Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers

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“Long term success requires both creative ability and business acumen.” In one succinct sentence, Shel Perkins gets to the point. Author of Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers, Perkins is a design educator, chairman of the AIGA Center for Practice Management, and has more than twenty years of experience managing the operations of creative firms in the U.S. and U.K. Perkins understands this business.

Practical and approachable, there is a reason the book is currently in its second edition. Perkins has outlined the details of operating a design business, making it an easy-to-understand, transparent process.

Most designers are armed with an arsenal of design skills upon graduation, but the business knowledge is nowhere to be found. It is often learned on the job: you make a mistake, lose time and money, and then learn from the mistake. Perkins’s book helps designers preempt this costly cycle.

The flow of the book is set up to mirror the path of a designer’s career. You begin at graduation and the job hunt, move on to calculating freelance rates and learn how to start a small business: choosing a name, a place to work, building up your team and lastly, becoming an employer. Perkins takes the idea of creating and owning a business from a nebulous unknown mess into a list of organized to-dos.

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The book’s interior is printed in all black and white, peppered with explanatory charts and graphs. The chapter divider is the only overtly designed part of the book featuring large, sans serif type on a grayscale field. The divider page is a distilled experience of the book—easy to read, simple design and no extra fluff. All dividers sit on the left side, allowing you to flip through the book from front to back and stop to read what each chapter is about.

With the exception of type that is too small for long bouts of reading, the layout of the book is easy to peruse. The text is broken up into small paragraphs expertly titled and bolded for simple scanning. In the chapter on ‘Successful Design Teams’ a swift scan reveals phrases like, “Careful Recruitment”, “Mutual Respect”, and “Open Communication” presenting a condensed summary of the chapter.

This practical design format parallels the practical writing style of Perkins. In the chapter on ‘Pricing Models’ Perkins shares a simple formula to make negotiating compensation easier for any designer.“’Fast, cheap, good—pick two.’ You won’t want to describe the situation to your client in such a blunt way, but these are in fact the essential trade-offs on creative projects.” Perkins could have easily written about various pricing model terms like ‘Time and Materials’ and ‘Fixed Fee’ in the verbal jargon of the business world; instead, he takes the time to explain each word without making it rudimentary.

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Perkins also presents advice on dry topics like insurance. The individual policies freelancers buy are more expensive than group policies made available to businesses. Perkins also gives some valuable for a full-time freelancer, for example:

“Many university alumni associations as well as professional membership organizations like the Graphic Artists Guild, offer their members access to group health plans on a state-by-state basis.”

For a designer fresh out of school, Talent is Not Enough will dispense solid and practical advice. However, this book will be most interesting and useful for those who have been in the field and need a reference guide as they work and progress in their careers. It is not a picture book full of visual inspiration, but a real world checklist on the business of design.

About the Reviewer

Ann Liu is a devout coffee drinker, graphic designer and a MFA Candidate in Graphic Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art. You can follow her on twitter @annmaryliu, and see her design work online an annmaryliu.com.

Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers is published by New Riders Press. You can also buy it from Amazon (US|CA|UK|DE) or support the Designer’s Review of Books by buying it direct from our Amazon store.

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