Robert Bowen September 16th, 2011

Types of Designers Not to Be!

Here we have somewhat of a cautionary tale for all of those in the field, to help guide us away from those behavioral models that we should all avoid. Well, that we should avoid if we do not wish to have the often negative connotations that are associated with these types of designers impacting our reputation as a member of the industry. Which might prove very difficult to shake off and recover from in the eyes of other members of the community. Most of us have had, or have been, that friend warnings were issued about. The bad influence whose behaviors the older generation were so afraid others would begin to emulate, and then it would all be downhill from there. Well they are back! And here come the warnings to prevent as many of us in the design community as possible from following in their damaging footsteps. So take a look below at the breakdowns of those types of designers you should strive to not be, and see if you fit into any of the categories.

The Browse and Biter

First up we come to the nefarious Browse and Biter. This designer-type is characterized by their tendency to browse the web for ‘inspiration’, and they end up biting, borrowing, or simply flat out stealing the styles or designs that they see there. No matter how pure their intentions may be, this type of designer never learned the difference between being inspired by and, well, copying another’s work. Taking a look through their portfolios, one sees a lot of familiar looking or feeling works that they know they have seen somewhere before. They see a design they like, and they just have to copy it.

Tips to Avoid Being a Browse and Biter

These unfortunately unoriginal folks have a way of upsetting the understood natural order of things with their browse and bite ways, so it is best to learn where those lines are, and stay on the right side of them. Know where inspiration ends and your own voice and work begins. Know the difference between an homage and an ‘Oh, my god they ripped me off!’. Understand that if you admire someone and their work, the right way to honor them in your design is to use the way their work makes you feel and voice that through your work. Not duplicate what they have done. That tends to not be looked on as an honor. So be original, not a browse and biter.

The Stag

Next up, we have the Stag. This type of designer is mostly known for having a really specific style that never really grows or evolves. They just get to a point where they become satisfied with where they have gotten to, and they just stay there. Being stagnant. Soon all of their designs begin to feel stale, as no new ground is really ever broken in their work. And each ‘new’ piece that they craft feels very close to the last piece they just finished before it. And the one before that. And so on, ad nauseam. With this designer-type good becomes the enemy of great. They become satisfied with good and they never strive to be better. To be great.

Tips to Avoid Being a Stag

Now this is not to say that as a designer we should never be happy with the levels to which we have progressed. It is simply saying that we should always strive to be keep progressing. Growth is not a journey’s end, it is a never ending journey. A quest to always be learning more and evolving our skills. Nurturing them so they can rise to the next level and us along with them. And when we finish a design and begin a new one, we should always try to begin anew, as it were. To start fresh, and give each design a chance to be unique and not just a variation of our last piece.

The Boxer

Another designer-type to avoid becoming is the Boxer. These designers tend to be completely boxed in by the field, and for some unknown reason can not allow themselves to ever think outside the proverbial box. These incessant rule abiders become so caught up in the rules and principles of design that they never dare to break outside of or think beyond any of them. While Boxers may exhibit a technical proficiency, and their galleries may be full of precise, sharp designs, the work itself will have no heart. No daring. And as most of us in the field can attest, usually the pieces that have a lasting impact, tend to be those with heart. For the boxer, everything makes sense in the 'ring', and they can't bring themselves to step outside of it.

Tips to Avoid Being a Boxer

While it is easy to see how a designer can become so enveloped in the basics and those standard design practices that they forget about actually ever trying to push any envelopes through their work, it can be overcome. Design is a dynamic and versatile field that is built on those rules, but they are meant to be more of a guide for us than an absolute. As long as we have an understanding of them, then we can try pushing beyond them every now and again to find our way to true innovation in our designs. Think of the box as our arrival packaging into the design world. Now that we are here, we are not going to stay in our original packaging. We are going to unpack the box and use those things inside the way we best see fit.

The Safe-Player

Not moving on very much, we come to the next designer-type you want to avoid becoming, and that is the Safe-Player. This is actually somewhat of a variation on the Boxer. These designers do want to push the envelopes, and take huge design leaps of faith, but alas, they are too scared, and as a result they reel it in and always end up playing it safe. When you look through their work, you get that comfortable safe feeling exuding from all of it. None of the designs feel like they dared into any new or unfamiliar territory. This often stems from the designers desire to not make any mistakes, so they opt for the safer route. Forgetting all the while, that we need to be making mistakes so we can learn and grow.

