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I'm Cathy Leamy, a Boston cartoonist and medical writer. Check out my comics! They're mainly about health care and autobio stories.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

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Project Runway and critiques

I've watched just about all of this season of Project Runway, which has its season finale this evening. It totally sucked me in with two of my favorite hooks: drama and makin' stuff.

Something else that interests me, though, is the end-of-episode critiques of the designers' work. They flash me back to the critiques from the graphic design program I finished a couple of years back, and they bring up advice that PR designers could stand to hear (and not just them - any creative professional and anyone presenting their work before others).

Avoid the words "I tried" and "I wanted"

When I hear the words "I tried", I expect "but ..." to follow. People who have achieved their goals sound more confident about their work. They use words that give the impression of "I did it" rather than "I gave it a shot." When it comes to final products, people want results, not good intentions.

The same applies to "I wanted to ...". My first reaction is "If you'd actually achieved your goal, you'd just say what you did, not what you were intending to do." Instead of saying "I wanted this dress to look elegant", just state it! "This dress looks elegant," period. This is especially helpful if your final product doesn't exactly reflect your first ideas. Don't set your listeners up for disappointment by pointing out how far you drifted from your goals.

That said, it's fine to say what your goals were and how you achieved them. You just want to avoid sounding wishy-washy. Be strong! Bring attention to what you've done, not what you haven't done.

Remember, in the words of the master, "Do or do not. There is no try."

Avoid using the rules as an excuse

Let's not hear any of this "My design has so much fabric in it because you told us we had to use it all up" or "My dress looks like this because you gave us only two days." That comes off as "I can't work within project limitations." Be honest if your final product has problems or if you haven't met your objectives, but don't try to fob them off as the client's fault for coming up with those requirements.

And if you did meet or surpass the requirements, especially in an innovative way, crow it up! Talk about them like challenges you enjoyed rather than obstacles you reluctantly faced. As a client, which would you rather hear: "I had to build the house like this because of the environmental laws you said we had to obey", or "Here's the house! I was attentive to the environmental laws and addressed them in the following ways: X, Y, and Z"?

Be cheerful and professional no matter how you feel about your work

We're not mindreaders. When we present our work, we have no idea what the judges or clients are thinking. Maybe we're thinking, Oh God, my work is freeze-dried poo topped with a poo garnish, but the judges might not be thinking the same thing. They might not even notice the flaws. You're trying to sell your work to them (literally or figuratively), so why poison your chances by talking it down? Also, when you get deeply involved in a project, it can be hard to appreciate its good aspects. You tend to zone in on the problem areas. Other people can have different perspectives and see merits that you may have missed. Give them a chance to enjoy it.

Talking positively about your work is also just flat-out professional. You wouldn't go through the trouble of making a gourmet meal and delivering it on exquisite china only to comment, "Yeah, I hope you like it 'cause I think it kinda sucks, especially the asparagus." That casts a shadow over this meal and any future meals. Who wants to come back and do business again with the gloomy chef?

Be mindful of presentation

Presentation is an important aspect of showing your work. You wouldn't serve that gourmet meal on paper plates. You wouldn't show up for a job interview in sneakers and sweatpants. Keep in mind all the aspects of how others will be viewing your work. On Project Runway, presentation includes accessories, hair, and makeup. In the rest of the world, presentation might be bringing color copies of your design to the meeting instead of boring black-and-white, or neatly wrapping a birthday gift instead of handing it over in the plastic bag from the store.

The very experience of enjoying your work can push people just over that edge and onto your side. Think of the small negative aspects that stick in your head, and think of how you can work to prevent them in your own projects. "I loved the book but damn, that was the nastiest cover art," or "The apartment was beautiful but the realtor looked like she just crawled through a hedge."

And to all you haters out there replying "I have better things to do than worry about how the clients think I'm dressed" or "My l33t programming skills should speak for themselves" - it's a valid feeling, but why would you voluntarily undercut yourselves like that? The world is a competitive place. Why not take advantage of every little thing that could give you an edge and memorability over your rivals? Why not give the impression that you pay attention to every little detail possible?

Say Your Piece

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