Maybe you're used to doing work in a creative, peaceful space, where you can daydream for hours on end until something interesting and useful finally emerges. Right. The reality is that you're lined up in a row of "creatives" where the atmosphere is somewhere between a meat grinder and a pressure cooker. The real problem isn't the place, of course. It's the people.
Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon, authors of I Hate People!, have uncovered a collection of universal archetypes, dubbed "The Ten Least Wanted," and have graciously let us reproduce them for you here. The 3 most insidious for a design office? Easy: FLIMFLAM, SWITCHBLADE, and SPREADSHEET. See how many of these others you recognize:
br> 1. STOP SIGN
"The world is flat."
"I think you've had enough fun."
"You'll put an eye out with that thing."
"Could you work on this project?"
"It's a really small, quick thing."
"No big deal."
"What the hell's wrong with you?!"
"You're an idiot."
"You're lucky I don't fire you."
he first ever product I was hired to design was a professional woodworking machine for Wadkin Bursgreen, a venerable British company. The challenge was a simple oneto make the machine a bit easier to use and more modern without being more expensive to make. I brought the traditional skills of the industrial designer to the tasksketching, modeling, mechanical drawings (there were no CAD systems in the North East of England in those days), a bit of user observation and some time spent on the factory floor learning how the machine was made. I think I did a pretty good job and you can still find the results of my work in factories and woodshops over twenty-five years later. Unfortunately you won't find the company itself. They went out of business just a few years later. I hadn't realized that the problem wasn't so much woodworking machines as the future of the woodworking industry.
Today, if I was to be invited by a company like Wadkin to look at their product line I would ask a very different set of questions than simply what should their future products look like. I would look for opportunities to innovate, for them to be more competitive, to satisfy the latent needs of customers, to supplement products with services and knowledge, perhaps even to move to an entirely different industry. Needless to say, as a twenty year-old, still wet-behind-the-ears industrial designer, I was woefully unqualified to ask (or answer) any of these questions. I knew nothing about innovation, business models, service frameworks, or competitive analysis, and I lacked the strategy and storytelling skills to convince the client of the merits of my point of view even if I had a good idea.
This is not a new problem. The management consultants long ago realized that only certain kinds of people thrived in the unpredictable world where clients might ask an almost infinite set of questions. McKinsey and Company came up with the idea of hiring what they termed 'T-shaped' people. People with deep analytical skills (the vertical stroke of the T) but also broad empathy toward those other skills and disciplines encountered in business (the horizontal stroke of the T). These highly adaptable, rapid learners turned out to be ideal management consultants.
No design firm is an island. Conferences? Trade shows? Yeah, you should be going to these things and sending your staffers as well. Your work can only get better when you go forth into the world to gather inspiration, meet new people, and scope out the competition. The problem? A design calendar overflowing with things to do and people to see. Here we've broken down a year's worth of events to help you form a plan of attack.
CATEGORY: FURNITURE FAIRS Hotspots: Milan, Design Miami, ICFF Who to send: Anyone with a good eye and comfortable shoes Why to go: To suss out the competition, to woo potential manufacturers, and to drinka lot Price: $ Who to chat up: The Italians (if you think you're worthy); Established & Sons (the McCartney well runs deep); Moss's Franklin Getchell (he's the more approachable half) Celeb sightings: Silvio Berlusconi, Kanye West, Steven Spielberg, Brad Pitt Sentence to have in your back pocket: "So what do you think about the return of Memphis?" Typical swag: Tom Dixon's metallic totes; anything exhibitors can't bother to ship home after the fair closes Next big thing:Stockholm
CATEGORY: SOCIETY CONFERENCES Hotspots:IDSA, IxDA Interaction, AIGA
Who to send: The bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youngsters who haven't heard it all before. Why to go: To catch up on industry gossip; to show you're an active member of your professional communityand because travel perks, even to places like Denver, are a decent way to retain your young talent. Price: $$$ Who to chat up: Design-school idols and magazine editors Celeb sightings: Mostly industry starsYves Behar, Stefan Sagmeister, Dunne & Raby Sentence to have in your back pocket: Anything about design for social changeit's the new sustainability. Typical swag: Your 88th reusable tote bag; enough business cards to crash your NeatDesk Next big thing:Change Observer and AIGA's revamped Aspen Design Conference
What essential books should a design professional own? What a question! Compiling any kind of list is bound to leave out many classics, hidden gems and obvious choices. Many books cross my desk as the editor of The Designer's Review of Books, but the selection below is perhaps a sign of the timesa heavy skew towards the environment, ethics and sustainability, a dash of the left-field and a few classics that no list would be complete without. At least half of these are a decade or two old, which makes one wonder where all the good design writers have gone. Why 19? Why not? Slot number 20 is for your own selection.
1. Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek
Written between 1963 and 1970, many in the design establishment ridiculed Panpanek's thesis on "human ecology and social change." Sadly he died in 1998 and didn't get the chance to have the last laughDesign for the Real World is even more relevant today than ever. Essential reading for any designer.
2. Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Muller-Brockmann
Muller-Brockmann didn't invent the grid system for typography and layout, but his classic book on the subject brought them to the mainstream of graphic design and, naturally, put them all in order. If you want to be really hardcore, read the German version, Raster Systeme Fur Die Visuele Gestaltung, whilst listening to Kraftwerk.
3. Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
This should be sitting right next to Muller-Brockmann's Grid Systems. This is the bible for many typographers, but anyone involved in doing anything with text layout (hear that, web designers?) should be combing its pages.
You hear people complaining about interns all the timeabout how they're more trouble than they're worth, and often difficult to manage. But the quicker you stop thinking about your intern as a naïve liability whose hand you need to hold though simple tasks, and start thinking about your intern as an untapped resource for information, culture and new skill sets, the better off you'll be. (Both of you!) And the more work and experiences you throw at them, the more you will gain. At Smart Design, we fully believe in mentoring, training and exposing interns to 'real design world' experiences, and we also believe in reaping the benefits of the experience our interns bring to the table.
1. Sink or swim
The sooner you treat your intern like a full time employee, the quicker they feel comfortable to contribute their knowledge and experience to your projects. All of our interns are loaded up with as much work as possible. The strong ones survive and take the load off of our staff designers, and the weak ones, well...we're pretty good at choosing the right interns!
2. Introduce them to your client
This may be a scary thought. But by exposing interns to client meetings, conference calls and check-ins, they will better understand the problem at hand, hearing it from the horse's mouth. We treat our interns as valued team members and believe that interns have the ability and eagerness to work hard for our clients. They can also provide a youth perspective that many of our clients are seeking.
3. Encourage self-driven projects
While not on billable work, we encourage interns to pursue a personal passion, such as exploring trends or a subculture. These projects can serve as outlets for personal growth, but can also serve as inspiration for the larger design studio.
Whether you're a design firm making a strategic hire, or a design professional looking to take the next step along your own career path, identifying the right recruiting resource is an important step. But what are the benefits of using a recruiter, and what do you need to know to work with them effectively? Here are some tips from both perspectives.
CLIENT PERSPECTIVE: Why use a recruiter?
1. Fresh Point of View
While in-house referrals and promotions are definitely a piece of the puzzle, it's not simply about who you know or the depth of your social media connections. An experienced and well-connected recruiter can provide an essential third party lens, introducing both fresh talent and a fresh perspective on your needs.
2. Brand Extension + Global Connections
An effective recruitment consultant serves as a virtual 'ambassador' of your brand to the design and creative community. For high profile, strategically driven positionsand despite the fact that there may in the end be only one hireoutreach efforts can result in conversations with a wide range of highly talented and sought-after individuals. It's their consistently positive experience with your company (and your recruiter) that may be of equal, if not greater, importance in terms of branding your organization as a design-friendly, humane and forward-thinking organization, with ramifications for the quality and success of near- and long-term hiring.
3. Strategic Investment
Transparency and open communication inspires a true client/recruiter partnership. Identify a recruitment consultant who you can bond with as an organic extension of your organization and, if required, is determined to seek out the proverbial 'needle in the haystack.' The time and effort at building and sustaining this relationship as a strategic investment will pay off over the long haul.