Tips to Avoid Being a Safe-Player

For the most part, the advice here follows in suit with the tips for avoiding the Boxer model. However, we should stress that if you want to cast off these Safe-Player shackles, then you really need to be comfortable taking risks in your designs. You cannot let fear of mistakes or failure keep you from trying something new. Not if you want to stand out from the masses.

The Offended Defender

Now we move into the next warning section, that of the Offended Defender. These designers are usually characterized by their offended defenses of their work against any criticisms. Even those that are intended to help the designer make improvements. And they may actually be a good designer by and large, but the fact of the matter is, that they could be great if only they knew how to take and use these critiques of their work. As you look through their gallery, you wonder why some of the works seem like they could benefit from some slight tweaking. You might even go so far as to send them a polite note suggesting one such tweak. That is when you learn why those designs are and will forever stay that way. It does no good getting all offended and in someone’s face because they tried to help.

Tips to Avoid Being an Offended Defender

The main thing that one can do to step out of this less than favorable light, is to learn how to take criticism without imploding or defensively clinging to the critiqued element and allowing the work to suffer due to some over-inflated sense of ego or pride. And that is unfortunately the way that some designers take it. Even in the harshest of critiques we can often find some useful tips or hints to take away. We just might have to dig down to find it. We also can not let someone else’s negative tone let us get defensive and tune out to what useful tidbits might be buried underneath it.

The Apt-less Pupil

Now we come to the Apt-less Pupil designer-type. Now here it is not that these designers are so much slow learners that makes them less than desirable to become, it is just that they never quite get there, but think that they have it. There is nothing wrong with being a slow learner, but clients and colleagues working with you on a project should not have to suffer through your learning curve. These designer-types also can reflect poorly on the industry overall, as they introduce a segment of the market who call themselves designers, and hire themselves out as designers, but they are not quite designers.

Tips to Avoid Being an Apt-less Pupil

Basically, learn the field before stepping onto it to play in a game. Plain and simple. Also, do not take a job that you are not yet fully qualified to be taking, and you will steer yourself clear of this label easily.

The Underwhelmer

Now we come to the next designer-type, the Underwhelmer. These not-so over-achievers are mostly recognized by their tendencies to effectively under-deliver for their clients. In fact, they even tend to talk a really good game, which makes them hard to recognize to most. But even though they themselves have set the bar of expectations they rarely, if ever, live up to their own hype. Where most designers will tell you that the secret to success is to always over-deliver for your clients, this flock tend to fall short of that mission statement. We want to make the best of impressions all the way through the project, not completely drop the ball by under delivering on their expectations.

Tips to Avoid Being an Underwhelmer

To keep from baring this brand, again you have to know your limits and not let yourself get in over your head. Whether it is by committing to a project that you do not have the design background or know-how to come through on. Or whether it is by taking on too many clients or projects so that you end up coming up short on one or more of them when the deadlines roll around. Make sure that you can stay ahead of your workload, and have enough skill to deliver on all of your promises, and you might be able to keep from falling into this category.

The Space Cowboy or Cowgirl

Moving on, we come to the Space Cowboy or Cowgirl types of designers. Sufficed to say, their heads are far beyond just being in the clouds, they have left our general atmosphere and are floating in space. These designers are typically characterized as promisers of the moon, without any consideration given to the coding that will have to breathe life into their designs. Also known as the Coder’s Nightmare. Most designers for the web understand that some level of coding background is necessary so they can proceed somewhat reasonably. The Space Cowboy or Cowgirl makes no such concession.

Tips to Avoid Being a Space Cowboy or Cowgirl

Basically, to keep from wearing this dreaded label you need to be informed. Come down from those heights and plant your feet on the ground for a spell. Walk a mile in a Coder’s shoes. Then give them their shoes back and work together to make the most of the design project. Be reasonable in your expectations from the coders, just as you would expect from your them, or as you would expect from your clients.

