We’re a Happy Family: Working with other Designers

Remember back in middle school and high school when you were assigned group projects and you couldn’t pick your group members? Unless you were grouped with other highly like-minded individuals who strived to get through this easily and with a good grade, you were kind of screwed. Having to depend on others to do their portion of a job, and do it correctly, is always an x-factor that you can’t control. Your work is judged and graded upon how your group’s ultimate end project performs, not by individual merits. It’s not in our nature to openly collaborate with others, it’s something that is learned and constantly adjusted as we work with others. One thing that middle and high school got right was that you’ll find yourself working with others in the rest of your life.

This is particularly interesting for designers. While we are in school or doing our own studies, we are focused on developing our own set of skills and knowledge. Before we can entertain the idea of working together on projects student designers need to have a base understanding of terms, ideas and jargon used in our craft. Some schools have the right idea when it comes to group projects; pairing off together first to work with just one other person and learning the dynamic of working with just one person. Working with a partner can be extremely frustrating or extremely fruitful, depending on the personality matchup between the students. In class, the chance of pairing with someone whom you can work with comfortably is pretty high.

The business world is different. Many times when you work, either agency or in-house, you have to work with others on a team. Sometimes, in the case of agencies, you will be working with your internal team and with an in-house team for a joint project. This was the case with Invisible Creature in Seattle, Washington with their joint work with Target on their packaging and toy products. Many times, you will work with other designers of different specialties to make concepts into prototypes or comps so to bring them to the next level for production. Personality differences and perspectives can often cloud an otherwise healthy, productive working relationship.

What can you do help alleviate the potential stress and feuds of working with another designer on projects? There are a number of things that you can do to help yourself and your project partners collaborate successfully.

Establish clear leadership – This is particularly helpful if you are working with a project manager or art director on a project. Establishing leadership creates a focal point that team members can utilize to guide them through difficult situations. A great leader will understand that their job is helping the team become comfortable and productive while they put out high quality concepts and ideas.

Team meet and greet – This sounds a little hokey, but it can be setup in different ways to best work for the personalities involved. Setup a team meeting for the sole purpose of getting to know one another. This can take the form or a physical get together or a virtual meeting where everyone can join in and talk, share their background and their ideas about the project. It’s important that this is more of a team building kind of meeting to open the lines of communication.

Have scheduled meetings and deadlines – It’s important to have a schedule in place with various deadlines setups as points to measure progress to keep team members on track. When you have a schedule in place, you can keep team members on track and focused on the task at hand instead of focusing on the other team members tasks. When you have progress meetings, keep them short and moving. This is a time to focus on production and task management.

Leaders need to be open doors – Art directors and project managers need to be the sounding board for their team so they can get them back to work as efficiently and happily as possible. Smart leaders should know and treat issues that arise with individuals discreetly and promptly so as to help their team’s focus and goals. When major issues arise, the time for action to get teams back on track are at scheduled meetings.

Praise your team and your colleagues – After milestones, make sure to appreciate those on your team, regardless if you are in a leadership or not. People work better when they are appreciated; truly appreciate for their contribution and hard work.

Designers working together can conceptualize and create fantastic work together and history is full of partners, teams, firms and groups that have done amazing work. While group projects suck when you’re young, they become the essential when you enter the professional world. I am by no means an expert on this subject and I am constantly learning the best way to work together with different personalities, different team setup and specialties. I’d love to hear your experiences and advice on successfully working on projects with others.

The Value of Internships

I recently met with a teacher from Harrisburg University about the possibilities of an internship and what that experience would look like at my daytime firm PPO&S. We chatted about what Harrisburg University has to offer its students and what they want to provide for their students in the way of real world application of knowledge. This got me thinking a good bit about my own experiences being an intern and also running an internship program. For design students, of any discipline, a good internship can mean the difference in establishing your career.

First, here’s an internship nightmare. Why would I tell you a nightmare first? Just like in the business world, things can go wrong. What was amazing was that from my worst experience a door would open to my best experience that helped me start my career.

In 2009, I participated and won a scholarship from the Philly Ad Club’s Philly’s Future Scholarship program. I was awarded a pretty sizable cash award along with a guaranteed internship with a Philly Ad club member organization. After doing research on some of the member organizations, I started to pursue the art director at an ad agency that was based in Harrisburg. Being from Mechanicsburg, I thought this would be a great fit, plus I could take the train every other day back to Philly for classes; essentially trading rent for train fare as I could live at home.

