After a Twelve Year Arch, It All Comes Full Circle

When I graduated from college in 1997, I had a degree in Ecological Anthropology and Writing under one arm, and a driving passion to jump headlong into the publishing game. As editor-in-chief of my college’s weekly rag, I was sure I’d found my calling…the classifieds section just didn’t seem to agree with me.

break_logo-160square_plainI became a designer (which I had always been passionate about as well), because I figured it could be a way in the side door. After kicking around a couple of shops building up my skills and resume, I figured I’d be working in a publication’s layout department within a couple of years at most. But in reality, two years later I’d already forgotten about that passion, as I was hired to be Media Temple’s (a brand-new web design and hosting company at the time) first Creative Director.

Twelve years later, I’m now working for one of the bigger content companies in the game. I’m no longer designing (full-time, nor by title), and I’m not writing either. I’ve found my way right into a position that fits me quite snug.

October 1st (a day that’s held some pretty important events in my life, oddly), I started as the new Director of Social Media for Break Media (purveyors of Break.com, MadeMan.com, CagePotato.com, etc). My sixth week will start on Monday, and I’m having a blast. The last five weeks have been packed full learning the ins and outs of my new company, and getting accustomed to not working in Photoshop and Illustrator on a daily basis (which has not been the easiest transition).

As I said, this position fits me well. I’m a social person by nature. I love people. I thrive on communication. And most importantly, the last few years have shown me that I really enjoy digging into the strategies and bigger picture.

I’ve spent the better part of the last ten years building websites, corporate identities, and various ephemera for a wide range of clients. It’s been fun, but I’m keen to the idea of backing up a step and being able to implement concepts across the entire spectrum: websites, social networks, mobile devices, offline networks, etc.

I’ll do my best to document this adventure, and I’d love for you to be along for the ride. With that, I’m going to get back to some much needed rest, and I’ll leave you with this quote from the man who said most things the best:

All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.” – Mark Twain

Crowdsourcing Is Poison to the Design Community

Pawning sites like Crowdspring, Bootb.com, GeniusRocket, Worth1000.com and 99designs off as “crowdsourcing design networks” is covering the wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s one thing to run a design contest online – a true contest where there’s an objective, a prize or prizes, and most importantly a singularity of purpose.

sheep
Don't get stuck moshing around for the scraps

It’s a completely different thing to build a contest factory that milks a large group of eager and hungry individuals for their best ideas with no promise of compensation. It, simply, is against design business ethics. This is spec work, plain and simple.

If you are a hungry designer, I promise, this will not keep you fed well. They say that they “pay cash for real work”, when in fact the client will pay a pre-determined amount of money (in other words, a budget set by someone who might have no clue what design budgets should be) to one (or more) winner(s). This is not “work”, this is a circus. This will not create a career for but a few people. Perhaps it’s a short means to an end for some people keeping food on the plate, but this it completely counter to the ethical guidelines for designers.

What these sites will do is drive the prices clients pay for design down, and allow companies to receive tons of unpaid-for design comps. Companies have an eager audience and can set low “prizes” for the winner, but are receiving tens if not hundreds of submissions – while they only own the winner’s concepts, do you think that they don’t take and incorporate other ideas they see in unselected submissions?

Hopefully you’re able to find work. Hopefully you don’t have to resort to throwing away great ideas for a chance to sit at the client’s table. I’m not judging anyone – times are tough and work is much more scarce than in years past – but I have little problem judging the companies who have the money to be paying proper rates and budgets to designers.

While the design contests will continue for sure, I hope that more designers take a long, hard look at their involvement in such practices. It runs counter to all of the groundwork designers have been laying for decades.

I pray the tides change, or who knows, in the future we all could be making our living through such competitions. With a bit of despair, I feel like I truly understand the feeling behind Murrow’s famous “Good night, and good luck.”

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.

Keep Your (Design) Job Right Now

It seems that the world’s economy is on a steady collapse, each day bringing new stories of companies closing shop, and another industry asking Congress for a bailout plan. Our industry is no different than any other. I’m sure that you all have a handful of friends that have lost jobs in the last 3 months.

Well, let’s take a look at a handful of things that we can all do to help protect our design jobs (these tips will nearly all work for non-designers, too, but a few things might need to be translated and interpreted for your own industry/career). There are tough decisions being made in conference rooms and owners’ offices all over the world right now, and your name might be inextricably on one of the cut lists. So, let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that you are on the chopping block, but you are in the gray area. You still have the possibility of affecting whether or not you get pink-slipped.

If you think this article is a bunch of bullshit, I want you to go do some job searches on Krop.com right now (also try Creative Hotlist, Authentic Jobs, and LinkedIn). If you come back with 15+ available positions in your field, location and experience level, maybe you can relax a little bit. If not, I’d get involved here because it could mean the difference between P.F. Chang’s and Cup O’ Noodles for you.