That’s All Folks

That pretty much wraps up the discussion. Well, from this end anyway, but things are far from over. Now it is up to you to take over and let us know your thoughts on the subject at hand. And remember, for any of those finding themselves fitting into one of these roles, acceptance is the first step on the road to recovery. What designer-types would you warn your kids not to grow up to become? Are there any additional tips you would offer any sufferers of these behaviors that were left out? (rb)

Robert Bowen

Robert Bowen is an emerging author, celebrated podcaster and poet, and most recently the co-founder and imaginative co-contributor of the creative design and blogging duo at the Arbenting and Dead Wings Designs.


      1. Exactly, Jay. Filling your portfolio with your own work doesn’t show that you meet clients’ needs. It’s easy to rattle off a bunch of Photoshop noodling when YOU are the client.

      2. Oh please! Many portfolios consist of mainly or even solely personal work.

        When it’s not misleading to be otherwise, personal work can very well be something to speak of.

        Artist make art. It must frost your cookies for your professional work compete with that.

        There’s no shame in my game.

    1. People with no clue always crack me up! Kinda like you looking at a gallery filled with a specific line of designs and believing that it is somehow representative of the work that I have done for clients via our actual design freelancing site, not our Dead Wings Designs design line. But thanks for playing!…oh and for checking out the site. Much love!

      1. Don’t you think that reply was a little smug considering there was nothing amazing in the other portfolio? Especially since you have two sections of “minimalist” work in there

      2. Actually, I had troll clearance all the way up to 11, but reigned it in at a smugness factor of only 7.5. ;)

  1. Judging other designers’ work and categorizing them in such a derogatory manner isn’t what this industry needs. We should be supporting and inspiring each other…not mocking and condescending. I’m disappointed in Noupe for publishing such a narrow and shortsighted article.

      1. That’s exactly what it is, Josh. It certainly isn’t because I don’t think it’s necessary to be a dick on the internet.

      2. “Isn’t because I don’t” means “I do”, which I don’t believe is what you meant to say. Just sayin’. I like sarcasm as much as the next guy, but if you’re going to insult me with it, please get it right.

    1. Diane, the article was intended as a humorous look at the members of the design community who fall into these categories, which we all can admit are out there. Rather than harshly critiquing these character traits and pointing fingers, I took it in a more joking fashion. I think that the post could have been a much harsher article like those around the web who not only call out ‘bad designers’ but also call them out by name or work. So I am not sure I see the ill tone that you feel embodies the post. I am guessing that this is a case where we just do not see eye to eye.

  2. I’d like to clarify just for GP, I wasn’t “calling out ‘bad designers’” in my earlier reply. I meant to convey how counterproductive it is to ‘hate’ on others.

    I get the impression this post was not intended to mock or condescend, as it implies the reader is *not* one of the categorized designer styles ‘not to be.’ But it still mocks and condescends those that *are* in those categories. This ‘elitist‘ perception is further perpetuated among readers.

    But what do I know? I’m surely a type of designer not be.

    1. I expected after doing a similar post a while back like this that identified and called out client types that we deal with, that some would disagree with the post, but ‘elitist’ really? Using sarcasm to highlight areas that the design community needs to improve on is hardly establishing any sort of elitist hierarchy. Especially when most all of us have been in one or more of those categories throughout our development.

      But we grow and we keep evolving, hopefully leaving these less than favorable traits behind and using others as a warning post to hopefully steer clear of as we change again.

      Again I am sorry that the post came off that way, but that is truly not what was intended.

  3. You left out what I consider to be the worst, what I call the ‘yes’ designer. This designer simply buckles to every single request from the client without regard for how it might affect the user experience, ending up with a dogs breakfast full of unessecary jquery siders, lightwindows and other rubbish.

    1. Very true, Mike, that can be a nightmare of usability in the end. However, I understand the desire to give up the fight with the client and just cave to get the job done. It is a sad place to get to, and I have admittedly only done so on print projects not more user based and interactive web based ones. But hopefully we all get to a place where we realize that fighting for the design and the user is not a bad thing. We just have to do it correctly.

