Okay, this is for all the talented people in the room. You know who you are–the ones who can plumb a bathroom, design a cathedral, take a rocket to the moon, and negotiate peace treaties. Or, in my case, write, paint, illustrate, design all sorts of things, and take books from concept to completion. It sounds less vainglorious after that first list, doesn’t it?
You’d think that having a range of skills from which to draw would be an asset, and sometimes it is. It certainly keeps the workload more interesting. But sometimes it works against me, too.
Picture this: I’ve gone in to talk to a potential client about a design project. “We need a good writer,” he says.
“I can help you with that,” I respond. “I have considerable experience in writing for advertising and marketing, as well as for communications and reports.”
“But aren’t you a designer?”
“Yes, but I write, too.”
“Well, that’s good. Let’s talk about that later. This project also needs some illustrations. They’re nothing fancy–just have to look like this.” And he shows me.
“I can help you with that,” I say.
“But I thought you were a designer.”
“I am. But I am also an illustrator.” And I show him my portfolio. It’s full of names that drop with a heavy thud.
“But you’re helping us with the writing.”
“Well, you’re just a one-man band, aren’t you?” I don’t get the job.
This interview has never happened, mostly because when I was first starting out in business my smart business woman older sister told me, “You have to focus. Pick one thing. Don’t tell them about everything else you can do, or you’ll come off sounding like a one-man band. They’ll think if you claim to do everything, you don’t do anything well.”
And so, throughout my career, I’ve had three resumés, three portfolios, three cover letters. When I went into business for myself I have conducted client discussions wearing a single hat–and I keep the others tucked firmly out of sight. Occasionally, when a job is well along and the client trusts me, I’ll spill the beans about other things I can do. My client is often delighted. And every time I do, I worry about looking like a one-man band.
The one-man band theory was behind my decision to have multiple websites, each isolated from the others. It allowed me to market myself as a Designer. Artist. Writer. Illustrator. It did not allow me to market myself as a person.
I’m forty-eight years old. I’ve been designing, illustrating, and writing for the last twenty of them. It’s ridiculous to sneak around pretending I can only do one thing, when I actually have a whole range of skills from which my clients might benefit. But the one-man band theory is real. And now that I’m thinking about what my new site needs to be to serve my clients–and me–best, I’ve got to grapple with it again.
On the one hand, I could build a single unified site, one that presents me as a person with multiple assets to bring to the table. Such a site could be a reflection of the central truth about me–I am a person who thinks in pictures and concepts, and can use both verbal and visual means to create and convey them. It would be a lovely site. And it might be too unfocused to convince potential clients that I can and will function in whatever capacity their project demands.
On the other hand, I could build a network of interlinked sites, each of which addresses one facet of my professional portfolio. Such a site might be more accessible to the linear mind. But it would also be less effective at conveying my range of skills, and I might lose out on projects that demand the very range of skills I’ve been concealing.
So, here’s the question: Which do you think is the more effective design from a business perspective? And why?