First seven “good employee” things that you can easily do to get your employers leaning towards keeping you (these apply to every single employee on Planet Earth, by the way…not just designers):

  • Devour tasks on your plate. Don’t let things assigned to you linger or sit uncompleted.
  • Show up on-time, or early, in fact. I don’t care what your boss says about being okay with you coming in sometime between 9-10am, when you show up at 8.45am consistently, everyone notices.
  • I don’t know whether I’d say stay late, but don’t be the douchebag packing up at 5.54pm everyday in anticipation of the 6pm bell. (I say this, and I leave work everyday at 4.30pm to go pick up my kids…but let’s just say I work more hours than you, so no shit-talking that point.)
  • Do your homework and come to brainstorm discussions prepared. If you’re the one delivering the ideas your clients are picking (or at least the ones your bosses are presenting each week), they’ll have a hard time justifying your dismissal.
  • Don’t take long lunches for a little while. Try to keep to the hour (or other time) allotted.
  • Try to minimize the amount of appointments you make during the day, when you can. If you can’t, ALWAYS ask for the first appt of the day, or the last, and then compensate on the other end (i.e., 8am appt, arrive @ work at 10.30am, work until 6.45pm instead of leaving at 6pm).
  • When your bosses are cruising the office, minimize your blog, feed readers, Twitter apps, and NSFW content. I know this seems simple, but you’d be amazed how often it happens.
  • Oh yeah, don’t EVER be caught working on a freelance client’s project at your 9-to-5. Nothing will get you scraped quicker.

These seven tips are pretty standard. Getting square with each and every one of them will maybe add 30 minutes to your day, maybe an hour. Isn’t that time worth not having to go brave that job market? I didn’t think so…let’s keep reading.

As a designer, chances are, your team has dwindled a little bit in the last few months. If you’re in a place that hasn’t suffered any firings, well, a big congratulations to you and your firm for surfing the waves when everyone else is battoning down the hatches to weather the hurricane. Yeah, a big congratulations, or…your company is next.

So, down to the more design-specific work habits and characteristics that will keep your neck clear of the hangman’s axe:

  • More than just finishing the tasks on your plate, be a production beast. Beat deadlines, advance work from the left side of your desk to the right as quickly as possible, not forsaking quality.
  • Win the creative battles. When you’re going up against other people in “comping” phases, or if you’re pitching clients or higher-ups, get your designs into development. The more work your company is producing of yours, rather than the designs of your peers, the more essential you become to the company’s current trajectory.
  • Make yourself wide-open to criticism and evaluation. This is not the time to be defensive with your art directors / creative directors / owners. Don’t get me wrong, don’t become a push-over, and don’t change who you are. Just be quicker to get back to task and ditch the arguing. It’ll go a long way. Remember, your bosses are quite stressed out trying to keep the company going, which in turn keeps your lights on, your cellphone paid, and your spouse/significant other happy.
  • Now is the time to head over to Lynda.com and do some learning. Pick up a new program or language. Try to see what skill set your company could benefit from the most, and go figure out how to add that to your toolbelt. All things being equal, if you’re the only designer who knows Flash as well…hmm, it becomes an easier decision.
  • And quite possibly the most obvious, but essential tip…ask your boss / supervisor straight up what you can do to help secure your job. More importantly, if you are given suggestions, make sure that you live up to the expectations you’ve just set. They will now expect to see you perform on what you discussed.

This is an economic earthquake, and there seem to be aftershocks steadily running amuck. Protect yourself from falling debree.

So in addition to protecting your current job, you should probably start to get some things in order just to be safe:

  • Get your resume cleaned up.
  • Beef up on your LinkedIn profile, and if you haven’t done so already, build up your network with all the peeps you’ve worked with and for (co-workers and clients). This is a BIG deal. I love getting LinkedIn links in job application emails. Shows that you have some business sense about you (or in the least, that you are not dead and have actually used the social web in the last 12 months). Solicit recommendations. A good way to get reco’s quickly, is to post up recommendations on the people you want a reco from.
  • Put together your portfolio, whether that’s in a book or not. Oh, yeah, it might be in a book, but it sure as “H” “E” “double hockey sticks” (my son’s way of saying “hell”) better be online as well. Look over at Behance, Carbonmade and Coroflot for starters if you don’t have something up yet.
  • Do some of those job searches I mentioned above, if you haven’t already. If for no other reason, it’s good for you to know what’s out there. If something does happen which you didn’t expect, you’ll be less scared (or more, depending on your results…lol, sorry) about getting a new job.
  • Start thinking about new revenue streams, preferably passive income sources (important note: your company will always be more supportive of your moonlighting if it doesn’t compete with their core services, and also of course, that it doesn’t interfere with your job):
    • selling WordPress themes
    • creating custom fonts
    • making icons / illustrations (ala YouWorkForThem)
  • Talk with your friends out in the workforce. Feel out your network to see if there are jobs waiting for you should you lose yours.
  • Don’t be too proud to file for unemployment if you lose your job, to help keep things going while you look for a new job. Do so by finding your state in this list.

Remember, at all times, you are not alone here. I mean that a couple of ways. First, we are here and most anyone whom you reach out to will grab extended hands and give advice when solicited. Secondly, there is a lot more supply than demand for designers right now…for all employees, in fact. So put your best foot forward, stand out from the crowd.

Make yourself indispensable, however you must.