  4. @Robert Bowen,
    True, ‘elitist’ unfairly exaggerates, but even without direct insults or identity, the unsavory labeling might be misconstrued. I do see the very valid points brought up with each ‘type,’ and again, to me it was clear that your intents were nothing other than noble. One such significant unsavory truth being that there are some in the design and dev field whose work does not seem to come from some semblance of an organic origin. I do not relate to this mode of operating myself. Though it does nothing for solace what-so-ever, the old adage “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” is my only understanding of such practices. Whenever my own content or designs or what-have-you is copied, I am of course quite disturbed by it, but also flabbergasted that someone would copy me. Lil’ ol’ me? There are much more talented and knowledgeable people with impressive works, but I suppose if copying is even a consideration, the bar is already set as low as it can go.

    Anyhow, sorry, went off on a tangent there. Thanks for the reply and respect, ~Lauren

    1. Tangents always welcome. :) And you make a good point…many actually. It does have a sting to it when it happens, even if we can reach the flattery. A local artist friend of mine has a very particular style for her paintings, and when another local artist copied that style for one of his pieces (actually as an homage to her b/c he liked her stuff so much) she was really upset. Until she found out that it was an homage of course, but initially she thought her style was being ripped.

      I understand how it can be misconstrued and that the tongue in cheek nature of the piece can be taken more harshly than it was intended. I guess I thought perhaps that with the other posts and pieces I have out there, that tone would not be the one garnered. Lesson learned. Thanks again for the follow up.

  5. Interesting read Robert. I reckon that there’s a little bit of each of them that we are constantly trying to keep in check. At one stage or another I been a partial offended of all other them but I guess that’s part of the learning process. The trick keep the mind open, the ego in check and keep pushing forward.

  6. Like John, I’ve been guilty of being all these things at one point or another in my career.

    I also have to agree with Diane. The article made me feel bad about myself.

    It seems to me that the author could have gotten the same points across with a positive spin instead. “Types of Designers To Be”

    So it goes…


    1. Hey dp, sorry to leave you feeling bad about yourself. Self-deprecation and sarcasm while not always the best ways to make a point, I do occasionally find impactful. That was the mood that I was in when this was written.

  7. I swear to god, so many people in the web design blogosphere act like they’re doing God’s work or saving drowning babies with their every keystroke – it’s freakin’ pixels on a page man. So sanctimonious it’s ridiculous.

    So, what exactly is your prescription when your client comes to you and says (because it’s happened to ALL of us) “actually I want [enter site section] part to look just like [enter other site section]” – what are you gonna do? “Oh, sorry, actually I read this article about what kind of designer I’m not supposed to be so … I’m sorry, I can’t be a ‘biter’ so I’m not going to be able to make that sticky header like you want … no, no don’t pay me.”

    Or how about this – you’ve done 3 restaurant sites and a 4th gets referred … what, so you’re gonna turn it down so you don’t become a “boxer”? You’re not going to accept that 40k to make “an app so people can share photos with your friends!”?

    This piece just feeds the delusion that a web profession’s job is to become the designer THEY want to be … it’s not! Our job is to be the designer or developer that helps our clients get where they need to be (usually involves helping them MAKE MONEY).

    Now, we all wanna add our own special sauce to the mix – but have you EVER gotten a job where the customer’s primary goal was to be highly praised on a CSS gallery? You can make the most unique design in the world and if it converts zero it’s worthless. Having fancy design that web professionals touch themselves to is a value add – but NOT the goal. Get a grip.

    1. Hey Max, no one said we can’t take those jobs or make those concessions. Having a focus and a niche can be recommended. But the answer to all of your questions comes down to discretion when compiling a portfolio. Most will agree that you don’t want to just put everything in there. So if you have four restaurant sites you’ve built, just put one in your portfolio. The most outstanding. Or any that are unique and stand out. I’ve worked with three independent local artists over the years for site and brand building, but we’ve only ever felt one was right for our portfolio.

  8. @MaxWellian – Brilliantly well said. One of the “types” missing from the article is the studio ghetto dweller that makes ‘design’ itself inaccessible from those that need it the most – the real world.

