How to Be a Purple Cow Among Designers

Jan 4 2011 by Oleg Mokhov | 29 Comments

How to Be a Purple Cow Among Designers

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.

Conclusion

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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About the Author

Oleg Mokhov is the world’s most mobile electronic musician and co-founder of the royalty free music store Soundtrackster. He was born in Russia, but raised in the US. Follow him on Twitter as @olegmokhov.

29 Comments

Russell Bishop

January 4th, 2011

It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure you’ve entirely thought it through.

Selling yourself as a completely eccentric, unique web designer means that you’re only going to get the business from people looking for such.

Most people in a business who need some web work done draw all of their examples for what they need/want/feel like are from competitors.

I think you need to find the company’s interesting bits, and the company’s traits, and use those to create a really fitting design.

Dan Rowan

January 4th, 2011

Haha! Nice article Oleg! Honestly, I think you hit it right on target. In such a saturated world, if you don’t portray yourself as unique, then no one will take notice of your skills. If you can’t define your style, others won’t be able to either. Oh yeah.. And I’m the worlds biggest daydreaming designer. ;)

Paul

January 4th, 2011

I enjoyed this, actually I think it can be very helpful in finding a unique theme for a portfolio website.
made me think of indofolio, the portfolio of an indian web designer. he took the fact that he is from India and pushed to the extreme by using graphics inspired by his culture.
I think I’ll use this in my next redesign this year!

Vivek Parmar

January 4th, 2011

seth godin is a too good and hos books teaches you everything + showing your best work is the first priority + wining client’s heart is necessary + finally become a purple cow and listen everything and give your best

Danielle

January 4th, 2011

GREAT article!

I love the idea of having an identity as a designer. I’m a camera shy designer with really pretty eyes (that’s what people tell me)

Cheers!

Jordan

January 4th, 2011

Yeah, I’m gonna second Russell on this one. I’d never have gotten my day job if I’d approached it like I approach my freelance work. Corporate-types don’t want to hire the most unique; they want to hire the most reliable.

Barry

January 4th, 2011

Great article. We’re not just designers, we’re people with unique talents and abilities that create the world we see online.

Sionee

January 4th, 2011

Very Informative especially I am new in Designing and started late that makes me unique..Age doesn’t matter as long you love what you doing…

Anne

January 4th, 2011

Fun article Oleg! You make good points (about being the purple cow in a sea of designers). It’s important to be true to yourself and not just a “monkey-see-monkey-do” type.

On the other hand, I also agree with some of the comments here. If, for example, you’re targeting corporate clients as your bread and butter, then it is best to portray yourself as reliable and capable of gelling with the perceived corporate culture (without necessarily donning a suit and tie and sporting a comb-over and pocket protector, but you get my point – I hope).

If you’re going after the music industry, then by all means, dress and present yourself like you’re a Rocker, or Country Bumpkin or whatever, etc. etc. etc.

It’s all about learning how to mold yourself to different situations so that you get the work you want. It’s also about finding out what you want to achieve, and then setting the goals to get there.

Angelee

January 5th, 2011

…inspired by Seth Godin, the awesome marketing guru! It’s very challenging to be a purple cow, it’s like setting apart from being traditional or thinking outside box, easy to say but quite hard to do. And, this article did a great job in expanding purple cow in the field of web design.

@ANNE…. great comment!

Gaurav Mishra

January 5th, 2011

About the Author block is simply Great! :-D
PURPLE :D

Greg

January 5th, 2011

I completely agree. Being a purple cow doesn’t always mean change the path.. but to walk down it with a new stride.

Michael Sears

January 5th, 2011

Great post! Have to agree you must stand out in this world to make a stand for yourself, there are too many other people that clam they can do something. It is easy to clam to do something but to actually do it and do it with uniqueness is the question! Thanks!

Robby

January 5th, 2011

Through my experience of my career (as a web designer) it really doesn’t matter what you look like, where you are from or what your personal traits are. What matters is do you deliver on time, deliver what you promised and communicate well. If you do those three things, really well, you will be a lot more purple than the rest of the industry.

