Three things a designer should do on every project
1-UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM
Design is problem solving. This is a mantra to designers of all shapes and sizes, from industries as varied as fashion, auto, and housewares. Design solves problems. Great design anticipates problems. Design helps us do something better. Great design facilitates exploration of the unknown, or previously unknowable.
Be an active listener. The designer cannot come up with the best solution to a problem until they fully grasp the issue. If you don’t understand what someone is saying, ask for clarification. The world has enough “Yes” men and women.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Isn’t that what your parents and teachers have been telling you since kindergarten? Why are you still scared to speak up? Odds are if you don’t understand something you aren’t the only confused person in the room. Don’t be afraid of sounding foolish (easily said, hardly done). The uninitiated can become the master given the proper guidance.
2-OPEN YOUR EYES, TRUST YOUR GUT
Look at the world you are designing for with open eyes and general sense. Make something that fits in that world, something that represents an idea. Something smooth and silky for skincare. Something rough and rugged for tools. Unless your idea is to break the mold of that world, like Restoration Hardware turning the curated, sterile feel of the home goods store into a Disney version of the antique store. Transforming the furniture store from the safe and staged like the Rooms-to-Go, Ethan Allen model, to something rustic and refined, aged, yet clean.
Brainstorm ideas, the best responses are usually the first or the last. Maybe those are just the only ones we actually can focus on enough to remember (See primacy and recency effects). Study psychology, cognition, and statistics - all matter to the designer, almost as much as the almighty grid, and the lesser-saint color wheel.
The temptation, especially when starting out as a freelancer, is to take on all projects. The reality is that all projects are not created equal. Make certain you explicitly state how much time it will take you to complete the project (if not every milestone in the project). Give yourself ample time to plan and deliver your best work. Once you figure out how long it should take you tack on (at least) another week.
Look for mental challenges in your work not emotional or operational ones. Look for emotional challenges in your artwork (if you make art). Work to evoke emotions through your designs, but try not to get emotional over them. Someone is going to tell you your work sucks at some point in your life (if they haven’t already). Put yourself in their shoes, take what they see as the faults in your work and learn from the feedback, or, get really pissed-off and throw a tantrum.
Looking for ways to make everything perfect for everyone will set you up for failure. At best, it will make your work bland and unoriginal. Your work is not literally your baby, it is not alive in a biological sense. It is alive in a sense that it can be changed. No matter how good or bad it is today it can be destroyed and rebuilt tomorrow. Don’t get too attached to your work, until maybe you are a legend, then, when they are making the retrospective bio pic about you, only then, you can get emotional about your choice of line height and other minutiae.
If you don’t have the skills, knowledge, or equipment to complete a request by the client tell them so immediately. Promising to do things that you have no idea how to accomplish is one way to learn new skills, and, if you are doing the project for school or for free, go for it. If, on the other hand, you are charging a client for a service, you have a professional obligation to disclose your level of understanding of the requested product. If you can’t do it, don’t. Instead, ask around, someone you know can probably do it, and they will appreciate the referral.
Every client wants to make something spectacular, you as a designer are more than the pen in their hand, you are a co-collaborator. Any project you take on, large or small, should be treated as a gift, you can share your vision with the world through a new product, a web app, or something as mundane as a business card. Don’t let the format limit your exploration of the possible, powerful articulation of your ideas.