    1. That’s actually not article specific. The site is still having issues on mobile devices. Sorry for the inconvenience.

      Noupe Editorial Team

  9. It’s always been hard to mix business and art especially when sometimes you get clients asking you for things like a splash page with a loading icon when there’s nothing loading… You try to make it with style I guess if you want to eat or you can become an artist for art’s sake if you don’t want to make sacrifices. I wish I could only make sites for artists but they’re, most the of the time, as poor as I am.

  10. I see my work plagiarized in gardening programmes and decorating programmes and car adverts, and I suppose I have to accept that’s just the way art gets assimilated into culture. (Andy Goldsworthy)

  11. weird my comments got deleted and i said nothign wrong.

    SO what is the point of posting articles like this where many people come to these sites for inspiration?
    I mean you are putting people under a category and yet these sites fall under these categories for insipiration etc…

    and yet the purpose of these sites are to teach people and inspire them… so what is the point of Noupe?

    1. It wasn’t what you said, it was that it was hard to follow and honestly felt like spam. So it was deleted. Sorry for the mix-up.

      As for the clarified question, still not sure how your question and the article are linked? Every one is different and we will naturally all have different take-aways from any lesson or source of inspiration. We will all take those and do something different with them via our personal interpretations.

      This article puts designers in categories, yes, but that has nothing to do with the site? We don’t often personify websites or instill them with human character traits as is done in the post. Sites are not people, we cannot often control how they end up in the end (that tends to be in the client’s hands), but we can decide what kind of designer we are going to be.

      I am sorry I am probably not really answering your question, but again, I am not sure I follow the question. Little more clarification, if you wouldn’t mind. :)

  12. A very good article and funny too..

    I think I have worked with or employed all those designers lol
    Space cowboys have to be the ones to beware of, do not let them near your important clients…

    And i think in my life and depending on the project and client, i have been a space cowboy to a safe player been all of the above, so i can relate to this article.

    On that note as any one met or know another designer who is not one of the above ?

  13. Imperfection is the route to great design, for it makes us want to do better next time..

    We should have a list of positive designer types

  14. Thanks for this list. It helps me as a good designer. I admit that I do have some of these types but, instead I hate it, I reflect and acknowledge it because it’s correct. There is no perfect designer.

    Besides, nothing’s to worry about. We need to strive hard and be inspired. Learn, adapt and have fun. Give your best as you can.

  15. The Apt-less Pupil – I highly disagree with this point, if you’re not qualified for the job it doesn’t mean you can’t go for and/or get the job. How would one expect to learn the ropes without a position where they can explore and grow? Study only gets you so far in this day and age.

  16. An interesting read, and if we all looked inwards honestly we would all find ourselves guilty of a few. Living in a design utopia where creative freedom, endless possibilities and time are a true constant is, unfortunately not the reality in the ‘business’, of design. The typical constraints we all deal with within every brief makes it difficult to constantly be creatively on the pulse all the time. The reality is, most of us cannot ‘redesign the wheel’ with every brief for it to be commercially viable for our clients. We can try our best to be cutting edge on everything but sometimes it is inevitable that we will fall into these categories.

    Out of interest Robert where would position yourself within these categories?

  17. I’m sorry but I just disagree on this critiquing and labeling of people! Personally, I think it’s shameful that some have this elitist mindset that you need to fall into category A if you are a real designer or real Artist. Flat out that’s just wrong if I do say so myself! Perfect example, the Grateful Dead, no doubt everyone has heard and knows of them? The Grateful Dead was probably the Greatest Band in the history of Rock & Roll Live Performance wise. Jerry Garcia himself was quoted in Rolling Stone Magazine as well as Saturday Night Live that they could only really be summed up as I quote we are Musical Thieves and guess what they were, despite the fact they had tons and tons of original material a great deal of what they performed live was written by other artists.

    Point of the matter is that we all interpret things differently and go about getting our results differently and who’s to say what is right or what is wrong? The fact that someone is trying to achieve something and is working towards it is all that really matters.

    If we as Artist did not borrow ideas and get inspiration from others before us then well the world would have nothing in it…plain and simple!