I called the advisory board at the ad club and let them knew who I wanted to take my internship with and they would make the necessary arrangements. Three weeks later, I heard nothing, so decided to start making my own way with the firm. I called the art director several times over the course of a month to try to setup a meeting. Each time, I was told there is a spot open and that they would love to have me come in, but they would let me know when. This went on for several more weeks and then I got a phone call.

“I can meet with you at 2pm, come to our Harrisburg office.”

I got the phone call at 12:30pm…at my house…in Philly.

Don’t ask me how fast I drove on the PA Turnpike to make the meeting. I got there on time. Prepped and ready to go…and the art director left for the day. This same thing happened two more times until I actually got a face to face meeting finally scheduled. I show up for the interview with a very disinterested art director who looked like she just finished up at the dirt track rather than working in the office that day. The interview went well, at least I thought, and I was given a tour around the facilities and asked when I could start. I left feeling pretty confident. About a week later, my admissions calls me in to tell me that when she followed up with the agency about my position the art director tore into a tirade about how unprofessional I was and how immature my book was and there was no chance of me working in this field. My admissions director took that personally and after many unsuccessful calls to the Philly Ad Club to find out what we could do, we were at a loss.

Good advice came from my Dad. He suggested calling the agency and talking to the president or CEO, the top person at the agency. So I called the agency and just asked for the person whose name was in the building, and I didn’t expect much to come from it, but later that same day the agency president called me up and invited me to come and meet him at his home the following weekend back in Central Pa. I met with him at his home and we sat and discussed work and the industry. Two things happened that night. I didn’t get the internship at his firm as the art director had already chosen someone else, but I was given contact information by him to look for an internship in Harrisburg. One of the places he suggested was Harrisburg Magazine. I called them the next day, had an interview the following week, and was offered the internship right on the spot. That year I spent at Harrisburg Magazine taught me all of the soft skills of working in an office, the importance of time management and deadlines, how to price a project, and most importantly, how to think like a designer and innovate in my work.

I went from one of the worst experiences in my early career to one of my best. It was the proverbial emotional roller coaster ride. I learned a great deal about myself and about chosen career field. The lessons I learned reaffirmed for me that this was the field I wanted to pursue and my passion for design only grew while at Harrisburg Magazine.

Students need to have an internship for a variety of reasons. The application of their experience of their academic work becomes validated and expanded upon when they can work on projects at an internship. There are many elements of the business realm of design that colleges and university simply don’t teach. This is where the job training of the internship becomes vital. For students who want to pursue the route of the entrepreneur, the skills and knowledge they can glean from account management, business development, billing, public relations, media planning and digital development would be invaluable. Your internship should challenge to think like a professional and utilize the knowledge you’ve attained as a student and apply the concepts of design thinking to work for clients. An important aspect of your internship should also be to determine if this is the field you truly want to work in. As a student, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to where your passion and interests lay before you get into a career that you learn you can’t do, for any reason.

I ran an internship program at Harrisburg Magazine after I became Creative Director of Custom Publishing and at one time I had eight students working in different specialties from graphic design, web development, copywriting and photography. I ran the program like a miniature agency with my colleagues acting like department heads. We challenged our interns to not only be innovative in their approach to a problem, but also to scale the solution for long term viability. My interns busted their ass with us and I was their number one cheerleader. I appreciated all of their hard work and it gave me such a sense of pride when they left us to pursue their careers with full confidence in their knowledge and abilities. I’m happy to say that all of my former interns are working for amazing employers like Harper Collins, Red Lion Controls, The Commonwealth Fund, CertaPro Painters, and the US Senate.

For students, follow up with your professors and instructors to seek internship opportunities in your area. Reach out to agencies and in-house departments and inquire if they have an internship program and how you can apply for it. More often than not, a place may not have one, but by asking you’ll become the first case study. It’s prudent to join organizations like AIGA or other trade organizations that host events that can lead you to network with the right people who are looking for interns.

Tell me about your internship experiences, I’d love to hear them.

