Why More Doesn’t Equal Better – The Art of Overachieving

May 18, 2009 - By 


A student wrote in telling me that he turned in a spot that was over a minute long for a project that asked for only a 15-second animation. His teachers insisted on giving him a failed grade. He was wondering why he would be punished for what he considered was “Overachieving as an artist.” This is an excerpt from my reply…

First of all, I think it’s great that you put so much energy and passion into your projects. Your drive to be better and better will be the most important part of your journey.

However, you must think about your teachers as real clients in the real world. You aren’t just learning After Effects. You are learning how to create within their limitations and make great work within the client’s constraints.

Think about this: When you leave school and get a job, you will have limits. If someone needs a 15-second commercial, you can not deliver a 70-second spot, no matter how good it is. Right? True artists make the best of their limitations. If your concept needs more than a minute to make sense, then your concept is not right for this project. Re-concept the idea to play out in 15-seconds or consider shortening your current idea to fit the brief. Going above and beyond is great, but making something longer that is required is NOT going above and beyond. In fact, it is sometimes harder to make short pieces than long ones.

In any profession, there are rules and standards. If a builder was asked to build a one-story ranch for a family, he would NOT be applauded for making a six-story skyscraper. Again, think of your teachers as future clients. They asked for a 15-second commercial for a 15-second time slot and you gave them an unusable piece of animation. If they were your client, you would not get paid.

Anyway, don’t be discouraged. Overachieving is a good thing. Just spend time overachieving in things that ARE under your control. Make the colors perfect, make concepts more clear, make the animation tighter, write more interesting stories. Just remember, making a spot longer doesn’t make it better.

One last thing: If your goal is to be only an artist, none of this matters. Do anything you want that makes you artistically happy. But, if you are looking for a job in this industry, you have to learn to accept constraints and create great work within them.

Keep up the passion!

Posted In:  Ideas Inspiration
  • Great response. I hope he received your email well, because you are so right.

  • The only thing I would add is that whoever sent this email did not have his enthusiasm fall apart at the feedback. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen other designers get feedback from clients and just ‘give up’ after finding they didn’t hit a home run right out of the gates. I personally can only remember 2 times a client accepted what I did with no feedback whatsoever. I also remember being really freaked out about that and wondering if they were just stringing me along or that they were shopping around for another designer to recreate what I made for cheaper than what I was charging.

  • Really encouraging stuff here!

    If I was made more aware of this a year ago! I’ve just finished my Art foundation & really failed to grasp this point, partly because our final project was so open to do what we wanted…

  • Couldn’t have said it better! I too had a similar discussion with a teacher a few years back. But you are so right.

  • A good answer. If in college or university you are set an essay with a limit of 1500 words and you greatly exceed it, you would get failed.
    This is the real world example of meeting the needs of your client, in my previous example your teacher.

  • Especially in advertising where every on-air second costs thousands a 70 sec. spot would be a financial fiasco…

  • As someone who does a lot of writing, I have found it is incredibly important in both the academic and professional world to be as concise as possible. I think your advice is spot on…for teachers and clients, give exactly what they ask for. If you still want to be an overachiever and feel like they could benefit from more, create an Appendix or a few roughs and say, “Hey, here’s what you asked for, but I also think you could really benefit from this…”

    On the other hand, if you can’t keep it concise, novels and canvass were made for excess. Good stuff!

  • I think it’s not that obvious for anybody who never had hands-on experience before. I guess most people who are looking for this kind of career are doing it for the artistic side of things and tend to forget that in real life commercial design have little to do with art. It has to do with meeting your client expectations and follow the guidelines. You do so by using artistic means but it’s still not art, it’s solving your client’s problem.
    And I know that people (me included) sometimes can have problem adjusting from artistic aspirations and the freedom that comes with that to the reality of what it actually MEANS to produce a commercial or a piece of graphic design that actually will help SELL goods and/or services.

    That means that if the flower you find so pretty in the upper hand corner of your composition does not help the commercial, it will probably have to go and the client will make sur it will be so.

    It’s actually better to learn that lesson when you’re still at school than learning it in a professional environment where it can end badly (sort of).

  • The only caveat that I’ve got is to make both versions, the 70 second one and the 15 second version. Sell the 15 second as the actual and the 70 as the “artistic” director’s cut…

    Worked well for the Sony Bravia ad campaign where they did a bunch of great abstract ads such as the bouncy balls down san francisco streets. They did a “TV” version and a “Full Version”

  • Nice folo on the student. good thing he’s learning the lesson now and not when dollars are at stake. Years ago, (and I mean a lot of years) I made a newbie mistake similar to this in tv land. Tried to squeeze 42 seconds into a 30 second spot. Not going to happen and talk about a traffic nightmare. In sweeps no less.

    Thanks for sharing your insights Nick.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.