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Are you a Pixel Pusher or a Design Thinker?

Do you exude confidence when dealing with your design clients? If you answered no, you could be losing out on valuable business.

Designers usually fall into one of two categories: Pixel Pushers, and Design Thinkers.

Pixel Pushers rely mostly on instructions to do their job. A client or art director tells them precisely what they need, and the designer uses his or her skills to create it. Pixel Pushers can be amazing designers. Capable of turning those simple or vague instructions into something beautiful. However, Pixel Pushers tend not to exercise their creative powers as much, since they let other people do the conceptual thinking for them.

Design Thinkers, on the other hand, not only know how to use the tools at their disposal to create stunning designs, but they also have the skills to imagine and conceptualize those designs from scratch. They think up vague ideas, the smallest of thoughts and massage and expand on them until they turn it into something amazing.

Now, of course, I am harsh with these distinctions. There is no hard line separating Pixel Pushers and Design Thinkers. Pixel Pushers do require design thinking skills to turn someone else’s ideas into reality, just as Design Thinkers need the technical expertise to turn their own ideas into reality. In fact, in most cases. Design Thinkers started their careers as Pixel Pushers. Following the instructions of someone more experienced than them.

Think of your path. Were you ever a junior designer? Did you ever follow the instructions of a more senior designer? That’s how I started. The print shop hired me straight out of college, and without any experience working with real clients, I relied upon the other, more knowledgable designers around me for guidance. It’s how most of us start and grow as designers.

Some designers are content with that life, content with the limited creative freedom they have, as they design things based on someone else’s ideas. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know several designers who enjoy what they do, while recognizing the pressure of the design concept, dealing with the clients, the success or failure of a design campaign, is all on someone else’s shoulders.

But for people like you and me, being a Pixel Pusher isn’t fulfilling enough. We want more.

We want to deal directly with the clients. We want to come up with the design ideas ourselves. We want to manipulate those pixels and bring the images from our head to life. We want to revel at the successful campaigns we design for our clients and learn from the failed ones because that’s what makes us better designers.

But how do you go from being a Pixel Pusher to a Design Thinker?

One word, confidence.

Confidence in your skills. Confidence in your knowledge. And confidence in your ability to do what it is you do, without the need for instructions from anyone else. You’re probably reading this because you either run your own part-time or full-time design business or you’re dreaming of one day starting one. So chances are, you fall into the Design Thinker category. Congratulations, and welcome to the club.

But, just how much confidence do you have?

There’s a wide range of Design Thinkers, and where you stand among them is mostly determined by your confidence level. That’s why you see some self-employed graphic and web designers who are struggling and barely getting by, while others are hugely successful. It’s not their design skills that separate them. It’s their confidence level. Their confidence when they deal with clients. Their confidence in their abilities. Their confidence in what they charge. All of this adds up to greater success.

Think about it. How much confidence would you have in a lawyer who tells you they’re not sure about your case? How about a surgeon who says they’ve seen the procedure they’re about to perform on you many times, but have never done it themselves? What about an auto mechanic who says, “sure, I’ll have a look at your car, but I have no idea what I’m looking for?” Your trust in them would be very low, giving you second thoughts about proceeding with them.

Now imagine your interactions with your design clients. From the client’s perspective, how are you coming off? Are you exuding enough confidence for them to know you’re the right person for their project?

  • If you quote with confidence, clients are more likely to accept your price and hire you.
  • If you present your project proposal with confidence, clients are more likely to trust your instincts.
  • If you submit your design concepts with confidence, clients are more likely to agree with your ideas.

So, how do you exude confidence?

Here are my thoughts combined with a few ideas I read on articles about confidence in business from entrepreneur.com and wisdomtimes.com.

Stop waiting to feel confident.

Confidence is a state of mind that grows the more you practice. You don’t have to feel fully confident before starting anything. Start small and expand on it. Begin by “acting confident,” even though you don’t feel it. The more you practice this, the more your mind will shift, and soon you’ll stop acting and actually start to feel confident.

Keep in mind that a little fear and nervousness are healthy. Even the most confident people still experience these emotions. Don’t let them stop you from feeling confident.

Focus on the benefits to your clients.

A great way to grow your confidence is by focusing on the benefits you bring to your clients. Concentrate more on how your work will help your client and less on how you’re going to accomplish that work. If you show confidence and make it clear what the client is getting by working with you, you’re halfway to getting them to agree with you.

Be direct.

Tell your clients exactly how it is and how it’s going to be.

  • This is your price.
  • This is my proposal.
  • Here are my designs.

Clients will appreciate your directness and see you as a professional.

Learn to accept rejection.

If you want to be confident, you need to be able to accept NO as an answer and move on. Every time someone says no to you, think of it as one step closer to getting a yes response.

If you confidently give a quote and the client rejects it, move on. If need be, use what you learned and adjust your price on the next similar project to quote.

Package yourself for success.

To show confidence, you should look the part. Dress well for the client. Wear formal attire for corporate business clients and something clean, casual and yet still professional for more relaxed clients.

Correct your posture.

Your posture is a clear indication of your confidence level. If you’re slouching, you come off as insecure, lazy or disinterested. The straiter you sit or stand, without looking stiff, the more confidence you’ll exude.

Do your best, and worry less.

Stop worrying about what others think of you. If you doubt yourself, people will sense it. Focus on the things you do well and learn and grow from your mistakes. If there are things you don’t do well, hire someone else to do them for you.

Focus on your future.

Gain confidence by focusing on your Vision Statement. Your business’ Vision Statement will help guide you towards your long term goals and give you confidence in your decision making. It will help you refocus on what is the most important moves for you and your business. Proceed with confidence with anything that enables you to reach that destination.

Embrace positivity.

The more positive you are, the more confidence you’ll exude. When dealing with clients, look for the positive aspects in their criticism. Focus and expand on what they liked about your design, and put aside and forget the things they didn’t like.

Let go of small mistakes.

Nobody is perfect; we all make mistakes. Don’t dwell on small errors. Don’t obsess over what you did wrong, Instead, take responsibility, apologize if you need to, fix the mistake if you can and move on.

Practice and continue to grow and improve.

The more you know, the more your skills improve, the more confident you’ll be. Confidence is like a muscle; it gets stronger the more you use it. So keep practicing it in your day to day life. Try acting more confident with family and friends and everyone you deal with on a day to day basis. You’ll soon see a positive change in the way they react to you. Invest in yourself and your business will grow.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

One of the best ways to show confidence is by admitting you don’t know something. Let your client know with confidence that what they’re asking is beyond your abilities, but you’ll find someone with the required skills for their project.


If you want to be a highly successful design business owner and not a struggling artist, you need to show confidence in all your business dealings.

  • The more confident you are, the more money you can charge.
  • The more confident you are, the more focus and dedication you’ll put into your work.
  • The more confident you are, the more your clients will trust and enjoy working with you.
  • The more confident you are, the more your clients will refer you to others.
  • The more confident you are, the less stressed you’ll be while running your design business.

So go out there and be confident in everything you do.

How confident are you in your business?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Resource of the week SiteGround

SiteGround, in my opinion, is one of the best website hosting companies out there. I have several of my own as well as clients' websites at SiteGround. They offer easy 1-clickWordPress installation and allow multiple domains and websites on one hosting package. And if you are already hosting your site elsewhere you can take advantage of their free migration tool to have your site moved from your old host to SiteGround.

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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com