    Has anyone here heard of the Golden Theory ? The Golden Theory has been around since the Egyptian times but also did you know that everything that you see in the world today as we know it, is built off of the Golden Theory / Golden Rectangle Principle? Everything from Sky Scraper Buildings down to the Credit Card in your wallet is based off of the Golden Rectangle theory!

    I would love to see what you real artists would think of the world today if everyone adhered to this smug and elitist attitude and no one had borrowed others ideas from the past. Hmmmm, I wonder how boring our world would be without Dreamers that Borrowed others Ideas from the Past to created beautiful works of art that we have today……think about it!!!!!!

  18. Ahh, interesting article, I must say I enjoyed it.

    However, I couldn’t help to feel identified with some of those types and it made me question for a second my skills as I designer. I agree with MaxWellian, I wish we had the freedom or chance to make most of our designs like those you see on a web gallery, most of the times they start that way but then feedback from the client takes it into a different direction. Even though we shouldn’t design thinking of what the client wants but what their target user needs, sometimes their aesthetics preferences can’t be “educated” or ignored.

    I actually think its a “must” to get inspired, look around, get a lot of references before actually sitting down and designing. To me its a big and important part of the process.

    I do agree with Robert regarding the The Offended Defender (though not a big fan of the labels). Its important to always be open to criticisms, from our colleagues or from the client, its necessary to evolve and grow as a designer. Sometimes its easier for someone else to spot what could be improved in your design.

  19. We are all designers and we all have every trait of what the post was saying just some show more of some and less of most and not always in that order. They are just elements to a compound which creates a designer some elements will show more than others maybe if we shared our weak points and our strong points we as designers could assist in growth and knowledge. I would never tell another designer he/she was horrible or give intention to that thought I would encourage change and point out weak attributes and give examples of how to improve through venues of other designer. I thought the post was very informative even thought it was ment more in a humorous fashion but it did point out a few things for me about myself.

    Thank you.

  20. Even though I’m a little late to the party, its easy to see who took offense to this and who read it for what it was. This was a warning to us who design for a living, those of you that started crying about how it made you feel need to take a look inward and find out why it made you feel this way.

    Great article for those of us who hire in this industry as it’s easy to take a 30 second look at any portfolio and see what type of designer you’re dealing with.

    To those of you starting out, still learning about the industry take this as a guide of what not to become. Change up your style, your music selection and how you develop your designs. Challenge yourself and you blow past those designers stuck in their ways, hating on those that “get it”.

    My .02¢

  21. great article. and i find myself in every designer pattern you describe. it’s good to have some “issues” pointed out. imho as time passes you “live” through these cliches…. and also i found out the the relation with you client shapes up the workflow, and of course the artwork.

  22. In this article, I think i’m fit all the categories but i didn’t feel bad about myself.
    I believe every designer have their own art philosophy.
    Jeet Kune Do ( founded by martial artist Bruce Lee) is my art design philosophy :

    “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own” – Bruce Lee

  23. Would like to see a follow up list that generates an even higher level of rancor and bitterness in defensive reaction to some light-hearted fun about unnamed designer weaknesses.

  24. Nice article Robert.

    I think most people would find themselves guilty of each of these unfavorable traits at some point or another.

    Good to be aware of them and manage accordingly.

  25. Thanks for the article Robert, each of the types strikes a familiar chord and I’m sure this is based on a lot of real-life experience in your own work and others’. What’s interesting in my view is that all the designer “types” mentioned are actually emotional states or “hang ups” that are experienced by designers. So the same designer with the same skills and professional development curve could be any of these types depending on their emotional state. I think one of the reasons for the criticism I saw in the comments is that the article is not so actionable, because if you’re one of these types, you probably won’t admit it to yourself, and if a colleague or employee is one of these types, in most cases they would be hurt if they knew you considered them to have one of these deficiencies. A more practical guide – Robert, I would love to see you do this – is a segmentation of designers according to their skillsets or specialties. For example, some designers are better at designs that “sell” or “convert”, others are more artistic and can generate a look and feel that communicates a brand well, others are able to shock with their design, and so on. This type of classification which focuses more on the unique capabilities each designer brings to the table – and not to their emotional deficiencies – could be really useful in choosing a designer to work with.

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