By some reckonings, the US workforce will be 40% temped by 2019. In the creative professions, that's probably going to be even higher, and the ability to pick and choose gigs and work your own schedule is powerful enticement for some. But if you've been tempted to join the ranks of hired guns, be warned you'll have to start worrying about a few dozen things staff workers are barely even aware of.
Welcome, for instance, to the wonderful world of self-employment taxes, which are like personal taxes only more so. You'll also have to negotiate your own contracts, maintain your own hardware and software, track down your own clients, do your own marketing, and if you live in the US, pay for your own health insurance. It's almost like having a full-time job on top of your full-time job.
Which isn't to say it's unmanageable or not worth it, but it takes a certain kind of temperament and a healthy dose of knowing-what-you're-getting-yourself-into. If you're contemplating a freelance switch, there are plenty of online resources available to get your ducks in a row: check out the aptly named Freelance Switch blog for one, and Creative Seeds' articles on freelance rates, taxes, contracts, intellectual property, self-promotion, and workspaces. Or ask a freelancer friend.
Of course, if you don't want to go it entirely alone, there are choices beyond just Lone Ronin and Office Drone, especially lately.
You should. And we have a huge audience of creative professionals over on Coroflot.com who can help you figure it out. The results of all this worth-knowing gets collected via questionnaire every year into the Coroflot Annual Design Salary Survey, and if you're a designer and haven't read it then you might be designing in the dark. Financially speaking.
The Survey love has been flowing on an annual basis since 2001, meaning that not only can you compare what you make with your kindred in other regions, fields, and work environments (staff Design Managers in Hong Kong are doing pretty well these days, for example); you can also look at changes over time, and see which fields are growing in pay at a steady rate (Industrial, Graphic and Interior Design) and which are taking off (nuh-uh, not tellinggo look at the survey).
Any young professional, across any discipline, desires control over their work and credit for their insight. In design, unfortunately, these wishes may contravene the goals of the clientsuch as securing the exclusive use over the work produced, or maintaining secrecy to upcoming commercial projects, or risking the firm's liability exposure. Common among young designers is the notion that the firm owns everything its designers create. This article intends to clarify those perceptions, explain the rationale, and illuminate the opportunities where employers more often foster, rather than discourage, an employee's most creative endeavors.
After speaking with lawyers, students, designers and firm leaders, it turns out that this question does not involve the complex web of legal theory that I anticipated. What was obvious was the disconnect between young practitioners and principals. While the legal question has a straightforward answergrounded in doctrines of contract law, liability and intellectual propertythe larger issue appeared to be the serious miscommunication in the practices and policies of firms regarding employee-generated intellectual property. The willingness of major design firms to discuss these issues revealed that employers understand that employees often feel anxiety towards their employer regarding the ownership of their creative capital. The reasoning, however, behind intellectual property policies is designed neither to create an umbrella of ownership around employee-generated intellectual property, nor to subsume an employees' work and claim it as their own. Simultaneously, many design firms, I learned, do encourage the volunteerism, activism and creativity that young designers often seek when they're off the clock.
The Heart of the Matter
There is significant concern among young practitioners regarding attribution on firm projects, and that the lack of credit correlates to a lack of ownership over their creations. The premise for this theory, however, seems to have little to do with policies of intellectual property, and may have more to do with the "star-architect" phenomenon, begging the question: can any designer make their own name while housed in a major designer firm today? The concern for credit, however, should not complicate the conversation when understanding employee creative output and the firm's intellectual property policies.
Dirty Weekend, the brainchild of recent SVA Designer As Author grad Steve Haslip, is a series of workshops providing graphic designers with the opportunity to discover the joy of messy, hands-on, non-digital techniques. Each workshop focuses on a different genre of techniquesincluding mark making, print making, and calligraphy. The limitations enhance creativity by forcing participants to approach each problem in a different way, and the small size of the workshops ensures that the participants get intensive hands-on experience and take risks. Upcoming workshops will be taking place at the Art Directors Club in New York City in October, and you can get more info at dirty-weekend.org.