Daniel Nisbet

Episode 6  |  January 23, 2018

Designing for Fictional Clients

In late 2016 I took on a full time job after doing freelance design for six years. While there was a lot of changes that went along with that, one of the things I was looking forward to was taking some time to try out some new things.

I was inspired by the people who took on a fictional project, client, or both and designed something with their own spin.

More often than not, this came in the form of a redesign of Facebook or a redesign a Wikipedia. I always wished I had the time to do something like that. But when you're freelancing, paying the bills trumps everything. So I never took the time to try this.

Fast forward to late 2017, and I had made the decision that I didn't want to work for clients or any new projects.

I wanted to try and take on something that would allow me to step back and take a second look at at my process. I wanted to test out the methods and techniques that I was using. Maybe there was a way that I could make that better or to try something different.

So my my my plan was to come up with a fictional soccer team called Milwaukee Football Club (original name, I know.) I wanted to try something that I had never done before. I never worked for a stick and ball sports team before.

I had never done something as bold as designing a brand that would encompass that many different touch points—from jerseys to scarves; t-shirts to websites, social media—you name it.

Often, my projects focused on some very specific items in a brand. It never had the opportunity to design everything, so I was excited to start this project. There was some nervousness because it was something I had ever done before. But to be honest, it was the most mentally refreing I think I've done in some time.

It allowed me to step back and take a second glance from a different perspective as to how my process was working for me and how it wasn't. One of the exciting parts about this was, I was able to break my process down into a bunch of micro processes that I would never point out to a client.

What was nice about that is if something wasn't working, I could back up a little bit and take another run at it. If something didn't feel right about how I was going about my concept in phase, it would allow me to kind of step back and say “okay, let's scrap everything I did for a moment and try again.”

It was an interesting approach, because when I was doing work for clients and coming up with things, the focus was on getting something done or pushing a deliverable out to the client.

And often, and I'm sure many listeners might appreciate, you end up wallpapering over some of the ugly parts of your process. You might not put much time or thought into some of those pieces because you have a project that needs to get done.

Doing this fictional project, that feeling was gone. There was no money, changing hands. There was no actual client. I was the judge the jury, the whole nine yards.

Being able to look at it from both angles was very beneficial. I could approach it from the designer standpoint and make some adjustments. Or I could look at it from the client's view to see how it felt.

It was an eye opening experience for me.

There's one final element of this which I actually didn't expect but it was a rather pleasant side outcome of this. It was the attention the project got.

Milwaukee got some flack from Roman Mars a few years ago about our flag. It ended up spurring a movement to redesign it. My final soccer team design, which was based off the new flag caught attention of the organizers behind it!

Long story short, it ended up snowballing into a featured piece across the Milwaukee Flag social media. It was very fulfilling to see so many people see my work who may have never seen it otherwise, and appreciate it!

A feel-good part for me was seeing the number of likes and interactions that a project that I never would have done as a freelancer would get.

It was a a great experience. It's one I enjoyed and would highly recommend if you're in a rut or need to change things up.