How do you stand out amongst the vast sea of designers? How do you get potential clients to pick you over others? You need to be remarkable. Being good is, well, not good enough. You need to be the purple cow.
The purple what? The purple cow — someone who is out of the ordinary. In a pasture, a purple cow would stand out from the rest; you’d immediately notice it. A purple cow garners attention.
Assuming that you have the design skills to back up your remarkable self, then you stand a fighting chance to become an attention-grabbing designer that attracts clients and projects much easier.
The term purple cow came from the title of a poem written by Gelett Burgess in 1895, but was popularized more recently by Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow.
This article lists a short set of ideas on presenting yourself to prospective clients in a more remarkable way, thus grabbing their attention and separating yourself from others in your field. These ideas assume you’re already proficient with design — if you’re not, then improving your skills should take priority because it does you no good to land clients if you can’t create great work for them.
Don’t Be Like Anyone Else
This is obvious. The purple cow is not like its brethren. Of course, you shouldn’t be like anyone else. But this point does need reiteration.
Not being like everyone else is something we all think about, yet when it’s time for action, most people do the exact opposite. "Alright, I’m a unique designer, I have this distinctive trait, I do this thing that no one else does, and my personal story is fascinating." But when it’s time to build our portfolio, we look at what everyone else is doing right now, and we fall in line with the design trends.
The first step to becoming the purple cow is trying consciously to be unique. You can’t present yourself as remarkable and innovative if you’re mimicking what other successful designers are doing — the ones that are already purple cows.
Share Your Quirks and Traits
There is always something quirky about everyone. It could be something small — "I create dark visuals but I love sunny Beach Boys songs" — or something major like persevering with a disability, overcoming life struggles, traveling the world with one bag, and so forth.
You can show these traits in your site’s tagline, About page, or Twitter profile — anywhere potential clients might look if they wanted to learn more about you.
Don’t be afraid to share things that make you the way you are; it makes you, well, human. Our personal philosophies and experiences in life, good or bad, make us who we are, and they inspire us in the things we create.
If you’re having trouble, ask someone who knows you well (e.g. a good friend, a significant other, your relatives) to describe your most interesting quirks and traits.
In the initial discovery phase, just place all the quirks and traits you think makes you unique, and then just pick the best ones later.
Push Your Favorite Traits to an Extreme
Now that you have listed all of your quirks and traits, pick your favorites. Pick the ones that you feel represent you best. Then push them to an extreme.
- Do you travel the world? You’re the world’s most mobile designer.
- Do you love spicy food? You’re the designer who can drink a bottle of Tabasco in one sitting.
- Do you have an interesting physical trait? You’re the tallest/skinniest/most ripped/most tanned/most freckled designer in the world.
- Camera/social network/photo shy? You’re the enigmatic/mysterious designer.
- Enjoy eating carrots? You’re the rabbit designer who loves carrots.
You get the idea.
The point here is to start forming the description of you as a Purple Cow. You’re not just a designer (yawn), you’re an [insert unique trait] designer.
The goal here is to be humorous and memorable, not deceitful.
If You Don’t Have Interesting Traits, That Becomes Your Trait
Don’t have anything interesting at all about yourself? Nonsense. Everyone has something quirky or slightly out of the norm about them. No matter how small.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say you can’t think of anything at all. Or what you do come up with, you don’t like. Then play up your uninteresting traits and surroundings. Push your boring aspects to an extreme. Make boring your extreme trait.
Stuck living in some suburban town? You’re the designer who hails from the most boring point on earth.
Do you dress average, or don’t really have a sense of fashion? You’re the world’s worst dressed or least-fashionable designer.
Are you just all-round average? You’re the world’s most average designer.
You don’t have to be some globe-trotting, tall, quad-lingual, exotic-dressing designer to be the purple cow.
This might all seem shallow to some of you. The reality is that we’re all humans who get easily bored. Clients aren’t robots who only look at your work and nothing else. You need to make it fun for them, intrigue them, and make it interesting for them in order for them to take notice of you.
Being the purple cow just means being memorable. Even an extremely talented designer can have an incredibly hard time being noticed if there’s nothing remarkable about them. And the solution might just be as simple as a unique name (Dragon Cleaver Robinson — you’ll never forget that name) or a unique personal story that can be associated to your body of work or a trademark style or design element that’s consistently present in all of your projects.
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