ArenaCreative

January 5th, 2011

So true – this is important. We all get inspiration from other designers and design work that we see in action, but the important thing is to make sure you stick to your own style. It’s vital that you are able to deliver what the client wants, but at the same time they are paying you for your expertise – we definitely can’t be afraid to throw in our own flare

Long Island Web

January 5th, 2011

I agree with Russell, you can’t just tailor yourself to be eccentric, or just one type of client.

Hannah Hurst

January 5th, 2011

I have never thought about presenting myself as a purple cow! I guess I have always tried to make my work the purple cow.

I’m not sure I will be changing my CV introduction to ‘a designer who can drink a bottle of Tabasco in one sitting’ but I get where your coming from and think its a great idea to make yourself as well as your work unique.

Daquan Wright

January 5th, 2011

A web designer/developer wears many hats due to the variety in his or her work. I believe the most important trait is to be flexible and scalable, like water. :)

You want to appeal to a particular client or audience, then it’s not “one” thing all the time.

I’d just tell everyone to focus on their strengths and incorporate that with their personality. You’re never going to be the best in this field for long, too much competition. lol

Cybertoos

January 5th, 2011

Thanks for the good article,but I must mention the there is always some basic rules that we can not ignore them,above all showing that your are capable and most reliable person for doing what the customer wants.

Young

January 6th, 2011

I feel like the point of the article was to encourage people to distinguish themselves with something memorable, not to pigeonhole themselves for a specific audience. It’s a double edged sword for sure – the tagline on my site is that I love Scotch, and I’m sure it repels some people. But I also had A LOT of people commenting on it as I start on their projects. They say “so you like Scotch, huh?” and then they start saying how they’ve always wanted to get into something like that. It’s a very natural small talk starter (and I could talk about Scotch for hours…though I don’t), and I’d like to believe that the copy makes me more memorable in a sea of cookie-cutter web designers out there.

Mooooo!

January 6th, 2011

I don’t think it matters if your ‘personality’ does not appeal to *everyone*. You will only ever attract the clients that are attracted to your uniqueness anyway.

seenu

January 6th, 2011

great article
I’m different. I’m what I am
Show difference

Marisa

January 8th, 2011

I think you just need to be professional, do good work and always seek personal growth. Your clients will refer you more for being a humble and pleasant person than if you are the hippest designer ever.

Adam

January 9th, 2011

Some interesting points are made here. Dont know hom much ou could actually use in client relationships.
As mentioned befere some (or maybe most) people in the corporate world like to feel like the talking not to some unique guy but to a professional who can act like one and looks like one.

That beeing said a good article.

Marty McColgan

January 10th, 2011

great article, in my opinion 3 designers in a room with one brief will have 3 totally different ideas, thats what makes each designer unique, and the interesting thing is seeing what you can learn from each other and how other people view something totally different to you

AM

January 11th, 2011

…this does not address making your WORK stand out against your competitors, and I really don’t think Seth ever meant that you need to show off your quirky traits to stand out amongst the crowd.

Especially if “the crowd” happens to be young designers who are already more concerned with showing off their favorite microbrew than their latest successful launch. You’re just going to blend in with the herd of other self-absorbed, self-defined “quirky” designers out there. When clients hear “quirky”, they think “flaky and probably opinionated”.

Standing out in your field has very little to do with incorporating your idiosyncrasies into your client approach.
Don’t make the fatal mistake that designers and artists have been making since the beginning of time: assuming that your clients are impressed by how weird you are. Your goal isn’t to entertain them if you can’t back it up.

Branding Designer

January 11th, 2011

While I see merit in being memorable I have seen too many portfolios where the idea has got in the way of the information. Travel this path with care as you don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reason!

jemsdeo

January 13th, 2011

Good is not enough it’s true but every body have a unique quality that thing make them professional.

allysamarks

January 13th, 2011

Article is good but work make people professional.

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