Understanding Agency and In-House

When I was pursuing my degree in graphic design, I though that advertising agencies were the only types of companies that employed designers. I was very naïve. As I learned more about design thinking, application and strategy it became very clear to me that designers had many more options than just traditional advertising agency route that so many think of. The idea of what an advertising agency was and is was also very nebulous. A full service ad agency goes well beyond creative development work, in the sense that most young designers know of, and goes into media buying, public relations, radio and TV and digital development. Some shops decided to focus more on the creative, falling under the term of design studio (but even that term is nebulous, at best) while others are full blown integrated marketing firms that work with clients on all of their needs. For most young designers, this is probably what they think of when they imagine working as a professional. But there is another way and this post will describe the realm of in-house designers and give a basic overview of the pros and cons of agency compared to in-house. Continue reading

Should Designers Code? A Continuation

This past March I wrote a post titled “Should Designers Code?” and it generated a lot of discussion. As all good SEO experts would suggest, I spread this post far and wide throughout the Internet, submitting it to Medium, a few groups on Facebook and on Reddit. I posted it through Twitter and it gained a lot of traction there but the network that surprised me the most was LinkedIn. I posted this question and link to my post to several professional groups and it blew up. Continue reading

Videos and Films for Creatives

Each week I find a cool video series, podcast, or film trailer that excites me to no end. I wanted to grab the best ones and share them with you here. Continue reading

Making Freelance Easier

I told myself that I would never make a list for a post, but here I am. Currently, I’ve been working on a lot of web development for a series of medical associations, the spirit board Etsy project is underway, and I have several proposals for this weekend’s AIGA board retreat. Suffice it to say, I’ve been pretty busy. This list is of tools, services and resources that I use as a freelance designer and developer that have made me one efficient professional. Continue reading

In Spirit

When I was young, I went to Saint Josephs Catholic School in Mechanicsburg. It is a Catholic elementary and middle school right in town. I used to hear horror stories from my Dad about nuns cracking his knuckles with long wooden pointers. Lucky for me, that era was over and done with by the time I was in school, but something tells me that my Dad probably deserved a lot more than just a knuckle cracking (He proceeds to tell me about all the things he did and never got caught and he smiles a lot). There were a couple of rules to follow when in Catholic school. Forewarning, the following list is rude. Continue reading

Transitions

During the last few days I’ve been listening to BoySetsFire’s latest album “While A Nation Sleeps”. The album came out in the summer of 2013 and is the first studio album since 2006. When I was in high school, BoySetsFire was one of the first hardcore bands that I started listening to. It wasn’t too long after listening to them that I discovered Strung Out, Sick of it All, Lag Wagon, Rise Against, Death By Stereo and A Fire Inside. The song “Bathory’s Sainthood” is still one of my favorite songs. It’s funny to me to be rediscovering something old and new at the same time. It’s been a recurring theme as of late. Lately, life has been all about transitions. Continue reading

Online Reputation Management

Many times when I sit with a client to discuss branding, some of my questions regarding their current marketing and assets take them off guard. A company’s brand identity is much more than a new logo and mission statement; it should be a progressive shift in culture, internally and externally. It’s your responsibility, as a designer and strategist, to analyze their effectiveness in relation to what they currently are doing versus what they want to be doing. One question, in particular, always takes pause.

“How do you currently manage and measure your online reputation?” Continue reading

Design is an Investment

Recently, I saw a post from a friend and professional colleague of mine, Marco Echevarria of Burn Creative, talking about requests from prospective clients who want their logo to be in the same style as another company. His example was the classic Drew Struzan Star Wars “A New Hope” poster with the type treatment in the same style as Google. Other than it looks completely ridiculous, it caused a well of emotion in me, and not the right kind.

Continue reading

International House of Philadelphia: Experiences That Build Character

A few weeks back, I was in Philadelphia for WordCamp Philly. I was giving a presentation on using BuddyPress for enterprise solutions. BuddyPress, if you haven’t read any of my previous posts about it, can basically turn your WordPress site into a social media site. It’s a very powerful tool as it allows those on your site to connect with each others and share information. In the purest form of social media, you can connect with people and have meaningful conversations that distance and time can’t always allow for. As I rode the early morning train with my girlfriend watching the sunrise over Lancaster County, I was struck by an epiphany. Here I am taking the train as I did so much during my years in college and my coming back to a place that I called home for years, International House of Philadelphia. Continue reading

Start Small: CushyCMS

When I first started down the path of web design and development, I was quite lost. I knew what HTML was, kind of, but I had no idea how to write any of it. I was trained as a designer, technically focused more on print. When I first began my foray into writing code, I spent about 2 years at Harrisburg Area Community College and a vast amount of time on Lynda.com. Night classes and online video training paid off for me, but there was still so much for me to learn. The only way I could start getting good practices down were through experience. Continue reading

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