Learn to refine your work, minimize client revisions, and walk away with a "yes" and a clear way forward.
Show Your Work
When I pitch logos—because you should always pitch your work; never assume it will speak for itself—it's important that I recall my creative train of thought and relay that to the client so they understand that every decision I made was purposeful, whether that was the decision to include something or the decision to leave something out.
They need to know I was listening to their direction and utilizing my own creativity at the same time. That balance is what we're paid for. If, throughout the design process, I tried something that didn't work, it's important to let them know so they understand I'm being mindful while I design. In my initial pitch, I try to cut every question or suggestion off at the pass, so they know I'm not making arbitrary choices.
Designers know that a lot of thought goes into the process of design, but it's up to us to convey that to our clients. You should have done explorations; recall all those failed attempts when you're describing the process to the client so they know you omitted every ineffective solution before arriving at one that worked.
"The client needs to understand that they're paying for your mind above your hands or your skillset."
Ultimately, a lot of clients see branding or logo work as a simple task. Explaining to them the process you took to get to your final result allows you to be perceived as a more valuable part of the process.
A lot of times you're going to hand them something that looks really simple. Many logos are essentially a couple of lines and one or two colors. When you're hired to do a logo, it's your job to create something smart and simple. A logo should be immediately recognizable; definitive; concise. The client needs to understand that they're paying for your mind above your hands or your skillset. Your value as a designer isn't that you can use Adobe Illustrator, it's that you're going to come up with a great concept, and then execute that concept well.
Know Your Language
There's a balance between speaking on a level that your client is going to understand and really backing up your work. Sometimes it's necessary to speak using design terminology—even if it goes over their heads, because you're the authority on the subject. You—the design expert—should know more than they—the client, an expert in their field—does. If you're bringing up institutional knowledge they don't know or understand, that's not always a bad thing.
You have to balance the two things. You don't want to sound condescending, but knowing the design vernacular to back yourself up is very important, even if it's more than what they initially understand.
When you give a client 20 logo designs to choose from, that can really throw a wrench into them choosing a final. Don't ever show anything you don't love. If you've created five logos you love, and one you think is okay, don't show that sixth logo. Don't show anything you wouldn't want them to choose—because the client will likely choose that one. If that means you end up only showing one or two designs, so be it.
Elements Aren't (Always) Interchangeable
It's important to convey that the elements of one logo option isn't interchangeable with other options. You can't necessarily take the type from option one and put it on option three. It might be possible, but more often than not, a particular logo is designed with details specific to itself. If option one is a fox and option three is an apple, and the client wants the apple and the fox combined into one logo, you have to explain why that’s an ineffective solution. You can't just amalgamate something from two or three different logos if you're making deliberate decisions.
Know When to Fight
I used to stand firm on every design decision I made—I'd fight to the death on it. At a certain point, I realized I was often fighting for things that weren’t imperative. Early in your career, you fight like that because you want great portfolio pieces. But not every piece has to be a portfolio piece. When a project is clearly doomed to mediocrity, striving to salvage it can become a massive waste of valuable time.
I start every project with an optimistic outlook. However, I understand now that at a certain point, any job may become a paycheck without the perk of a great final product. If you value your time, you must know when it’s sensible to submit—even when you disagree. The challenge is to define when and where that line exists. By all means, stand by your work, and fight for what you believe is best, but you’ll save yourself a great deal of heartache if you make peace with submitting. At the end of the day, you don’t have to advertise that you were the designer.
“You must know when it’s sensible to submit—even when you disagree."
You Can't Save Yourself from Mediocre Work
If I could go back and tell my 20-year-old self one thing, it would be this: You can't save yourself from mediocre work. No one can.
There have been times when I look at a finished work and think, This is really good. Then I look back three years later and think it's awful. That cycle happens every couple of years, and it's made me continue to stretch myself, to do great work. Don’t worry about arriving, because you’re never going to. Focus instead on the journey, and take pleasure in the high points along the way. It doesn't mean you can't try, or that you shouldn't try. Of course you should. But when you feel like you're finally doing great work, don’t get comfortable. Try harder.