Look in the mirror. Would you take career-changing advice from you?
Q: Our creative director says that the way I dress is too casual for the studio. I say as long as I put out good work, it doesn’t matter how I dress. When I’m comfortable, I do better work. How can I convince our CD to ease up on this?
A: If you want to keep getting treated like a ‘creative’, dress however you want. Enjoy your 5-year design career. I look forward to visiting your cafe in Daylesford. Mine’s a long macchiato with one sugar, thanks.
If you want to have people take you seriously, then start treating yourself and others with some respect. One of the simplest ways to do this is to dress appropriately.
Now, notice I didn’t say dress well, or dress expensively, or even to wear suits (though I do and they are fantastic); what you need to do is dress deliberately. You my friend are a designer, and the thing you get most control over is the design of your Self.
A designer’s job is in part to help people to make decisions about use, implementation, and aesthetics. Many of the decisions you will help clients to make are terrifying. Spend a million dollars on a rebrand! Scrap your current website and start all over again! Shift to a mobile-only platform! Start a Bitcoin mine!
These types of decisions already make people’s sphincters tighten up enough to turn dust into diamonds. Now, how well do you think they are received when they’re delivered by someone who could be mistaken for a bike messenger? So do you want your work to move forward, or do you want to make a point about how people who judge a book by its cover are assholes? Think carefully about this, because unless you’re Sagmeister it’s unlikely you’ll be able to achieve both.
I’m always bemused by ‘comfortably’ dressed designers. In my experience, they’re almost always the same people who agonise over choosing the right typeface (from just the right foundry), and bitch about how the stupid idiot client is a doo-doo head with no damned taste.
When you sell design, you cannot escape the fact that in part you are the product that is being sold. You are the expert, and should present accordingly. The way that you dress should convey authority, responsibility, and (and this is important) respect.
Not just self-respect, but more importantly, respect for your client.
If you are going to meet the CEO of BigBank, and you wear ripped jeans, you are an idiot. Conversely, if you go to a meeting at a hot new startup in the Bay Area and you wear a suit, you are a fool. I’m a guy that wears a jacket and tie almost every day; when I go and talk to people at a mining site, I wear jeans and workboots like everyone else there.
Dress in a way that shows your clients you respect them and their milieu and you’ve broken down a social barrier you didn’t even know was there.
This doesn’t mean you have to dress exactly like your clients. In all honesty, most clients want their designers to be a bit different — to have what my friend Jerome calls ‘a little Razzle-Dazzle’. Trust me on this; I’m a freakishly tall man with a bushranger’s beard who has a penchant for wearing too much tweed. You can express your individuality without people offering you spare change when you walk down the street.
At my firm, when we go see clients, we dress well. By default, Directors wear jackets and ties and other people on the team are dressed sharp casual. I understand that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so we have a compromise in place. You can wear whatever the hell you want to the studio on one strict proviso: always have a change of clothes at the office that would have you ready to meet the CEO of BigBank at 20 minutes’ notice. Don’t have that and you don’t get to come to the meeting, and if you didn’t come to the meeting you can’t complain about not being in at the project’s inception.
So, really, again, it’s up to you. Dress however you want, but be aware of the decisions you’re actually making when you do.
Because it’s really not about you.💋
Ross Floate is the creative director of Floate Design Partners, and the first three people on his speed-dial are his barber, his tailor, and his lawyer.