential clients to believe this is your niche.

For example, I was recently in contact with a publisher planning a men’s style magazine. They wanted a design that was minimal, svelte, urban and stylish. I was interested because it would enable me to explore a look that I’ve been wanting to tackle. Unfortunately, this client prematurely decided against me since the look he wanted was dissimilar to my past work — much of which was designed to appeal to the outdoor adventure, hunting and fishing crowd.

This sort of thing has happened before when previous work has worked against me in landing new jobs requiring a different approach. It’s as though clients can only see what’s in front of them and assume work done in the past represents what my work for them will look like.

On the other hand, I’m right in the middle of designing a publication for another client. This publication is aimed squarely at young girls ages 9 through 13, which is just about the polar opposite of the hunting, fishing and outdoor adventure crowd. Go figure. :crazy_face:

I’ve seen that happen to designers. Or worse, a long term client wants to go in a different direction and goes with a new hire instead of asking their current designer if they can change it up. It was just assumed what they do is what they do and they can’t change. Their loss really.

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I think that’s fairly normal. I’m not saying it’s right, but I can understand a company or individual looking at past work and assuming you may not be the right fit if you don’t have much experience that reflects what they are looking for.

And, it’s a tough call on their end. Because while you may be 100% confident that you would be fine working in a style you may not have as much experience working in, they may be unwilling to take a chance and would rather find someone that can show that they’ve done that sort of work before.

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This is crazy, this just happened to me last night. Sent off samples of logo and web work, but because they weren’t the client’s exact aesthetic, they went somewhere else despite a reasonable quote.

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As I was writing my post I was thinking about a talk I heard a few years ago by a San Francisco designer who did work for a high-profile clothing client — ads, catalogs, branding, etc. He had been working with the client for, maybe, ten years, playing a huge role in their growth. The client decided they wanted something a little edgier, which is what this designer had been advocating all along. They ended up hiring another designer to do the edgier work because they apparently couldn’t imagine the first designer tackling a new style, even though he was probably in the best position of anyone to do so (at least that was his take on it).

Yeah, that’s what’s so frustrating about it. They’re making the best calculated decisions based on incomplete information, which is exactly what I do when hiring a plumber or a mechanic.

In my case, although I love the outdoors, I have no interest in hunting and fishing — I’ve been a vegetarian all my adult life — yet I’m partly stuck in this ill-fitting niche that I never made a conscious decision to pursue. For example, I’m constantly getting LinkedIn connection requests from hunting and fishing companies (the last one literally less than half an hour ago). A few months back, I decided that maybe I should just embrace the whole thing, so I redesigned my website to cater to the general outdoor niche. I guess I’m having second thoughts about it.

There’s a lot to be said being a generalist, not the least of which the ability to handle a goodly range of project types. Regrettably, one hardly ever hears a client say “I think I’ll look for a generalist for this” for any given job.

So, a “specialist”? Unless one specializes in a marketable field (with “big-time” attached to it doesn’t hurt), you’ll find yourself spending more time on the phone than actually working. A “drop-cap specialist” handle is not going to pay the rent.

I have no answer to this, but the realistic side of me would take whatever you can and put your personal preference aside. After, damn it, we are professionals!

I’ve had to preempt this objection in the past when meeting with a potential client. It usually goes something like this, “Just because I haven’t design in XXXXX style doesn’t mean I can’t design in XXXXX style. It just means I haven’t had the opportunity to work in this style in the past.”

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When I have free time I like to create portfolio pieces that are well out of my normal element. I try my best to forget my usual go-tos, flip demographics, go from masculine to feminine, urban to rural, saturated to minimalist… you get the idea.

For many… to many, years my work, though decent, all seemed to cater to a rather narrow demographic and sported roughly the same style, pallet, and technique.

Take time, and have some fun trying something totally new.

Typecasting is a symptom of our times and the devaluing of the profession. Many (most?) client-individuals think they know as much about graphic design as any designer, lacking only the time and equipment to do it themselves. That’s why they treat us like operatives rather than experts. The very same clients who’ll ignore your advice and inject too much of their whim into one project will decide you’re not a good fit for the next.

While that last may often be true, it isn’t always.
Sometimes it can be the stand-off client that respects a designer’s skills that just makes an incorrect assumption. Hindsight is always 20/20. Don’t get comfortable with that large-paycheck client. Actively pursue any inkling of a change in direction, or even pre-determine when one might be needed. That’s what you’re there for.

In B’s case though, I think that is more a product of the current glut of designers out there than any type of typecasting. When hiring these days is based on portfolio and references, any other designer with the same skill level, but a portfolio showing what the client is looking for, is far more likely to get the project. Too many designers, to few opportunities.

I think the “I want to design this piece myself using your hands” and the “I respect your creative expertise” client ratio may be close to 50-50. At least for me. And I must say it’s far to high for me - One might think it should be 20-80 in favor of “respect your creative expertise”

Far too many clients want to stand over your shoulder and say “Oh, can we add a shadow to the text? like, behind it? And put that on ALL the text. Why is your blue not nearly as vibrant as MS Word?? so DULL. Hey, why are you walking into that busy intersection!? You didn’t add the drop shadows! Wait!!”

That sounds about right to me too, but it’s more of a continuum between the deferential ones and the meddlers. I can gladly work with a client with, say, an 80:20 ratio of deference to meddling. When they’re too hands off, that becomes its own problem.

I’ve found the serious meddlers are usually the ones with a personal stake in process, like a small business owner or an individual who’s been thinking too long about the project and how much it will cost. In more routine business situations, it’s typically less of an issue since it’s rarely a personal project.

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