This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.
Editor: In Part 2 of Design Ninja's story, we look at his rather...enthusiastic approach to his first work assignment at his new job. If you missed Part 1 of this story, catch up here!
You can't learn to be a ninja in two weeks, but that's what we industrial designers are often asked to do. Our skills, creativity, technical acumen, and understanding of human nature are supposed to enable us to re-think existing products and re-design them in just months, though people may use these objects for years.
As I mentioned in the last post, I'd just scored a sweet gig at [Best Design Consultancy] and already had the first project where I was running point, so to speak. The gig was to redesign ninja throwing stars (not really, read the last post) and I'd spent the last two weeks trying to master them. Now I was ready to produce what my new employer had asked of me: Thirty to forty concepts for a re-design. Hit with a bolt of inspiration, I grabbed my pen and sat down to sketch.
I had a particular approach in mind, and I started burning through ink and paper. I was really eager to impress my new employers, and my approach was this: I'd been asked for 30-40 concepts. I was going to give them 100. And these weren't going to be 30 good concepts, 30 okay concepts and 40 shit concepts, I was going to crank out 100 concepts that all had merit. Because I was a goddamned design ninja.
I spent the next two weeks drawing and drawing and drawing, both in the office and at my desk at home at night. During the times when I was at work, I'd hoped my new boss would notice I was practically killing myself to get these done, but the firm was so busy that he barely provided any oversight. Every once in a while he'd stick his head in and ask me how it was going, but when I'd start to answer, he wasn't really listening and would soon be called away. It wasn't that he was a jerk, it's just that the firm was so incredibly busy. In his office one day I took a look at his calendar, and it looked like a freaking Jackson Pollock painting with all of those colored appointments and tasks.
I didn't mind, though. I might not be getting the validation now, but it would be worth it when we'd all sit down at the pre-client meeting and I'd cover that wall with industrial design like it was wallpaper. I was on my way to producing 100 quality concepts, and the fact that we'd leave maybe 60 of them on the cutting-room floor meant we could travel to the client's office highly confident that we were bringing them the best of the best.
You might be wondering how I managed to hit 100. The answer is, I bought lots of magazines, went through a lot of my concept art books and slept very little. And I think I gave myself carpal tunnel.
Style-wise, I had different "branches" of concepts that covered a lot of bases. Some of my ninja stars were retro style, like the hood ornament of a 1950s car; others were inspired by motorcycle gears; others were ninja stars from 50 years in the future; some looked raw and industrial, while others looked like polished pieces of expensive jewelry. Some referenced the company's own design history while others translated their design elements into bold, new directions. I felt that no matter what it was the client wanted, it was in this pile of drawings. I had thought of everything, I felt.
Here was the crazy part: I decided to mount them. Not the best 40, all of them. One hundred boards. It felt like I went through more spray mount in those weeks that I had in all of grad school. I'm convinced that to this day the inside of my lungs contain alveoli and chemical compounds made by 3M.
I had so many drawings that I knew they wouldn't fit in a presentation case, so I was even going to build a special box just to hold them all. But I didn't have time, and ended up going to a 24-hour Home Depot to buy a few of those big plastic bins they sell.
Well, here was the kicker. You've gotta remember this was my first experience at a design consultancy. At my previous corporate gig and the few corporate places I'd interned at, the design groups always held pre-client meetings before we presented. Even when the client was internal, like the brass from upstairs, we designers always sat down to winnow out the weaker work and get our stories straight, so to speak. I always thought these meetings were standard procedure and I really valued being in a room with a bunch of other designers, discussing work in an intelligent, "designery" way.
But I found out that there was to be no pre-client meeting with my ninja throwing star project. There simply wasn't enough time. I asked my boss if he didn't want to at least check my work; he flipped through a couple of my drawings, distractedly, but said "We trust you, [Design Ninja], that's why we hired you." When someone says something like that to you, it should make you feel good, but I suddenly had this lump in my stomach.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. While I had had a decent corporate experience, I'd heard horror stories from my alumni buddies at other corporate design gigs where they got micromanaged into the ground. One guy told me his boss would physically put his hand onto my friend's hand on the mouse and click on the drawings to demonstrate how he wanted changes made. I joked that he should have filed for sexual harassment. Anyways, the point is that I went Consultancy because I wanted the variety of work; I just hadn't expected this amount of latitude, or lack of oversight, and I wasn't yet confident enough to be relaxed about it.
Next thing I knew, my boss and I were on a plane to [region of the country] to visit Ninja Throwing Stars LTD's headquarters. And nothing in my work experience or design school experience had prepared me for what happened next.
All specific names, companies, clients, designers, and details will be kept anonymous to protect the innocent. You needn't write the story out; a Core77 Editor will interview you to produce a write-up (and to be sure you ain't pulling the wool over our eyes to win that sweet gift certificate!).