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How to Determine the True Value of Every Design Job

by Stefan Rössler on December 16, 2014 –

This post is for people who find themselves in one of the following situations:

  • You take on design jobs for clients on a regular basis
  • You just got a job opportunity to design for a startup

Chances are, you’re afraid of making a wrong decision now. Maybe you make a bad call, and either end up working for a client who doesn’t value your work, or you invest your energy in working for a startup, that doesn’t even exist in 12 months from now.

This post is meant to help you determine the true value of every design job – whether it’s freelancing for clients or getting hired by startups. Here are 3 questions you may ask yourself, to find out, which jobs to take and which ones to refuse.

1) Are there real people involved?

„Real“ means two things:

  • Is there anyone else doing „real“ work, or is it just managers with an idea, who need you to do all of the work?
  • Is there at least one „real“ customer (who pays!), or is it just managers hypothesizing about potential future customers?

If you’re the only person, who will be doing actual work, it’s time for you to get suspicious. Great products deserve a great team, and if the others are just managers, and there’s no one beside you, who will do real work, there will be no team. And if there’s no team, there’s no need for managers either. That’s why you can walk away from these opportunities without any regret.

Okay, let’s assume there’s at least one other person doing real work. What about customers? Does the company already have people paying them? If yes, continue with the next question. If no, you may walk away from this opportunity as well. Why? Because you can start your own business with 0 customers today. You can work with friends on things you truly care about. Also, if someone needs you to get their first paying customers, what exactly do you expect from them anyway?

2) Does someone care about these people?

In answering the first question, we’ve established the following two types of people:

  • Team members (people doing real work)
  • Customers (people paying real money)

Let’s start with team members. Does someone care about them?

Imagine a typical freelance job, where you’re supposed to work with someone else who is coding your designs for example. Assume you’re sitting in a meeting with just your client. How does your client talk about this other person? Are they complaining about them? Are they praising them? Why are they doing this? Do they really care about these people, or are they just telling you what they think you have to hear, before you’re willing to sign their contract?

Another example: you got a job opportunity to design for a startup. Assume there’s already a team of people doing real work. What impression do they make on you? Are they enjoying what they do? Does it seem like the owners care about them? Or are they just going to work and getting their 9 to 5 jobs done? If they seem to love what they do, you may want to become a part of it. If they don’t, you can just leave.

Move on to customers. Does someone care about them?

Since you’re still reading, I assume you work for a company (or client), who has paying customers. Congratulations, that’s awesome! Now ask yourself, does someone really care about these customers?

I don’t just talk about protocoling customer requests, sending customer satisfaction surveys, or using other methods to collect feedback. I talk about the way a company thinks about their customers. Do they just see them as a means to an end? A means that needs to be satisfied to increase revenue? Or does the company see customers as the actual end, rather than their financial projections or any other business goal?

3) Is the focus on improving these people’s lives?

The above question directly leads to the final question: is the focus on improving people’s lives? This question is already a bonus. It’s just important to get the first 2 questions right; if there are real people and someone cares about them, you should always take the job.

Why? Because focusing on improving people’s lives is your job as a designer. Of course it’s easier, when your client or employer already does it, but even if they don’t, everything else is nicely set up to be a great working experience for you. Convincing businesses to shift their focus towards improving people’s lives can become a long-winded process, but it’s worth the effort.

Focusing on improving people’s lives is good for business. So if decision makes are reasonable people, they will eventually give it a try. You have to be persistent though. Don’t assume that you’ll land a job at a company that’s already great. If it happens, that’s cool and you may choose to enjoy it. If it doesn’t happen, you may be persistent in focusing on improving people’s lives (team members’ and customers’ lives), and I assure you, you’ve made the right decision in choosing this job.

Too long; didn’t read? Let’s sum it all up!

Before you take a design job (as a freelancer or for a startup), make sure the following things apply:

  • You will be part of a team and don’t have to do all the work yourself
  • The company or client already has paying customers
  • People working for this company seem to enjoy their job
  • They care about customers, and don’t just see them as a necessary evil
  • BONUS: They focus on improving people’s lives

If all of the above is true for your situation, you can safely take the job. If not, you may still want to take it, but keep observing, drawing your own conclusions, and be willing to leave the situation at any time. But okay, you’ll do that anyway :)

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