Design like a tattoo artist

What started off as a throwaway comment is an idea what I haven’t been able to shake since saying it. Without trying to reconstruct the entire back story (which would run the length of several blog posts), I commented that web design is a little like tattoo artistry. Sure, the execution of the two are nothing alike, and web designers tend to look a fair bit less badass than your average tattoo parlor owner; but I’d argue that they do still have their similarities.

A person who wants a tattoo generally has a reasonably solid idea of what they want; but before breaking out a compass and bottle of ink, they’ll generally go and see someone who has dealt with the craft for a while. What comes next is where I draw the parallels.

Some people will be eager for the tattoo guy to re-draw their idea into something which will work a little better in context, while others will have already given the work a lot of thought and be less interested in a second opinion. In either case the job of the tattoo artist is to give the customer what they came in for; yet they wouldn’t be doing the customer any favors if they neglected to point out that removing an unwanted tattoo is costly and painful. This is in essence a balance between respecting a client’s request, and not giving them something that they will come to regret.

If the customer is interested in seeing some sketches, and the tattoo artist simply says “Your drawing sucks – here’s something better”, the customer is going to get offended, probably stubborn, and perhaps take their business elsewhere. They have to show the customer that they ‘get’ what they were going for, and create something cool that reflects this. Without this level of understanding, a person is going to be pretty unlikely to let a stranger draw on them in a relatively permanent manner.

If the customer isn’t interested in seeing what the artist has to offer, it’s going to be a little harder to establish trust and respect. Mister tattoo person is going to need to show that he understands the customer’s reluctance to take feedback on board, and also evaluate what will happen if he operates directly from the customer’s sketch. The customer may well know best in this case, or they may have spent so much time focused on their sketch that they’ve missed something a second pair of eyes can pick up.

In either case, the point is that a good tattoo artist will give things some thought before slapping some ink on their customer’s face, perhaps suggesting to start with an arm. Remember that a website is by no means permanent, but takes more time than a laser surgery session to replace. A little bit of time and effort spent making sure that the design  won’t look embarrassing in six months will make your client more likely to come back and finish off that sleeve.

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