One thing I look back on as one of the most valuable skills I learned in my first jobs was the importance of listening to the customer. I came from RISD’s Textile Design program which intentionally shielded us from the industry so that we could find our own way, without being influenced by others. Best program ever! This fostered our creativity, and helped us learn to find our own style, focus on learning new skills to develop our design abilities broadly. When I got to my first job as a Textile Designer in NYC, I quickly learned that being a designer wasn’t about me and my original ideas at all; rather it was about what was needed for the job and most often, what the customer or superior wanted.
When you’re an uber creative person like all of us who came out of RISD, this can be hard. Nobody wants to give up their own voice and style to do what someone else tells you to do. It feels like you’re “caving” to the industry, not so original, unique or fun. I soon learned to appreciate this challenge; in fact, I found the opposite to be true.
Listening and developing a design that is not your original is the ultimate challenge for a creative bursting with their own design ideas. It takes tremendous skill, patience, and in the end, it can be extremely satisfying. It takes determination and talent to develop the ability to listen to the customer, to do what they want, while creating a strong design that works for the job at hand. It is tough! Ego has to be put aside and you may be challenged to use your skills in a different way and produce a design that may not have your signature on it. Quite literally (that’s another topic completely), most often a budding designer and even an established designer, doesn’t ever get to put their name on the design!
That being said, I’m proud to share this recent custom project we completed. The customer was lovely and had a very specific design idea. She submitted a Turkish motif from a rug to us, and wanted a gate made with very little negative space. As always, I made sure we weren’t replicating or copying someone else’s design. We either need permIssion from the original artist to fabricate their design or we need to create an original design similar in feel but not infringing on their copyright. I’m a stickler about this, which is one reason have been a devoted member to Be Original Americas since its inception.
I took the Turkish motifs that the customer submitted, and presented some of my own pattern ideas, diverging a bit from the original pattern. When presented to the customer, she gave me very specific feedback. “We want to go with the original pattern that I sent to you which is a Tree of Life pattern from the rug. You had adapted it to have a curved shape, extending the branches outward in the center rather than the straight up and down that is in the rug. We want to stick with the straight pattern. The client prefers to leave very little negative space and to keep the gates simple. Please use the same pattern on the larger gates. Because each of those is larger, the branches can be a bit wider. If you need to use fewer branches than in my drawing, that’s fine. My drawing has 8 branches and yours has just 5 for the smaller gate. Again, they want the pattern to look Turkish so it isn’t curved.”
I was instantly reminded of that valuable skill I developed and honed over the years working in the design industry—listening to the customer. I revised the designs accordingly and we proceeded with the project. The customer is delighted, and so are we.