How to Nail That “Designer” Look, & Why You Should

March 14, 2014
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In this article I’m going to talk about how to look like a professional graphic designer, and how dressing correctly can help you land more work… No doubt straight from the off, this article is going to piss a lot of people off.

I say that because there is a consensus out there that it really shouldn’t matter how you look, especially amongst freelancers. If you’re good at your job and you’re able to get the results the client is looking for on time and within budget, then who cares how you dress, or when you get up, or how late you work, or if you take regular “Youtube breaks” on the hour. To those people I say; you’re totally right. Nobody should care about those things.

But they do, and they will.

What was I going to do, throw my jacket over my shoulder and put my tie around my head?

I remember when I first finished university and I was desperate to just get a job doing whatever so as not to have to think about work or study or timetables for a bit, and just concentrate on bringing in some cash. Basically I wanted to finally eat something other than baked beans and pot noodle. So I ended up interviewing for a position in a call centre. Lame I know, but the pay was crazy high at the time and there was about 40-50 applicants for every job. So anyway, I suited my ass up and headed in for my interview. There were a few other applicants, some in suits some not. Eventually I was called in to my interview and was met by a guy in a t-shirt and jeans. After that I was given a tour of the office and was introduced to a load more people just as casually dressed. Naturally I felt a little out of place in my cuff links and polished shoes, but I didn’t let it show (what was I going to do, throw my jacket over my shoulder and put my tie around my head?).

Anyway- as it happened it did get the job, and when I asked if it was close I was told it was between me and one other guy. The reason I got the job and he didn’t was because I wore a suit.

Despite that I never ever again wore a suit in that office.

So why was wearing one for my interview important enough to land me the job?

It was because it showed I was serious about it.

It showed I wanted to be taken seriously, and that I respected the people hiring me enough to want to look smart for them.

The exact same applies when you go to meet a client for the first time. Sure you want to be friendly with them, but you also need to get accross the fact that you’re a professional, that you know what you’re doing, both with your trade and as a business person. Sure you’re expertise in Photoshop or your ability to write out PHP scripts from thin air should say that for you, but the simple fact it this.

People judge things from appearance.

There’s a reason that the guy in the suit will get served before you at Starbucks; it’s because people assume he’s more important because of the way he’s dressed. It’s not a fair or a perfect system but it’s pretty much universally true (after all, when it comes down to it, that’s pretty much our business right?). So you have two options.

  1. You can either rebel against the system. Rock up to meetings in your pyjamas and work ten times harder to convince a client you’re not a bum, or-
  2. Realise that dressing correctly is a really simple way to make your life a lot easier

On top of that, I recently read an article by Christian Jarret about something called the Lab Coat effect. Basically this was a study last year by Kellogg School of Management and went something like this:

“They showed that students were far more accurate on tests of attentional focus and sustained concentration while wearing the white lab coat of a scientist. Crucially, spending time thinking about the lab coat didn’t have this benefit, it had to be worn.”

To paraphrase – when people dress for the job they’re doing, they become better (or at least more focused) on that job. So aside from making you look the part, dressing correctly may actually help you be the part.

So How Should Designers Dress?

It’s good question, and it’s not a wholly simple one.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you need to match a pair of brogues with a corduroy jacket in order to land a client, but here are a few things you need to bear in mind. Namely that 90% of clients will be expecting (or rather desiring) you to be two things – professional & creative.

So how do we dress creative? We wear something a bit funky and cool.

How do we dress professional? We wear a suit or dress.

Now here comes the fine line as going too far down either of these roads can backfire. Rocking up to a meeting in bright orange boots, leather jacket and a hello kitty back pack may send signals that your a very specific type of designer, that perhaps isn’t the best choice to work on the branding of a new line of hotels. That said though, turning up in a bog standard suit is just bloody boring – and nobody wants that from a designer.

So the answer is a mix – you take elements of both. You take a smart outfit (leave your interview suit at home) and give it something a little daring that’s perhaps not quite the norm, or  a cool variation on whatever the flavour of the month is. I’m not talking tutus and fairy wings here – just a little twist, a bright colour, an unusual cut or an interesting material.

Basically I’m just saying that you need to give a shit

I’m trying not to give specifics here, because they’ll only become outdated over time, plus I’m not trying to make out I’m some kind of fashion guru. Basically I’m just saying that you need to give a shit (click to tweet this). Like it or not your clients will assume things about you based on how you look. So do your best to look the part.

As you progress in your career that ‘part’ will do doubt change. I’ve mentioned the professional/creative mix above because in my experience that’s the look that I’ve found to appeal to the widest spectrum of clients. That being said though, if your client base is 99% rock bands, then showing up to a meeting in a tweed blazer and mustard jumper probably won’t go down especially well. At the end of the day, you know your client base (or even the client base you want to appeal to anyway), so keep that in mind as a factor when your picking out your threads in the morning.

Oh and just FYI – I have yet to find a client base that onesies and worn out Nike trainers appeal to, so save that little number for the days you’re locked in the office.

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is owner of Hunting Town Design, a small design house based in Manchester UK specialising in Graphic Design and Illustration. Alex is also the founder and editor of The Design Range. Find out more about Alex on his website or follow him on twitter.
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